Quelling the violence in East Jerusalem

Religious, national, political and social motives underlie the recent terror outbreak in Israel, which has been led by young Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Israel's capital stands at the center of the terrorist attacks by individuals (even though the arena has expanded to the entire West Bank) and has seen ongoing shootings, stabbings, stone throwing and Molotov cocktails over the past months.

What makes this outbreak of terror different from others we have confronted is that it is driven by young Palestinians willing to confront Israeli military and police forces and engage in acts of "sacrifice." The terrorist activities have been triggered by largely false reports of Israeli activity that was interpreted as changing the status quo on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif). The young Palestinians have also been encouraged by social media campaigns, waged mostly by the Islamic Movement and Hamas.


This incitement builds off of the deep frustration, hopelessness and despair felt by young Palestinians in East Jerusalem. More than 30 percent of East Jerusalem youths have dropped out of school due to a shortage of classes; some work in menial labor, but many are unemployed. This feeds into the sense that they have nothing to lose, and contributes to religious and nationalist radicalism. Incitement on social media — sometimes the same type of jihadism preached by the Islamic State — inflames these feelings.

Right now, these youths feel that they have succeeded, because their actions have successfully frightened much of the Israeli public. They have seen that violence makes an impact, while political action has thus far achieved nothing.


Israel has tried to stabilize the situation by deploying massive numbers of police, border patrol and army units in Jerusalem. It has stepped up observation and physical monitoring of Arab neighborhoods and relaxed the rules regulating the use of live fire against attackers with knives or stones. Lastly, it has demolished family homes of terrorists. So far, these measures have not quelled the violence, but they have deepened the sense among the Arab population that they are the victims of collective punishment and injustice.

The events in Jerusalem have shown that the Israeli government's strategic calculations are incorrect. They apparently believe that the current status quo is sustainable, and that pursuing any serious changes would only make the situation worse. But it's now become clear that the status quo is dangerous and cannot be maintained, and that Israel's political and security situation is slowly getting worse. The more the situation stagnates, the more Palestinians will be tempted by radical, extremist and nihilistic ideas promoted by radical groups like the Islamic State, which are already gaining support in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Israeli government continues to insist that Jerusalem is united in its current greater borders and can remain undivided. Yet that idea is completely disconnected from the reality of East Jerusalem, especially in the neighborhoods and villages annexed to the eastern part of the city that are marked by 48 years of neglect.

So what can we do?

First, Israel must outfit a new toolbox suited to the new circumstances, and focus on economic, infrastructure, social, educational and public relations efforts spread through social media. In order to prevent additional escalation, we need to expound and popularize more compelling alternative ideals, in order to avoid further national and religious radicalization among young Palestinians.

Second, Israel should act to boost the economy in East Jerusalem, which is likely to suffer a sharp downturn as a result of the violence. Israel could consider temporarily cutting municipal taxes for small businesses and promoting sales campaigns to encourage consumer activity. At the same time, it is vital to boost training projects and employment for the young unemployed population in East Jerusalem, and direct educated Arabs to suitable places of employment.

Over the long term, Arab neighborhoods and villages of East Jerusalem should be allowed to establish their own municipal authority. This authority would encourage self-management and the election of members of the local population. The establishment of an authority that would function effectively and improve the conditions of the Arab population would serve Israeli interests by allowing the emergence of responsible leadership and giving residents a greater say in their own lives.

Whether a two-state solution is achieved with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, or Israel attempts to maintain the status quo and the conflict continues indefinitely, Israel has a strong interest in changing the reality in Jerusalem. Advancing these measures will increase the chances of avoiding the next eruption of violence in the capital and its negative effect on the entire country. In the long run, they can only be to Israel's advantage.


Udi Dekel is a retired general who headed Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians in Annapolis in 2007-2008 and is now deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv. He is set to speak Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore.