Despite claims that East Jerusalem should belong to a future Palestinian state, East Jerusalemites are increasingly becoming a pivotal part of Israeli society, preferring to remain part of the Jewish state.

It was recently reported that a brand new Hebrew Ulpan (Hebrew language immersion program) opened in East Jerusalem to help young Arab residents seek opportunities within Israeli society. The Hebrew Ulpan is mainly designed for Israeli-Arab volunteers participating in Israeli National Service. The increased proficiency in Hebrew not only helps participants in their National Service, it also helps them advance in university and the workforce after they complete their service.

“I signed up to the Ulpan since we have to use Hebrew in our everyday lives, and because I want to go on and study at the Hebrew University. It can help me,” said Biga Shirawi, a resident of East Jerusalem who takes part in the course and volunteers at a library in one of the city’s Arab neighborhoods. There are presently 97 East Jerusalemite Arabs participating in Israel’s National Service program. Sar-Shalom Gerbi, director of the Civil and National Service Administration, called the phenomenon nothing short of revolutionary.

East Jerusalemites study at the Hebrew University

Hebrew Ulpan courses and Israel’s National Service program are not the only places in which East Jerusalemites are absorbed into Israeli society. Numerous East Jerusalemites are also choosing to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, considered one of the Middle East’s best universities, rather than Al Quds University or other Palestinian educational institutions. Many believe the quality of education is simply better at Hebrew University.

On the HU campus, East Jerusalemites can be seen intermingling with Jewish students. “We go out together. We cook together, we eat together, and we smoke together. We are all friends,” explained Vera Bimbad, a second year English and linguistics student who lives together in an HU dorm of mixed Jewish and Arab students. Approximately 10 percent of the Hebrew University’s students are of Arab origin.

East Jerusalemite-Jewish Israeli intermingling is not limited to campus

Current residents of East Jerusalem – numbering over 350,000, or 38 percent of the city’s total population – are already immersed in Israeli life. They shop at Israeli malls, use Israeli services, frequent Israeli restaurants and bars, and receive Israeli social and health benefits. In addition, an increasing number of East Jerusalemites are applying for Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, a clear majority of East Jerusalemites actually prefer Israeli rule to Palestinian Authority control. The Washington Post reported, a survey “designed and supervised by former State Department Middle East researcher David Pollock found that only 30 percent [of East Jerusalemites] said they would prefer to be citizens of Palestine in a two-state solution, while 35 percent said they would choose Israeli citizenship.”

By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United With Israel