The Judaization of Jerusalem: What is Our Response?

Are these the actions of a country interested in negotiating in good faith for a Palestinian state alongside it, with East Jerusalem as its capital?

Ha’aretz announced today that

2008 set an all-time record for the number of Arab residents of East Jerusalem who were stripped of residency rights by the Interior Ministry. Altogether, the ministry revoked the residency of 4,577 East Jerusalemites in 2008 – 21 times the average of the previous 40 years.

Also from today’s Ha’aretz:

Clashes erupted yesterday in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, after a group of Jews announced their intention to move into a house in the neighborhood. The entry of the Jews into the home follows a court order ruling that the Arab al-Kurd family, which lives in a portion of the house, had no right to occupy an addition that they had built onto the house.

This situation has been unfolding for some time. In an nutshell: Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been evicted from their homes so that their land can be turned over to a settler organization that seeks to build a Jewish settlement called Shimon Ha Tzadik. According to the Jerusalem NGO Ir Amim, this settlement

constitutes one of a series of plans that seek to penetrate and surround Sheikh Jarrah with Israeli settlements, yeshivas, and other institutions as well as national park land, and complement government efforts to ring the Old City with Jewish development and effectively cut it off from Palestinian areas.

Meanwhile, since their eviction, the Palestinian families (55 people in total) have been sleeping on mattresses in the street “and spend the day sitting in the shade watching settlers walk in and out of their front doors.”

And in another part of East Jerusalem:

The World Likud movement held a cornerstone-laying ceremony yesterday for the expansion of the neighborhood of Nof Zion, despite – or possibly because of – American pressure against building in East Jerusalem. The Jewish settlement is in the middle of the Arab village of Jabal Mukkaber. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem municipality razed two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem yesterday.

The plan is to add to Nof Zion 105 new apartments to the 90 ones that are already there, most of which are already occupied. The neighborhood is considered “prestigious,” but the developers ran into trouble a few years ago after they failed to sell the apartments to Jews from overseas. About a year ago the developers changed their marketing strategy to target the local national-religious market – and the apartments began selling quickly. The developers expect the same for the new part of the neighborhood…

In Isawiyah villagers tried to block the entrance to the village with cars, while in Silwan local residents threw rocks at police officers after the house was destroyed.

Addressing the ceremony, MK Danny Danon (Likud) said that Jerusalem will never be a part of negotiations with the Palestinians. He called Barack Obama “naive” and said the U.S. president still does not seem to understand who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in the conflict.

Yesterday the Jerusalem municipality razed two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, one in Isawiyah and one in Silwan. In both cases, local residents battled security forces.

It does not take a great deal of insight to connect these dots. These are not simply random municipal disputes. We are witnessing the systematic Judaization of Jerusalem.

International protesters refer to these actions as “ethnic cleansing.” If that seems like too incendiary a term, what do we prefer to call it? And more critically, what are we going to do about it?

Postscript: I just received an email from Rabbi Arik Ascherman (of Israel’s Rabbis for Human Rights) who was at yesterday’s demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah.  Though he is a veteran of such demonstrations, I have never heard Arik express such a profound level of despair.

His report has left me speechless.

Click below:

It is 1:30 am, and I just came back from Sheikh Jarakh –I see Jerusalem in flames, and know than my words will not succeed in conveying the horror of what I saw or the dread in my heart.

Today the court ruled in favor of the settlers who had taken over part of yet another family’s home in Sheikh Jarakh.  Because a lawyer for some of the families in the 1980’s recognized Jewish ownership in return for protected tenant’s status, the addition the El-Kurd family made to their home was deemed illegal.  They had to ask permission from the “owners” to do it.  Did the court order the addition demolished or a fine paid?  Of course not.  Why, anybody should be able to understand that the only logical thing to do was to let settlers move in to the extension.

All day the tension was palpable, sometimes breaking into physical violence.  People warily looked at me to determine if I was friend or foe, until I got close enough to be recognized and greeted in Arabic the newcomers who didn’t recognize me. Palestinians backed by Israelis and internationals huddled around fires, keeping a watchful eye out, as Arab music reminded settlers huddled inside their new acquisition just where they were.  Nasser Ghawi is closing in on his fourth month in a pitiful lean-to across the street from where 6 settler families lived in his home, with a constant stream of visitors in and out.  He asked me if there was any hope left.  Usually full of optimism in even the most difficult situations, I could only mouth some meaningless platitudes about looking for new legal options.  Yesterday Maya, our staff person who spends the most time in Sheikh Jarakh, asked me where justice was.  I didn’t have an answer for her either.

All of a sudden a group of settlers and their supporters comes to the Ghawi home amidst cat calls and insults hurled by Palestinians seeking an outlet for their seething anger and pain.  The settler group moves closer and wants to come in to congratulate those within.  Everybody jumps to their feet and the gate is slammed shut, but there are settlers already inside as well as outside.  I am amazed that no fights break out.  The taunts get louder and more vicious.  Some spit at the settlers. In similar situations I have urged Palestinians to calm down, but here I felt that I had no right and that it would do no good.  The only comment I responded to was when somebody said in Arabic that they wished Hitler had finished the job.  I tried to think of what I could do if things escalated further, and didn’t come up with any answers.  The settlers keep staring at me and my kippah.  They don’t get it.

The most terrifying indication that we were at the brink of conflagration was that the police were did not wade violently into the Palestinians or arrest people for having the wrong look on their faces, as so often happens in Sheikh Jarakh. I even saw one of the officers trying to clear the way for settlers to come in and out snarl at one of the settlers and tell him that he dare not touch anybody.  In other situations I would have been pleasantly surprised, but here this was an indication that the police also knew that they were sitting on top of a volcano about to blow.

Maya arrives.  I say to her, “It will be a miracle if the night passes without an explosion.” Every few minutes a new group of settlers comes to look, to smile.  At one point a settler inside comes demanding that the Palestinians turn off the blaring music.  I have visions of what will happen if he pulls a plug or smashes something.  I remind him of the Jewish teaching, “You don’t rebuke somebody in the midst of their sorrow.”  He goes back in, as Palestinians shout and rattle the windows.  One woman addresses at length the Druze officer guarding the door to the captured room.   I can only imagine what she is saying.  What is said in Hebrew again and again is, “This is your system of law?”  I can only answer what I learned years ago, “Not everything that is “legal” is just.”

The worst of it is that I don’t know what to suggest.  Israel’s democracy has failed up until now.  International pressure has failed up until now.  The activist community has failed up until now. Although his worst predictions that their actions would cause the inhabitants of the land to rise up and destroy them never came true, our ancestor Jacob cursed his sons Simeon and Levi until his dying day for their violent and brutal act of revenge in this week’s Torah portion: “Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.  Let not my person be included in their council,, Let not my being be counted in their assembly.  For when angry they slay men, and when pleased they maim oxen.”

I hope that I too am wrong.  What is the big deal here?  Be angry and upset, but why so worried about one more incident of helpless Palestinian fury directed at an Israeli injustice?   Why should activists spend a sleepless cold Jerusalem night huddling in front of a fire.  Why should the political echelons and the courts shake themselves out of their torpor.  Can’t the international community feel satisfied with itself over it’s “strong protest?”

Because this is Jerusalem.  As I wrote a week and a half ago, I see a Palestinian anger burning so strong that, unlike what usually happens, neither the threat of arrest or the use of overwhelming force is a deterrent.  That means a third intifada.  That means that the fact that the world community forcing Israel into a settlement freeze (perhaps) may be too little too late.  That means that the Obama administration remains a laughingstock at best, and in many quarters the U.S. is again the subject of scorn and derision.

I see Jerusalem in flames – I see Armageddon straight ahead.  I see everywhere complacent alarm.  I know that tens will answer our call to demonstrate today, but we need hundreds and thousands.  The diplomats will write urgent reports, but we need effective pressure.  The peace and human rights community will say that this is terrible, but we need them to come out of their homes.  The politicians will say that it is a matter for the courts and that they can’t interfere,while the courts will say that the law takes precedence over their personal conscience.  The police will prepare emergency plans.  If nothing changes (olam c’minhago noheg), Jerusalem will burn.

11 thoughts on “The Judaization of Jerusalem: What is Our Response?

  1. Michael Levin

    Additional resources available at [End Demolitions Now, a Settlement Freeze Would Not Be Enough] — a project of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions [ICAHD-USA, ICAHD Israel, & ICAHD UK] — including their current campaign/petition to end the destruction of Palestinian homes:

  2. YBD

    It is certainly novel to hear a rabbi complaining about the “Judaization of Jerusalem”. Wasn’t the idea of Zionism to “Judaize Eretz Israel”? Wasn’t it “Judaization” to build the “progressive” Tel Aviv University on the land that belonged to the Arab village of Sheikh Munis but whose residents fled during the War of Independence?

    On the other hand, is it “Arabization” when Arabs move into Jewish areas in Lod, Akko, or Nazeret Ilit, or when they take illegally over state lands in the Negev as happens every day?

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      As I rabbi, I have no trouble saying that the Judaization of Jerusalem is immoral. Jerusalem is certainly significant to Jews, but it is also a city with a population of multi-ethnic, multi-religious peoples who also consider it to be their home. If “Judaization” means that this city (or the land as a whole) should only be inhabited by Jews – and all others must be removed or otherwise stripped of their rights, then I will oppose this as a rabbi, as a Jew, and as a person of conscience.

      Further, I do indeed consider it to be a moral issue that Tel Aviv University is built on the top of Arab village. I disagree with your analysis that the residents of al-Shaykh Muwannis simply “fled” in 1948. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris the depopulation of this village was prompted when the Irgun kidnapped five village leaders at the end of March 1948. “Coerced fleeing” by any other name would be called “expulsion,” and I think we should be at least able to own it for what it was.

      I’m intrigued by your term “Arabization.” Lod and Akko were both originally Arab majority cities that were depopulated in 1948. It is well documented that in Lod Arab residents were forcibly expelled by Israeli forces (you can read Rabin’s autobiography or “The Lemon Tree” for the specifics.) In the case of Akko, the Haganah besieged the city and its inhabitants fled (yes, fled) in every direction, including into the sea. Nazareth Illit was created largely out of expropriated land from the Arab city of Nazareth.

      What do we make of this history? It’s certainly not a simple answer. But I do believe that recognizing it, owning it, and talking about it would be a good first step. And if we are troubled by this history, I think a good second step would be to protest when we see it repeated in our own time, in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere.

  3. Steve Grover


    This Judification of Yerushalayim is making me want to sing Hatikvah and listen to a recording of Shuli Natan singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. Heck, I might contribute to the JNF or buy some State of Israel Bonds.

    I invite all of your readers to join in on
    this Ruach. Ashrei Yoshvay Veitecha.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      If Zionism means ethnic cleansing, inequity, and transfer of indigenous peoples without some form of justice or repatriation, then no, I do not consider it to be legitimate.

      I believe the only way Zionism can be “legitimate” is if it finds a way to coexist with basic tenets of human rights, civil rights, democracy and equality without regard to religion or ethnicity. (Values that I assume many of us purport to hold dear.)

  4. YBD

    Your answer is not clear. Is the goal of Zionism, as it was at least from the time of the Balfour Declaration, in which mass immigration of Jews to Eretz Israel is to be encouraged and organized, and in which a Jewish majority was ultimately to be established, legitimate in your eyes, knowing that this means making the existing Arab population a minority?

  5. Dana

    It’s so hard for me to accept that while I agree with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, others that agree with him too also speak sentiments like “Hitler should have finished the job”.

    How can I be on the same “side” as people who would have those thoughts???

    Therefore I am on no side. This isn’t a road, it’s a heart, and what’s wrong, is wrong. Taking these homes is wrong. But so is violence, so is murder, so is making a people feel so scared, so beaten, so ill, that all they can do is fight and make others feel this way, too.

    All I can do is pray. And teach my children about right and wrong and see the power of good deeds.

    Thank you for posting this.

  6. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    I genuinely understand your anguish, Dana. I would only ask you to go deeper into the roots of this conflict and to understand where comments such as “Hitler should have finished the job’ come from. I believe they come from the frustration and anger of people who have been thoroughly disempowered, crushed by oppression and are lashing back as angrily as they know how. While I find the meaning of the words to be reprehensible, I also know I need to be sensitive to the conditions from which words such as these might arise.

    By the same token, we need to ask ourselves: what is the motivation of those who would evict families from their homes simply because they are not Jewish?

    Unless we face these painful realities honestly, I can’t see that we will ever find our way out of the essential tragedy of this conflict.

  7. YBD

    The answer to Dana’s question you gave as to why the Palestinians yell things like “Hitler should have finished the job” is that we should try to “understand” what it is that brings them to think that way. No doubt millions of Jews in Europe in the period 1933-1945 were asking the same thing. I don’t know what answer they came up with. Same with the all pogroms and massacres of Jews over the centuries before this.
    On the other hand, maybe it would be reasonable to demand that the Palestinians NOT utter such sentiments since they should be required to “understand” Jewish feelings after suffering so much, just as you say we should “understand” their feelings.

    However, this brings us back to the point that the Palestinians resent the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. If that makes their rage “understandable” I again ask if the Zionist aim to have mass aliyah to Eretz Israel, and, as a consequence have the Arab population become a minority is legitimate?


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