This week, the Jerusalem Municipality authorized the naming of five alleyways and narrow streets in the Batan al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan after rabbis. Currently, 12 Jewish families and hundreds of Palestinian families live in this eastern Jerusalem neighborhood.
In response, one of the two naming committee members who opposed the new street names, councilman Yossi Havilio, stated that such a move will provoke residents and inflame the neighborhood.
Did the city of Jerusalem violate the rights of residents by assigning Jewish street names in an overwhelmingly Arab neighborhood?
First, let’s clarify their rights. The overwhelming majority of the 300,000 Palestinians living in eastern Jerusalem aren’t Israeli citizens. They’re permanent residents who nonetheless have many of the rights of full-fledged citizens, such as the right to vote in municipal elections, access to social security compensation, membership in one of Israel’s health funds and employment in virtually any profession.
What’s preventing these residents from enjoying full citizenship rights? Simply put, they are. After the 1967 Six-Day War, residents of eastern Jerusalem rejected the possibility of receiving Israeli citizenship as a protest against newly established Israeli sovereignty.
However, in recent years a growing number of have made peace with Israeli sovereignty. More Palestinians from eastern Jerusalem are applying for Israeli citizenship than ever. According to Israel’s Citizenship Law, permanent residents may become naturalized citizens.
This shift in attitude is part of a wider change among Israel’s Arab citizens. A survey conducted by the Smith Research Institute found that a “decisive majority of Arab citizens would like to be integrated into the State of Israel on the basis of full and inclusive citizenship, including mandatory civil service.”
The survey revealed that Arab citizens are “interested in being equal and integrated Israelis within the state, even though it defines itself as Jewish and democratic, as long as the state does not discriminate against them on civil matters of citizens’ rights.”
The survey also found that most Jews are interested in granting equal citizenship to Arab citizens and are willing to grant them some degree of collective rights.
But there’s a difference between collective rights and national rights. As citizens, today’s permanent residents would be entitled to every right except one: to create an independent state inside of Israel.
To remain sovereign, capitals around the world distinguish between the grievances of groups who claim indigenous status and the necessities of a functioning modern state.
The Australian Aborigines are well within their rights when they seek to reclaim and celebrate their cultural legacy, but they have no right to eastern Canberra.
The Inuit in Canada have the right to retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant society, but they have no right to form treaties with foreign nations.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in the state of North Carolina has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it doesn’t have the right to make, execute and apply laws.
And the permanent residents of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood have the right to express their displeasure and peacefully protest against the city’s decision to name a few streets after rabbis, but they have no right to become violent, as Havilio implies they will. Nor will they acquire this right should they become full-fledged citizens.
Of course, if life for eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents is so unbearable, the Palestinian Authority is but a stone’s throw away. But a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (based in Beit Sahour in the West Bank) found that 52 percent of Palestinians living in Israeli-ruled eastern Jerusalem would rather be citizens of Israel, compared with just 42 percent who would opt to be citizens of a Palestinian state.
Turns out that eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents know something that advocates for Palestinian independence don’t. Israeli “occupation” doesn’t penalize disgruntled residents for voicing their outrage at local streets being named after, heaven forbid, Jews. But residents of the P.A. are regularly detained and tortured for peacefully criticizing their government, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.
While eastern Jerusalem Palestinians threaten armed insurrection because the naming of a few streets, their brethren are routinely and arbitrarily arrested on university campuses, at demonstrations and in their own homes.
It’s no surprise that the majority of eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinians prefer living under the “brutal occupation.”
Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to “The Algemeiner,” “The Times of Israel,” “The Jerusalem Post,” CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.