Stages of grief in the search for a permanent peace

Prophecy and predictions of apocalypse are staples of life in Jerusalem. The current outbreak of violence, against the backdrop of biblical landscapes and sacred sites, lends itself to both. Under circumstances like these, it is wise to recall the words of a biblical prophet who walked the land 2,700 years ago: “He who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.”

The causes of the current violence are complex. Some are acute, like July’s murder of a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and the war in Gaza. Others are rooted in the daily lives of the city’s 300,000 Palestinians: a population adrift, disenfranchised, cut off physically and politically from their West Bank hinterland, ruled by authorities that are at best apathetic to their needs, and often actively hostile to their interests. Add to the mix the volatile gases of a holy site, the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, which has become the arena of choice for religious pyromaniacs of every possible persuasion, and there are conditions in Jerusalem for a perfect storm of violence.

The responses of official Israel to the crisis in Jerusalem have followed the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of the stages of grief, starting with denial: Don’t acknowledge the violence. Early on, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urged the press not to report the violence. The second stage was anger: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to respond with an iron fist. He has been as good as his word, going well beyond the unprecedented, if understandable, massive security response. The starkest example is the demolition of the family homes of the dead terrorists, punishing innocents while every Palestinian in the city bitterly notes that no such step is taken against the families of Jewish terrorists. Other forms of collective punishment are meted out against the entire Palestinian population of East Jerusalem: Neighborhoods and roads sealed with concrete blocks and an Orwellian policy of “enhanced enforcement” designed to break the will of the Palestinian population — mass arrests of youth, lengthy sentences for minor infractions, fining parents for failing to control their children, parking tickets, fines for building violations and vehicle seizures.

In the past, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have not been the vanguard of Palestinian national resistance, nor have they been predisposed to violence. According to official Shin Bet statistics, during the eight years of the Second Intifada, Israel arrested only 270 East Jerusalem Palestinians for terror–related activities — fewer than Israel arrested in the West Bank in any given two-week segment of that period. For now, however, the era of Palestinian East Jerusalemites rejecting violent protest is over. Since July 2 — the day of the Abu Kdheir murder — more than 1,300 Palestinians have been detained, about half of those boys younger than 18. The change is not only quantitative: For the first time since 1967, the murderers who perpetrated the recent vehicular terror attacks and the slaughter at the Har Nof synagogue have become akin to folk heroes in an East Jerusalem that sees itself very much in the grip of a popular revolt against Israeli rule.

Anger, made concrete in Israeli efforts to break the will of the Palestinian population, is clearly prolonging, rather than cutting short, the violence. Based on the Kubler-Ross model, the next response from official Israel should be bargaining. One might expect this to mean promises from Israel to improve the lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, if only they behave. Like bargaining over grief, this, too, would  fail. Palestinians in East Jerusalem will not be broken, and years of experience shows they will not be bought. But in any case, under Netanyahu, there has been no bargaining, nor will there likely be. Netanyahu appears to believe that Palestinians in East Jerusalem must be subdued and defeated but never engaged.

In the next stage, depression, violence can be expected to abate, sooner or later. Palestinians tire of fighting; Israelis will tire of worrying. But even after a semblance of calm is restored, there will be no resurrecting the fragile pre-summer 2014 Jerusalem status quo. Palestinians in East Jerusalem have fully absorbed the message sent to them by official Israel these past months: You are an alien, hostile, ever-suspect population; if you fail to accept the docile, domesticated role we have assigned you, we will give you no quarter. In this context, any non-routine event — a provocation at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, an act of terror or vigilantism by a Palestinian or an Israeli — can reignite conflict.  

The final stage of grief, according to Kubler-Ross, is acceptance. In the Jerusalem context, acceptance means recognizing this truth: Failing a genuine political process that will address the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule over the Palestinian collective of East Jerusalem, the countdown toward the next round of violence already has begun, even before the flames of the current one have been extinguished.

Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney since 1987, is the founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli non-governmental organization that promotes the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status peace agreement on the issue of Jerusalem.

Seidemann will present the talk “Getting Real About Jerusalem” at the Professor Gerald B. Bubis Lecture at Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. for more information or to RSVP: or (323) 934-3480.