Most of the young people suspected in recent stabbings are from East Jerusalem, where long-frustrated Palestinians feel neglected by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
JERUSALEM — East Jerusalem, long the emotional heart of Palestinian life, is now the fiery soul of its discontent.
It is not just that most of the young people suspected in this month’s spate of stabbings came from within the city borders, like the 18-year-old college student whose residency is being revoked by Israel after police said she stabbed a Jewish man in the back.
It is that her neighborhood of 18,000, Sur Baher, is also home to people like Fuad Abu Hamed, a successful businessman who condemns the violence but shares the frustration and alienation underlying this new uprising.
Abu Hamed, 44, is a lecturer at Hebrew University who runs two clinics in Israel’s health system and lives in a comfortable home among Sur Baher’s tangle of crowded hills. The view from his balcony is of sprawling Jewish enclaves that he said were “built on our lands,” and the ugly barrier Israel erected that splits Sur Baher from the occupied West Bank.
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These days, he can also see the Israeli soldiers who have blocked two of the neighborhood’s exits and set up a checkpoint to search cars at the third, making the city’s psychic division all the more concrete.
“You have a lot of evidence that you are not a human being,” Abu Hamed said. “The problem is the policy, because all the time as a Palestinian here you feel that they want to take you out of the city, you have a lot of problems that do not allow you to feel that you are part of the city. It’s killing from inside all the time.”
Deeply rooted anger
In East Jerusalem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is most personal and most profound.
For Israeli Jews, the outbreak of seemingly random attacks by Palestinians is a vexing challenge to contain and a reminder of the inherent conundrum in their vision of a united Jerusalem.
For many of the 320,000 Arab residents, the violence is a consequence of years of feeling like the neglected stepchildren of City Hall and the Palestinian Authority, which is headquartered in the West Bank and is barred from operating in Jerusalem. They do not feel wanted here, or part of what is happening there.
Civic and cultural institutions decamped years ago for the West Bank city of Ramallah. In East Jerusalem schools, there are too few classrooms and too many dropouts. It is difficult to get a permit to expand a home; 98 illegal structures were demolished last year. Three-quarters of the population lives below Israel’s poverty line.
These Palestinians are regular visitors to the contested holy site in the Old City where fears of an Israeli takeover have helped fuel the violent outbreak. They speak Hebrew and, unlike their brethren in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, can work and travel throughout Israel like any citizen — giving them an intimate, daily view of all they do not have.
Even as they benefit from Israel’s robust economy, many seethe as they pump gas or stock shelves for better-off Jews.
“On the one hand, yes, you have open access to Israeli society — on the other hand you also have more knowledge about the discrimination that’s being practiced against you,” said Sari Nusseibeh, the former president of Al-Quds University. “Major issues that you identify with as a Palestinian and a Muslim, your dignity and self-respect, your position, your role, these are in total and constant conflict.”
The uptick in aggression did not begin with the two dozen attacks that have killed seven Israeli Jews, five of them in Jerusalem, since Oct. 1. (Meanwhile, at least 16 suspected assailants have been shot dead by Israelis, including four Saturday, along with more than 20 other Palestinians in clashes with security forces.)
Rather, East Jerusalem has been a hotbed since July 2014, when Jewish extremists kidnapped and killed Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, from the Shuafat neighborhood.
Arab East Jerusalem is not a single place but a series of some two dozen disparate satellites. There are isolated villages like Sur Baher, Jabel Mukhaber and Issawiya, where Israelis rarely venture, but also relatively upscale and accessible Beit Hanina, where many international aid workers and diplomats live and Israelis flock for hummus.
There is the restive, drug-ridden Shuafat refugee camp, one of several hamlets officially part of Jerusalem but left on the West Bank side of the concrete barrier. And there is the Old City, where the cobblestone streets have been eerily empty since the stabbings.
Israel captured it all from Jordan in the 1967 war and expanded Jerusalem’s boundaries to 27 square miles from 2.3. Israel’s annexation was rejected by the United Nations, and most of the world considers the territory occupied. Today, 200,000 Jews live beyond Israel’s original border, most in new developments — widely considered illegal settlements — like those Abu Hamed can see from his balcony, 2,000 scattered amid the Palestinian enclaves.
Israeli leaders claim the entire expanse as their undivided capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. International road maps for peace imagine Palestinian control of Arab areas and Israeli control of Jewish ones, with a special arrangement for the Old City and its surroundings.
The devolution of East Jerusalem, in many ways, was driven by the Oslo accords that set up the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s. Ramallah, in the West Bank, seat of the provisional government, became the beating pulse of society: Trade unions and activists set up shop there as storied theaters and cafes off Jerusalem’s Salahaddin Street closed.
Zakaria Al-Qaq, an Al-Quds professor who traces his ancestral roots in Jerusalem back 1,400 years, said Ramallah has abandoned the city, with leaders invoking it as a “token” but doing nothing to solve day-to-day problems.
“Their words don’t go into deeds,” he said. “The society is in turmoil, internally, they are fighting with each other, there’s no law and order.” The protest, he added, “is not limited to the Israelis.”
Yes to armed struggle
Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem boasts that he has made unprecedented investments in East Jerusalem: 800 new classrooms, $130 million on infrastructure and a $1.8 million community center in Sur Baher.
A June poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that 61 percent of Palestinians in Jerusalem support “armed struggle” against Israel. Yet 52 percent said they would prefer to be citizens of Israel with equal rights than citizens of a Palestinian state, up from a third in 2010.
Israel officially offers citizenship to all Jerusalem Palestinians, but only a tiny fraction apply.
Now, as part of Israel’s crackdown, the interior minister is taking the rare step of revoking the residency of the college student from Sur Baher and 16 other suspected attackers — plus the citizenship of two more. They would still be able to live in the city, but would lose all social-welfare benefits, such as free treatment at Abu Hamed’s clinics, and would need to renew visas every few months.
Palestinians are outraged that no such punishment was considered for the three Jewish men on trial for the grisly killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, burned alive last year. Nor were checkpoints established in their neighborhoods.
But Abu Hamed has more fundamental complaints.
A couple and their two children died in a fire last year, he said, because engines are dispatched to Sur Baher from another Palestinian neighborhood rather than from the closer Jewish ones. The trash-hauling bins down the road are overflowing, something he never sees when he goes to pay taxes on the other side of town.
Yes, Abu Hamed and his neighbors can fly from Israel’s airport, a privilege denied to those in the West Bank and Gaza. But he said he never makes it through security “without crying,” because his Hebrew University ID card “means nothing — I am a Palestinian in the end.”