In April 2015, The Guardian published a powerful piece by novelist Teju Cole on the less visible forms of state violence that have characterized Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem.
Cole distinguished between two manifestations of Israeli state violence: “hot” and “cold.” Hot violence is crude and perceptible by virtue of its unconcealed aggressiveness. It is most visible in occupied Hebron and Gaza. Cold violence is more refined and works through “a dizzying assemblage of laws” designed to make life difficult and instill a sense of uncertainly in Palestinians. For Cole, the expression of Israeli power in East Jerusalem embodies cold violence.
Cole’s analysis is useful for understanding the more subtle methods of repression in occupied East Jerusalem. These strategies have made up a large part of Israel’s approach to dominating the city, though hot violence has also played a critical role.
While the United Nations called for the internationalization of the city in 1947, the “Jerusalem question” was deferred for several years, after its de facto division between Israel and Jordan following the 1948 war. Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem in June 1967 sparked a revival of the issue. Recognizing the illegal nature of Israel’s actions in the city, international institutions began to focus their attention on events taking place in East Jerusalem. As a result, Israel had to tread carefully, resorting to a range of legal and administrative measures to gradually (and surreptitiously) solidify control and transform the demographic, physical, and historical character of Jerusalem.
This cold violence characterized Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem from June 1967 until the Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 1987. During this time, a doctrine of “peaceful co-existence” was championed by Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek. As a result of his liberal worldview and fear of international rebuke, Kollek sought to mitigate the impact of Israeli incursions in occupied Jerusalem, by pushing for open borders with the West Bank, honoring the religious and civic rights of Palestinians living in the city, allowing Palestinian institutions to continue to exist, and protecting the “integrity” of separate residential neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Kollek stubbornly held to this vision of “enlightened occupation” until the first intifada broke out.
Hot violence became more of a feature in Jerusalem during the intifada years (1987-1993), as the uprising shook the status quo. Israeli forces applied severe measures to quell Palestinian demonstrations and political activity, including mass arrests, curfews, and restrictions on the movement of people (and goods) with the West Bank.
The Oslo “peace process” (1993-2000) brought a brief period of respite in the occupation’s suffocating grip on the city. East Jerusalem began to be economically re-integrated into the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority asserted its presence in the city. These advances gradually faded away, however, as an unapologetic ethno-religious chauvinism arose within Israeli politics and society – a trend that intensified with the collapse of the “peace process” and the eruption of the second intifada in 2000.
During the second intifada, Israel deployed more overtly violent mechanisms of repression in East Jerusalem, including: the elimination of Palestinian civil society, increased revocation of residency status for Palestinians, heightened police and settler penetration into Palestinian neighborhoods, a proliferation of checkpoints, the construction of the separation barrier, and Jerusalem’s severance from its hinterland. Under these conditions, the Palestinian economy contracted.
This hot violence continues to intensify. Over the course of 2016, seventeen Palestinians were killed by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem alone. The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs documented over 500 minors from East Jerusalem detained in Israeli prisons in 2016. According to the UN, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories (including East Jerusalem) reached a record high, while Islamic endowment authorities registered 14,806 Israeli settler incursions into the city’s al-Aqsa compound. The situation has intensified East Jerusalem’s deliberately engineered economic collapse.