By Jeff Jacoby, July 22, 2009.
Late last week, the Obama administration demanded that the Israeli government
pull the plug on a planned housing development near the Sheikh Jarrah
neighborhood of Jerusalem . The project, a 20-unit apartment complex, is
indisputably legal. The property to be developed — a defunct hotel — was
purchased in 1985, and the developer has obtained all the necessary municipal
Why, then, does the administration want the development killed? Because
Sheikh Jarrah is in a largely Arab section of Jerusalem , and the developers of
the planned apartments are Jews. Think about that for a moment. Six months
after Barack Obama became the first black man to move into the previously
all-white residential facility at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington , he is
fighting to prevent integration in Jerusalem.
It is impossible to imagine the opposite scenario: The administration would
never demand that Israel prevent Arabs from moving into a Jewish
neighborhood. And the Obama Justice Department would unleash seven kinds
of hell on anyone who tried to impose racial, ethnic, or religious redlining in an
American city. In the 21st century, segregation is unthinkable — except, it
seems, when it comes to housing Jews in Jerusalem.
It is not easy for Israel ’s government to refuse any demand from the United
States, which is the Jewish state’s foremost ally. To their credit, Israeli leaders
spoke truth to power, and said no. “Jerusalem residents can purchase
apartments anywhere in the city,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on
Sunday. “There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city,
and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city’s east. This is the
policy of an open city.”
There was a time not so long ago when Jerusalem was anything but an open
city. During Israel ’s War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanian Arab Legion
invaded eastern Jerusalem , occupied the Old City , and expelled all its Jews —
many from families that had lived in the city for centuries. “As they left,” the
historian Sir Martin Gilbert later wrote, “they could see columns of smoke rising
from the quarter behind them. The Hadassah welfare station had been set on
fire and . . . the looting and burning of Jewish property was in full swing.”
For the next 19 years, eastern Jerusalem was barred to Jews, brutally divided
from the western part of the city with barbed-wire and military fortifications.
Dozens of Jewish holy places, including synagogues hundreds of years old,
were desecrated or destroyed.
Jerusalem ’s most sacred Jewish shrine, the Western Wall, became a
slum. It wasn’t until 1967, after Jordan was routed in the Six-Day War, that
Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli sovereignty and religious freedom restored
to all. Israelis have vowed ever since that Jerusalem would never again be
And not only Israelis. US policy, laid out in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of
1995, recognizes Jerusalem as “a united city administered by Israel” and
formally declares that “Jerusalem must remain an undivided city.”
As a presidential candidate, Obama said the same thing. To a 2008
candidate questionnaire that asked about “the likely final status of Jerusalem,”
Obama replied: “The United States cannot dictate the terms of a final status
agreement . . . Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, and no one should want or
expect it to be re-divided.”
In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Council, he repeated the
point: “Let me be clear . . . Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel , and it
must remain undivided.”
Palestinian irredentists claim that eastern Jerusalem is historically Arab territory
and should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In reality, Jews always
lived in eastern Jerusalem — it is the location of the Old City and its famous
Jewish Quarter, after all, not to mention Hebrew University, which was
founded in 1918.
The apartment complex that Obama opposes is going up in what was
once Shimon Hatzadik, a Jewish neighborhood established in 1891. Only from
1948 to 1967 — during the Jordanian occupation — was the eastern part of
Israel ’s capital “Arab territory.” Palestinians have no more claim to sovereignty
there than Russia does in formerly occupied eastern Berlin .
The great obstacle to Middle East peace is not that Jews insist on living among
Arabs. It is that Arabs insist that Jews not live among them. If Obama doesn’t
grasp that, he has a lot to learn.