Nearly two months ago, I commenced a blog series called The Battle for Jerusalem. As it turned out, events in Iraq, Gaza, the caliphate, MH 17, all pushed Jerusalem onto the backburner - temporarily. Make no mistake about it - Jerusalem is and will continue to be the single-most important foreign policy issue, bar none.
In summary, for over ninety years, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the international question has been ‘Who will own Jerusalem?’ This is known as the ‘Jerusalem Question.’ There have been 5 dozens proposals over the years but one or more of the many parties who have a stake in the Jerusalem Question have said ‘No.’ These interested parties include Israel, Palestine, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Vatican, the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, and the Orthodox Church. With so many stakeholders, 4,000 years of history, and different theologies, no wonder the question of Jerusalem is so difficult to solve.
The Battle for Jerusalem does not mean that guns are fired and bodies fall everyday, 24/7. No, the battle happens daily but at several levels: political, cultural, theological, spiritual, and physical. The spiritual battle is on-going and intensifying; its the daily one. Physical battles have been many throughout Jerusalem’s long 4,000 years of history. The last full-on battle was in June 1967, when the Israel Defense Forces captured the Old City and the Mount of Olives from the Jordanian. Low-level battles include riots and two Palestinian uprisings, otherwise known as intifadas. The second intifada was exceptionally violent, with regular suicide bombings. Even recently, with the Gaza War (known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge) and the murder of a Palestinian teenager after the murder of three Jewish teenagers, there has been more spot-rioting.
In this second part, we look at a most unlikely battlefield: it is what we can call ‘inter-Jewish.’ While the Israel Jewish community are mostly agreed that Jerusalem should remain united under Israeli rule, there is also a schism among those Jews who live in Jerusalem.
The current population of Jerusalem stands at 815,000 people. Of this number, 301,000 are Arab and 500,000 are Jewish (other is around 14,000 are other). Of the Jewish population, 51% are Haredi (ultra-orthodox) and the rest are secular/Orthodox. The growth in Haredi numbers can be attributed to a higher birth rate and emigration of secular Jews.
Why are secular Jews emigrating from Jerusalem? Various reasons, but one is that Jerusalem is a religious city and its night-life can be dull compared to rocking, bopping Tel Aviv 65 kilometres down the road. There is also little to do on the Sabbath, because religious Jews want to keep theatres and restaurants closed and cars off the streets. The Sheruber Complex in Abu Tor, a mixed Jewish and Arab neighbour on the former Jordanian border, is offering Sabbath day entertainment. Though life between Jerusalem Arab and Jews can be mostly calm, there are times when things flare up and this may also make some secular Jews look for calmer pastures. Secularists are probably tired of the two battles they face: Arab vs. Jew and Jew vs. Haredi. That’s why they are leaving.
If, in the future, should there be increased tension between secular and Haredi Jews, like closing businesses and prohibiting cars on the Sabbath, or drafting religious Jews into the army, Jerusalem would be the fault-line. Furthermore, some (no one knows the amount) of Haredi do not believe that the State of Israel has a right to exist. In their mind, only Messiah can create a Jewish state and anything created by man is a fraud. This could make interesting bedfellows between anti-Zionist Jews and their anti-Zionist Arab neighbours.
In all likelihood, despite the chasm like differences between Haredi and non-Haredi Jerusalem Jews, external challenges may force them into an uneasy coalition as the battle for Jerusalem increases in intensity.