Looking at the current crisis, it is more than clear that only a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty can provide a solution to facing the many challenges that this iconic city faces.
By Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein, KeepJerusalem.org
So how’s Yerushalayim (Hebrew for Jerusalem) faring during these harrowing Corona days?
All in all, relatively well, considering the lockdown that the entire country entered this week. As of Thursday morning, the numbers were 2,495 infected with corona throughout Israel, including 41 in critical condition. The first Israeli to succumb to Corona – an 88-year-old Jerusalemite Holocaust survivor who suffered from respiratory issues – died over the Sabbath. Four others have died subsequently. At least two top public health officials of Jerusalem have caught the virus: Magen David Adom Jerusalem district direct Shlomo Petrover, and United Hatzalah Dir.-Gen. Eli Beer (infected and hospitalized in Miami).
Jerusalem: A City of Kindness
At these times, it doesn’t take much to see that Jerusalem continues to live up to its reputation as a city of kindness, in the tradition of Moshe Montefiore, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, Rabbi and Rabbanit Yosef and Bracha Kapach, and many more. Two Jerusalem hotels, Dan Panorama and Dan Jerusalem, have been turned into recovery hostels for Corona patients. At Shaare Zedek Medical Center, recreational frameworks have been opened for the hospital workers to enable them to meet the growing demand without the stress of worrying about their little ones. Some 60 children took part in the first day’s sessions, in a school building near the hospital.
The talk of most towns is that more testing for the Coronavirus will help authorities get a handle on how fast the disease is spreading and direct medical resources to those who most need them. In Jerusalem, as in Haifa and Be’er Sheva, Magen David Adom has established drive-in testing centers that can process “hundreds to thousands” of people a day. Only persons presenting Corona-like symptoms are eligible for testing.
With malls and markets, such as the famous Machane Yehuda shuk, closed down, Mayor Lion announced that the municipality would establish a “virtual mall” for Jerusalem businesses: a list of the websites of all Jerusalem businesses, organized by type and location. In addition, a loan fund for up to 100,000 NIS is being established, with the opening fee of 500 shekels being covered by the municipality.
And there’s more: The city will distribute 1,500 food baskets to families experiencing especial difficulties during this period. The baskets will be packed up by volunteers in five locations around the city.
“The most important thing during these challenging times,” said Mayor Lyon, “is to be able to count on one another… Jerusalem was always a paradigm of such behavior and of warm relations among the residents. I am confident that we will get through this united and ever stronger.”
But it’s impossible, even now, to ignore the political front. The Holy City saw some violence this past Friday between Muslims and police units, as the latter sought to enforce the new regulations restricting public gatherings to no more than ten people. Amidst the scuffles at the Temple Mount, one Arab was arrested and several others were fined. Outside the Old City, the police were forced to employ riot-control gear in the face of Arab provocations.
The incidents underscore the ever-present tensions between the Jewish and Arab populations in the city. There were reports at the end of last week that Jerusalem would be “divided” in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the city, meaning that Arabs of eastern Jerusalem would not be allowed to pass to the Western side.
Though this intention was probably never taken seriously, an Arab MK declared that such a move has a “racist flavor” and must not be allowed. City Councilman Aryeh King said that it was an unnecessary idea that could be construed as a form of “dividing the city.” He added that the Arab sector is not as infected with the disease as are some sectors of the Jewish population.
Corona and the Unity of Jerusalem
Corona and the question of Jerusalem’s unity are intertwined from another angle as well. When the crisis began to get out of hand in eastern Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority wished to show – admittedly, with some initial success – that it, and not Israel, was in charge. It closed schools some days before Israel did, for instance. But it crossed a red line when it began distributing health instructions via buses sporting the PA logo – as the Oslo Accords forbid the PA from operating in Jerusalem. Israel arrested the Jerusalem Fatah leader who organized the campaign, and Israel Police began forcefully breaking up gatherings larger than the permitted size.
On Monday, things reached a head when Arabs threw Molotov cocktails at a Jewish-run minibus in the Yemenite Village neighborhood, setting the vehicle ablaze and destroying it. The passengers succeeded in escaping safely.
The fact is that until the world realizes that Jerusalem the Holy is the eternal capital of the Jewish People – which many believe may happen quicker than generally thought, given the cataclysmic events of the past weeks – our struggle continues: We must ensure that Yerushalayim remains united under Israeli sovereignty, with a large Jewish majority. Looking at the current crisis, it is more than clear that only a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty can provide a solution to facing the many challenges that this iconic city faces – political, demographic, economic and health.
Israeli sovereignty and administration is benefiting its Arab residents in ways that they could never hope for under Palestinian leadership. The best example is the 38-year-old Arab east Jerusalem bus driver who was one of the first infected and thanks to Israeli professionalism and non discrimination – saved his life and removed him from danger.
History, ethics, security and simple logic all indicate that we must stand firm in the face of international Muslim and BDS pressure and propaganda.
Everyone to whom the city’s Jewish past, present and future is precious must enlist in the struggle. How can you get involved? Visit Jerusalem (at least after Passover…), participate in our bus tours in strategic areas, speak up for Jerusalem, and learn to become an effective advocate for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.