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Last Wednesday President Trump “made good” on a campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, which will mean eventually relocating the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This announcement has drawn a storm of criticism from Arab and European leaders, including some of America’s closest allies. As feared, we’ve seen an escalation of violence in an already tense environment, and Trump’s decision almost guarantees that the U.S. has forfeited its longstanding role of seeking to be a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since the moment of Trump’s announcement, my heart has been heavy with grief. As part of the Reformed Church in America’s work in Israel and Palestine, my wife and I have had the opportunity to travel there and develop relationships with people on all sides of the conflict. Our hearts are especially heavy for the Palestinian students of Shepherds’ Field High School in Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem in the West Bank), where we’ve helped put on summer art and fitness camps. We love these students, and we fear for what Trump’s decision, even if it is only symbolic, means for them and their families.
It’s the second week in Advent. As we lean into this season of longing for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of the restoration of shalom and true peace with justice, I’ve asked my friend Josh Vis, RCA Church Engagement Facilitator for Israel and Palestine, to offer some insight into what Trump’s announcement means, as well as suggest some helpful resources. The following article is written by Josh. – Brian Keepers
If advent must be referenced, then let us hear the Palestinian cry for deliverance from bondage.
Both ideologically and municipally, Israel considers Jerusalem to encompass greater Jerusalem, which includes West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem (the Palestinian side, illegally annexed by Israel from 1967 to 1980), and many of the Israeli settlements (also illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention) to the north, south, and east of Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has allowed and/or encouraged the illegal settlement of Israelis in East Jerusalem. Today, about 208,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who total about 316,000, technically live in Israel and pay the same municipal taxes as the Israeli of Jerusalem. However, they are deemed ‘permanent residents,’ not citizens. They cannot vote in national elections. Technically, these Palestinians can apply for Israeli citizenship, but this is rarely done and more than half of the applications are either rejected or permanently pending. Since 2003, about 15,000 Palestinians applied for citizenship, and of those, 6,000 were approved. From January 2014 to September 2016, about 4,000 Palestinians applied, with 84 approved, 161 rejected, and the rest pending. The simple truth is this: Most Palestinians of East Jerusalem do not want to be citizens of Israel, and Israel certainly does not want them to become citizens. This is why the colonization of land taken in war is illegal. This is where it leads.
It also leads to statistics like these. Though Palestinians make up 37% of the population of Jerusalem, they receive 13% of the municipal budget of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem schools have a shortage of more than 2,500 classrooms. Only 52% of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem has legal access to the water grid. Government initiated construction in East Jerusalem since 1967 is as follows: 55,335 Jewish housing units (99% of total); 600 Palestinian housing units (1% of total). More than 80% of Palestinian children of East Jerusalem live below the poverty line. I could go on.
Though President Trump’s aides tried to nuance the phrasing of his announcement, President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel signaled approval of Israel’s greater Jerusalem. The creation of greater Jerusalem came about through the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians of East Jerusalem. It requires the continued expulsion, oppression, and dispossession of the Palestinians that still live in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians love Jerusalem as much as Israelis love Jerusalem. Palestinian (Muslim and Christian alike) claims to Jerusalem are as legitimate as Israeli (Jewish) claims to Jerusalem. When Palestinians hear the President of the United States say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, they hear him proclaim that their desires for Jerusalem and the current injustices they face in Jerusalem (and the West Bank, and Gaza) are irrelevant. They are right to feel hopeless and angry.
The upside of all of this is that it puts an end to the charade of the United States as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. In that sense, it is probably for the best. Now we can all face the reality that no one knows how this conflict will end. The conventional wisdom has been that it would end with two states. Unfortunately, Israeli colonization of the West Bank killed the two-state solution a long time ago. But like the mother of a child that has simply disappeared, many observers of this conflict understandably held on to a glimmer of hope. On Wednesday, Trump showed them the corpse of the two-state solution.
Israel does not seek peace. Be it because of an inescapable sense of fear, borne out of the horror of the holocaust and the reality of anti-Semitism, or because of something more malevolent, Israel is not doing the things that make for peace. Israel is not a gracious, reluctant oppressor. Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians is careful and insidious. Imagine that you can get what you want at the expense of the dignity of about five million people, while also convincing the world’s foremost power that your victim is to blame. That takes skill and desire. Israel is literally walling-in an entire people group, dramatically controlling their lives, and yet we Americans are not clear about who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Jimmy Carter was right. It’s peace or apartheid. Israel has chosen apartheid, and for now, the United States approves.
If all of this sounds hyperbolic or confusing, then I invite you to check out the resources below, some of which were cited about. They are a beginner’s guide to understanding East Jerusalem. Vox Media put out three short videos on Israeli settlements, the last of which covers East Jerusalem. The second resource is from the website of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. It briefly outlines the history of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and of the systemic injustices that Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered and continue to suffer. The third resource is a link to a map of all Israeli settlements, compiled by Peace Now, an Israeli-American peace movement. It shows how vast the settlement enterprise is, with almost 600,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. On the topic of Jerusalem, it includes some important statistics about the allocation of government resources to East Jerusalem. The last resource is an hour-long podcast with Danny Seidemann, the foremost expert on the politics of Jerusalem. Dig in.
Vox Videos on Israeli settlements:
Facts and Figures on East Jerusalem:
Podcast on the Politics of Jerusalem: