Residents want united Jerusalem


By Rhonda Spivak, attorney, writer, and member of Canadian & Israel Bar Associations, now edits Winnipeg Jewish Review at

Carob juice vendor outside Damascus Gate, Old City, East Jerusalem. (Note: the person in this photo was not interviewed.)
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Shopkeeper in East Jerusalem’s Arab Market sells a PALESTINE socccer team shirt, even though he tells me there is no PALESTINE national team.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Street scene in East Jerusalem.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews near entrance to Jaffa Gate, Old City, East Jerusalem.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

June 29, 2010

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Although few would say so publicly, every one of the handful of East Jerusalem Arabs I spoke with in the last two weeks said that he would rather live under Israeli sovereignty than under Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

In the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem, I met Asem, who sells soccer jerseys and sports wear. In his shop, there is a soccer jersey with the name PALESTINE in big letters on a blue background. Asem tells me there is no national soccer team for PALESTINE, but “but we have the shirt.”

But, although he sells a soccer jersey saying PALESTINE, Asem is in no rush to have East Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state under PA President Abbas. When I ask him if he would prefer to live under Abbas in a state of Palestine, rather than under Israeli sovereignty, he gives me the opposite answer of what I expected.

“No, I would rather live under Israelis than under Abbas. Abbas is a thief like Arafat was. But I would rather have Abbas than King Abdullah.”

When I ask him why he prefers to stay under Israeli rule than PA rule, he answers, “At least here I can say what I want. In Syria, if you say what you want, you can go missing forever. In Jordan too. And under Abbas, too. It is chaos there [under PA rule]. Abbas can stay in Ramallah, and stay out of Jerusalem.”

Asem’s Palestinian friend in the shop nodded in agreement. Asem did say that it’s not that he liked Israel per se, but that if given the choice, he prefers it to being ruled by the PA.   

He continued, “There are some nice homes in Ramallah. You know who lives in them. Abbas and his people. Not all of the other Palestinians. They are kept poor.”

Akram, a taxi driver living in Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem echoed Asam’s sentiments in wanting to remain under Israeli instead of Palestinian rule.

“Abbas, he should stay in Ramallah and not come to Jerusalem. We don’t need him here. We are different than Palestinians in Ramallah and elsewhere. They [the PA] are all “mamzerim’[bastards] and corrupt. I want to be Israeli. I have my Israeli identity card and I want to get my bituach leumi [national insurance benefit]. Who knows what it would be like to live under PA rule? But I don’t want to try it.”

Wadi Joz is a neighborhood where religious Jews have been trying to buy homes.

“There are Arabs who will sell for a lot of money but they do it quietly so no one will know. They make the deal but they make the possession date a long time away,” says Akram, who is pleased to tell me that his brother is entering the Israeli police force.

Moussa, a taxi driver waiting outside the Western wall tells me his name is “Moshey,” which is the Hebrew name for Moussa. Moussa is also definitive that he doesn’t want East Jerusalem to be a capital of a Palestinian state under Mahmoud Abbas. “It’s a balagan there in the West Bank [under Abbas]. I would keep my Israeli identity card…Baruch Hashem, I should live under the Israelis… It wouldn’t be better under Abbas.”

When Moussa says the words “ Baruch Hashem”, I can’t quite believe my ears. Did I hear you correctly saying Baruch Hashem, just like religious Jews do? Moussa smiles. “Yes, I speak like everyone else around here. I guess I picked up the expression.”

Firas, an Arab, who lives in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood also says he isn’t in any rush to be under the PA, and is fine with the fact that there are “both Jews and Arabs who live in Abu Tor.”

“Who knows what kind of State there will be under Abbas. All my life I’ve lived under Israeli rule, so I don’t know anything else. But I don’t think my life would be better under the PA,” he says.


I am by no means the first to report on the fact that many East Jerusalem Arabs would rather live under Israeli than PA rule.

In fact, Daniel Pipes covered this subject thoroughly in the Jerusalem Post in an article on January 2nd 2008 entitled “Palestinians who Prefer Israel.” He wrote it just after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert floated a trial balloon on October 2008 about transferring some Arab dominated areas of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian authority.

Similarly, in an article “East Jerusalem Blues” in the Jerusalem Post already in 2004, Khaled Abu Toameh a Palestinian journalist reported on this attitude. As he wrote:

“The fear of losing the blue Israeli ID card is a nightmare that has haunted almost all Jerusalem Arabs for many years. Holders of the Israeli ID card are entitled to all privileges and rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens, except the right to vote for the Knesset.

“They have freedom of movement and receive free medical treatment and education, as well as the social and economic benefits which all Israeli citizens are entitled to…

“A few weeks after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, officials at the Interior Ministry noticed a sudden rise in the number of Jerusalem Arabs applying for Israeli citizenship. Hundreds of people queued outside the ministry offices near Damascus Gate every morning. Ministry officials who interviewed the applicants were stunned to hear from many of them that they were afraid that Israel would hand their neighborhoods and villages over to the PA.”

In the article Abu Toameh noted that in 1996, when Israel announced that Jerusalem’s Arabs would be allowed to participate in the first elections for the Palestinian Authority’s parliament, fewer than 10 percent of the voters showed up at the ballot boxes stationed in Israeli post offices in Arab neighborhoods. “It was a massive show of non-voting with the feet that was seen at the time as a serious embarrassment for the PLO leadership in general and for Faissal Husseini in particular,” Abu Toameh wrote.


Shortly after speaking to several east Jerusalem Arabs, I spoke to a very left-wing Jewish activist and told him what East Jerusalem Arabs were telling me that would prefer Israeli rule over the PA. He responded in what would be interpreted by some as a very paternalistic, undemocratic fashion, “If this is what East Jerusalem Arabs think, then they are not correct. ” In other words, their preferences ought to be ignored and East Jerusalem ought to go to be given to the Palestinian Authority anyway.

Later I spoke with a former a journalist who lives in Jerusalem, who confirmed that he is not surprised by what I was told by the East Jerusalem Arabs I spoke with. “I would be surprised if the Arabs you spoke with had said what they told you in front of a camera,” he offered, “but I am not surprised that they would prefer to live under Israel than the PA.”


The same day I was speaking with some East Jerusalem Arabs, there was a mass demonstration of 100,000 ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews in Jerusalem that essentially paralyzed the city, blocking traffic routes all day. Apparently, the demonstration was a protest of a ruling of the High Court of Justice to imprison what the court ruled to be racist parents of the settlement of Emmanuel who wouldn’t allow their Ashkenazi daughters to study with Sephardic girls.

The massive demonstration which effectively blocked traffic in and out of Jerusalem for hours virtually shut the city down for the day, and everyone was talking about it.

Now, think of what kind of pressure the Arabs of East Jerusalem could apply on Israel in the eyes of the world if they too were out on the streets (like the ultra-orthodox Jews are over issues of concern to them) in the hundreds of thousands demanding in peaceful civil protests that East Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian State. Wouldn’t Netanyahu’s government be forced to negotiate over East Jerusalem if this were to happen?

And yet, it hasn’t happened and the question is why?

If the sample of East Jerusalem Arabs I spoke with is typical, then the answer is clear. They would rather live in Israel than in Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine. It’s a reality that never gets talked about on Canadian or American campuses, but that doesn’t make it any less of a reality.


The same day that 100,000 Haredi Jews were out protesting in Jerusalem, I had a rather interesting conversation with an artist, a former more secular Jerusalemite who moved to the Tel-Aviv area, and believes that within the next 20 years Jerusalem will be inhabited overwhelmingly by Haredi Jews. The demographics show that the Haredi Jews with their large birthrate, combined with the fleeing of secular Jews form Jerusalem, are fast becoming the most dominant force in Jerusalem. It’s a trend that that has been ongoing for the last 20 years, and has not been reversed in the slightest.

“There will be a time in the not too distant future where the only ones living in Jerusalem will be the Haredi [ultra-orthodox]Jews and the Arabs,” the artist said.

If that happens, he continued, then it is likely that it will mean that Jerusalem won’t be divided.

“The Haredim [ultra-orthodox Jews] will never willingly divide Jerusalem. They will fight to the end, and it will be impossible for the State [of Israel] to make them give it up. It would be a “milchemet achim” (a Jewish civil war between brothers).

So his thinking was, that maybe, when it comes to the issue of dividing Jerusalem time really isn’t on the Arab’s side.

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