By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM –French Hill is one of the neighborhoods begun soon after 1967 on land included in the enlargement of Jerusalem. Now there are about 8,000 residents, the large majority of whom are Jews. There are also Arab, East Asian, and other students from the nearby Hebrew University, and Arab families who are renters or home owners.
Isawiyya is a neighborhood across an empty field whose buildings begin about 200 meters from our apartment. It is one of the Arab neighborhoods that share with French HIll, Pisgat Zeev, and Neve Yaacov the northeastern sector of Jerusalem The 12-13,000 residents of Isawiyya pass through French Hill on their way elsewhere, and patronize the post office, bank, shops, parks and playing fields located here. Isawiyya is not a run down slum, but a substantial place with construction similar to that of Jewish neighborhoods. The cars that come from there resemble ours.
Isawiyya does not have the vegetation that marks French Hill, and the lack of parks, playgrounds, and pavement on the streets represent the shortfalls of municipal services typical of Arab neighborhoods. The residents and Jewish sympathizers assert discrimination. A political analysis is that boycotts of municipal elections that have continued since 1967 deprive the Arab 30 percent of Jerusalem’s population the capacity to shape services in their favor.
One of democracy’s rules is that you have to participate in elections in order to influence the results, and then the outcomes of public policy that derive from elected authorities. Very few of Jerusalem’s Arabs accepted the citizenship that was offered them in 1967, but they gained the right of residents to vote in municipal elections.
Arabs from Isawiyya sometimes pick through French Hill trash containers for usable clothes or utensils. Occasionally we have narrowly missed throwing our sack of waste on an Arab child digging around in a dumpster. We also pass well dressed families and individuals from Isawiyya on the sidewalks that serve us for daily walks. Arab men come to a French Hill park to drink, and young couples neck on the benches of a small wooded area. Neither of those activities would gain the same indifference in Isawiyya as in French Hill.
Jews are advised not to visit Isawiyya. For us it is not likely to be friendly place, and may be dangerous. It is one of the neighborhoods often in media reports.
In recent days we have heard the shouts of crowds and explosions from stun grenades and tear gas canisters. One explosion occurred while I was drafting this column.
Palestinian sources report that a baby in Isawiyya died after inhaling tear gas, but the police claim that there were no injuries in the relevant time frame. This may be police underreporting, or one of those occasions when Palestinians try to assign responsibility to the army or police for a death that never occurred, or resulted from something else.
It is the Border Police that handles hostile crowds. This is a quasi-military force, comprised of Bedouin volunteers, plus Druze and Jews with roots in Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, or Jews from poor urban neighborhoods who do their compulsory military service in the Border Police.
One of my experiences with the Border Police occurred when I was a private in the IDF lecture corps, spending a day on reserve duty at a training camp. It was the first month or so of the intifada that began in 1987. My mission was to urge restraint on the recruits. Violence was not playing well in international media.
Looking around the auditorium, I concluded that I may have been the only Ashkenazi among the 100 or so individuals (this was prior to the large immigration from the Soviet Union). The commander introduced me as a soldier, but also as a professor at the Hebrew University. When I finished my talk, one of the trainees began, “Professor” (in a tone that was not clearly a compliment), “you should know that most of the people here like to hit.”
Looking out from our balcony, we see the Arab village of Anata to the left, while Isawiyya is to the right. Anata (perhaps the site of the Biblical Anathoth, the home town of the Prophet Jeremiah) is not in the Jerusalem municipality, and it is on the other side of the security barrier. Isawiyya is part of the Jerusalem municipality, and there is no barrier separating us. Often there is a police check point on the road out of Isawiyya. It is likely that some residents of Isawiyya report to the security forces on the actions of their neighbors. There are frequent police patrols of French Hill, and we hear that there are undercover personnel in our neighborhood in the evenings. Often there are Border Police at the gas station that serves both Isawiiya and French Hill. Station employees come from Isawiyya. Some of their neighbors have targeted it with fire bombs.
We are now at day three or four of demonstrations starting with who knows what, and feeding off several injuries, one acknowledged death and another claimed. The impending end of a construction freeze in the settlements may be part of what began this. If there are Palestinian instigators opposed to peace with the Zionists, any one of several scenarios can give them reason to continue. If Mahmoud Abbas continues the talks in the presence of an extended freeze or a partial or complete end of the freeze, the talks themselves can serve as a reason for demonstrations. If Abbas suspends or ends the talks on account of limited or widespread building, the building on Jewish settlements can provide the reason.
Yet we must remind ourselves that Palestinians politics respond to different stimuli than our politics. We can guess about likely scenarios, but we should not fool ourselves with misapplied certainty.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University