Akiva Eldar
November 23, 2009 - 1:00am

Sometimes tourists show up at Jerusalem's mental health centers, convinced that a voice from the heavens told them they were the messiah. The illness, commonly known as Jerusalem Syndrome, usually passes once they have left the city. However, Israelis, mostly public figures, have been afflicted with this syndrome for the past 42 years, affecting their ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Jerusalem has become the Disneyland of the Jewish people.

For many of those affected by this disturbing disease, it extends beyond Jerusalem. It begins with the transformation of an Arab village in the middle of the West Bank into a "Jerusalem neighborhood," and ends with the description of occupied territory in the heart of the West Bank, like Ariel, as "a settlement bloc." First we shape a new reality for ourselves; then we expect the entire world to adopt it, demand that our neighbors pay the cost, and complain that we have no partner for peace.

What could they possibly want from us? That was the combined reaction of the president, the mayor, the cabinet ministers and the head of the opposition. After all, they said, Gilo is at the heart of the Israeli consensus. What does that consensus mean? Reminder: In June 1967 Israel annexed to Jerusalem some 70 square kilometers of West Bank territory, including 28 Palestinian municipalities and villages that were never considered part of the city. When Jordan controlled Jerusalem, it was six square kilometers, including the Old City, whose territory is no more than a single square kilometer.

Since 1967, some 30 percent of East Jerusalem land has been appropriated for the construction of new neighborhoods for some 200,000 Israelis. Indeed, there is consensus among Israelis that in a peace agreement that would include exchange of territory, Gilo would remain under Israeli sovereignty. But not in a unilateral step that would not be recognized by any other country. Around the world, there is wall-to-wall agreement that East Jerusalem is at best disputed territory; in the Arab world, the consensus is that it is occupied territory.

The situation in the city since 1967 has perpetuated the deep chasm that divides its two parts and the two peoples living in it, and separates the empty slogans from the reality on the ground. Thus, for example, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat complained loudly about the Obama administration, which he claimed discriminates between the residents of the city "on the basis of religion and ethnicity." It is hard to imagine that Barkat is not aware that by law, only Israeli citizens, or those entitled to citizenship on the basis of the Law of Return, are entitled to purchase a plot of what is considered state land. Since the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are city residents but almost none are citizens of the country, they are not entitled to purchase plots in a third of the lands that have been expropriated from them in order to set up Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. The result: The residential density in Arab neighborhoods is nearly double that in Jewish neighborhoods (11.9 square meters per person compared to 23.8 square meters per person).

In a democratic society like the one in Israel, it is understood that the unification of the two parts of the city carries with it equality for all its residents. But in actuality, nearly half the Palestinian students in East Jerusalem do not study in the municipal education system; some 9,000 of them do not appear on the records of the city's education authorities, and it is not known whether they receive any form of education. The Education Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality have promised the Supreme Court that they will build at least 645 classrooms in East Jerusalem to start making up for the shortfall; more than 1,350 classrooms are needed. In practice, less than 100 new classrooms have been built. To this day, filth, neglect and unpaved roads clearly mark the border between the two peoples living in the city.

Shimon Peres traveled to Egypt yesterday. For months Peres has advocated, in Israel and abroad, a plan for a temporary Palestinian state and the postponement of the debate over Jerusalem to better days. The consistent Palestinian opposition to this idea does not appear to affect him. According to our peace-loving president, since Jerusalem is at the core of Israeli consensus, the Arabs must not only adjust their own consensus regarding Jerusalem but also agree that in the meantime, until we agree to allow the issue to be brought to the negotiating table, we should continue to behave in East Jerusalem as though it is ours, and only ours.

Israeli conduct in Jerusalem, and the side effects that emerged as a result of the criticism of the construction plans in Gilo, suggest that Jerusalem Syndrome has now afflicted all of society. We can only hope that it is not an incurable disease.


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