By Jonathan Tobin
What was Jerusalem’s Arab population doing when Hamas fired rockets at the holy city in the last week? According to stories in both the New York Times and the Times of Israel, the answer was clear: they cheered even though they were in as much, if not more, jeopardy than their Jewish neighbors.
Both stories brought to mind the memory of Palestinians taking to their rooftops in 1991 to cheer Iraq’s shooting of SCUD missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War. The spectacle of Jews being forced to run to bomb shelters when the air raid sirens began to wail is something that cheers their enemies who are frustrated about Israel’s relative wealth and power. But what makes these stories so poignant isn’t just the fact that Hamas rockets don’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs. It’s that their hostility toward Israel seems to be more important than their own wellbeing and any desire to improve their economic lot.
The quotes from Jerusalem Arabs about their indifference to the possibility of being harmed by Palestinian rockets sound remarkably similar to those uttered by Gazans who have heeded Hamas’s call to act as human shields for the terrorists. Of course, thanks to the Iron Dome missile defense system, this was just rhetoric. But their words provided more evidence of the implacable hate for Jews and Israelis that is felt by most of the Arabs. Just as Palestinians mocked the plight of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers last month on social media and in demonstrations aimed at thwarting rescue efforts that proved futile after the trio were murdered, Jerusalem’s Arabs think there is something meritorious in Hamas’s practice of firing indiscriminately at crowded cities.
Such attitudes are the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East since it demonstrates that polls that indicate widespread Palestinian support for efforts to continue the struggle against Israel’s existence are not mistaken.
Yet, as New York Times bureau chief Jodi Rudoren discovered when she decided to investigate Arab sentiment about the light rail line that connects Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the capital, Jerusalem’s Arabs would rather see improvements like the railroad destroyed than benefit from cooperation with Israel.
Days after they celebrated the murder of the three Israeli teens, Jerusalem Arabs rioted after a group of Jewish hooligans murdered an Arab teenager in a revenge attack. Rather than sense the futility of these horrors, Palestinians believed the death of one of their own required them to up the ante in terms of violence even though Israel’s government and the overwhelming majority of its people condemned the crime. But rather than just demonstrate, they attacked the light rail line and destroyed stations and infrastructure that had been built to service their community.
While rioters generally don’t think rationally, the targeting of the rail stations seems premeditated and aimed at proving the point. For decades since Jerusalem’s unification in 1967, the municipality has underserved its Arab neighborhoods. But the creation of the light rail system, which was inaugurated in 2011, was part of an effort to provide services to Arabs and connect them to the rest of the city in a way that would obviously boost their economy. Yet, as Rudoren writes, it’s clear that the Arab population resented it as a symbol of “occupation.” By occupation, they are not merely referencing the unification of the city under Israeli rule or even that of the West Bank but the Jewish state’s existence. Thus, it was hardly surprising that mobs would burn down the Shuafat and Es-Sahl stations and reduce the line’s 23 stops to 16, meaning that many Arabs no longer have access to rail transportation.
That’s a small price to pay for Arabs who clearly regard the continuation of the war against Zionism as a higher priority than the prosperity of Jerusalem’s Arabs. But this isn’t the first time such a choice has been made.
The rejection of the light rail has precedents going back to the 1930s when Palestinian Arabs rejected and sought to destroy the country’s new electricity grid that had been constructed by the Jewish community. Just as one Arab social worker who used to take the light rail told Rudoren that he would rather walk than go on using a symbol of Israel’s permanence, then some Arabs preferred to go without electricity. When international philanthropists purchased the greenhouses being left behind by Jewish settlers in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal so as to benefit local Arabs, the structures were burned to the ground within hours by those who were supposed to profit from them.
Israelis who have given up on the peace process to the dismay of foreign friends who believe this is wrong are simply dealing with reality. Stories like these show that despite the focus on the details of peace talks and negotiations about borders, peace will require more than a signed piece of paper. Though peace processers keep reassuring us that “everyone knows” what a solution to the conflict looks like, the statements made by Jerusalem’s Arabs-people who have had more opportunity to live around Jews and benefit from Israeli prosperity and democracy than others in the West Bank and Gaza-paint a depressing picture of what it will really take. Nothing short of a change of heart on the part of Palestinians who cling to hopes of Israel’s destruction and have been so inculcated in hate that they cannot see the humanity of people who live in their own city will make peace possible. Until then Jerusalem Arabs prefer to walk.