The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev has been in the Israeli news twice in the last week, and not because anything good happened there. Pisgat Ze’ev was built beyond the Green Line and is a settlement, even if it is not considered as such by Israel or Israelis, and even if it is in an area unilaterally annexed by Israel as part of the new boundaries of municipal Jerusalem (an annexation not recognized by anyone and contravening international law, and one that has been put on the table in the current official Israeli-Palestinian negotiations). Pisgat Ze’ev witnessed what is in many ways and without exaggeration one of the ugliest scenes in Israel’s history last week.
As reported by Haaretz, this is how it began:
Dozens of teenage boys from Jerusalem received the same ICQ message: "We're putting an end to all the Arabs who hang out in 'Pisga' [Pisgat Ze'ev] and the mall…Anyone who is Jewish and wants to put an end to all that should be at Burger Ranch at 10 P.M., and we'll finally show them they can't hang in our area anymore. Anyone who is willing to do that and has Jewish blood should add his name to this message."
What followed later at a local mall—all caught on video—was a harrowing scene of violence that saw two Arab teenagers end up in the hospital as a result of the violence meted out by a mob of more than 80 Israeli youths:
The Jewish teens gathered outside the local shopping center armed with knives, sticks and bats and attacked two Arab teens, aged 16 and 18, from the nearby Shuafat refugee camp. One of the Arab youths…was stabbed in the back, but managed to escape. His friend was described by one of the suspects during questioning as a "trampoline and a punching bag." The suspect recounted how "everyone jumped, kicked and stepped on him"
The attack was roundly condemned by Israeli leaders, and an investigation was launched. But the events were the tip of the iceberg of an issue that has for so very long been swept under the carpet: that of the relations between the Jewish and Arab populations within Israel, and the massive structural discrimination against the almost 20 % of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian. For Israel’s sake, this is an issue that must not be ignored or allowed to fester.
But then another thing happened involving Pisgat Ze’ev this week: it got a reward for the beating of two Arabs, when the government announced the construction of 763 new homes in Pisgat Ze’ev (and another 121 in Har Homa). I am convinced that if a two state solution is ever reached, then Pisgat Ze’ev will be part of Israel in its agreed, recognized, and legitimized new borders, and I have been part of Israeli negotiating teams—official and unofficial—that have argued this case.
But until that agreement is reached, every housing unit added and marketed beyond the Green Line will continue to undermine that same two state solution and reduce the likelihood of it ever being reached as the belief on both sides in such an option is further eroded. The US government and international community criticized this act of settlement expansion, but it goes on and on. Pisgat Ze’ev needs to be going through a serious process of internal introspection right now. The last thing anyone needs is the opposite—a process of external expansion.