image of jerusalem 2013

Palestinians & Israelis ... in Jerusalem?
I. Introduction

3 April   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Jerusalem - known in Arabic as al-Quds and in Hebrew as Yerushalaim - is meant to be a city of sacredness and peace. It is also a city of two peoples and three faiths bound together by history and destiny on a small parcel of land But this picture of pluralism and diversity, of peace and holiness, is being constantly challenged by two different conceptions and realities.

Indeed, as a city sacred in equal measure to Jews, Christians and Muslims, God is being held hostage to the interests of men. Men and women are also being held hostage to their own whims. As a city whose name calls for peace, victimhood and victimisation have nonetheless become the normative currencies of this city - let alone of the West Bank and Gaza as a whole.

In this small land, where God chose to reveal His divine will, Israelis and Palestinians are at war! Living side by side, erstwhile historical neighbours and peace partners are now fighting each other. Pisgat Ze’ev and Beit Hanina, Gilo and Beit Jala, Psagot and Ramallah, Netzarim or Kfar Darom and Gaza! Neighbourhood against neighbourhood, Jewish settlement against Palestinian town, the violence that is deadly, bloody and unjust continues unabated to date.

II. Policies of Contradiction

Israel claims that Jerusalem - the whole city with its eastern and western sectors - is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. Palestinians, on the other hand, stress that West Jerusalem can only become the capital of Israel so long as East Jerusalem can become the capital of Palestine.

Contradiction! Semantics do not substitute the reality on the ground! Anyone who is familiar with Jerusalem knows that there is a clear psychological separation between the western (Jewish) and eastern (Palestinian) sectors of this city. This division straddles clearly the few hundred yeards between two of the seven gates of Jerusalem - Damascus Gate and New Gate.

The walled old city of Jerusalem has four quarters that still exist today. They are the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. Between them, they house the majority of those sites that are holy to the followers of the three monotheistic traditions.

Contradiction! Instead of lifting up the religious character of this small city, Israel and the Palestinians are fighting over political sovereignty. Power and control are the ingredients that describe this small sacred space which is meant to move beyond such temporal struggles.

Israel constantly reminds the world community that it can never relinquish its hold over Jerusalem. A people who spent long years in exile seeking to return to their spiritual home will not give up a city that once held the Temple and housed the Ark of the Covenant.

Contradiction! Much as Jerusalem is irrefutably sacred to Jews, it is sacred in equal measure to Muslims and Christians world-wide. Much as Israel cannot give it way, nor can the Christian and Muslim worlds. Besides, why does Israel interpret the religious significance of Jerusalem through a political lens that insists upon sole de jure and de facto control of the whole city ..?

III. Unilateral Measures

Given this reality, and in view of the fact that the whole process of political negotiations now taking place is over a mere 22% of historical Palestine, it is regrettable that Israel is using a variety of measures to alter the demographic make-up of this small percentage of land under negotiation. Measures employed by Israel include, inter alia, the following:

  • Revocation of residency rights for scores of Palestinians from Jerusalem who may have lived outside the city or abroad for a number of years - due to studies, employment or marrriage. In pursuing this discriminate policy, the Israeli Ministry of Interior is overlooking the fact that those residents were born in Jerusalem. It is also making a frightening contrast in its attitude toward Jews who have an automatic ‘right of return’ to Israel whereas Palestinians do not regardless of their birthrights;
  • Although 90% of unlicensed houses are built in West (Israeli) Jerusalem, only 10% of those are demolished by the municipality. Of the remaining 10% built in East (Arab) Jerusalem, 90% are nonetheless systematically demolished by the municipality (Halper, AIC statistics);
  • A massive settlement drive in Jerusalem and the West Bank is altering the geo-demographic makeup of this land and establishing obstacles to peace on the ground. One consequence of this settlement drive is that wholesale Palestinian town and villages are being sieged or encircled, and territorial contiguity between Palestinian areas is no longer viable or possible;
  • Israeli closures of the territories continue, and the northern and southern sectors of the West Bank are cut off from Jerusalem with hardly any flow of goods or movement of persons.

IV. Psychology of Peace or War?

It is true that Israelis are fearful for their cultural, religious or historical identities. This fear within the Israeli Jewish psyche is legitimate and ought not be dismissed summarily. It is also in another part an inevitable unfolding of history. Yet, Palestinians have legitimate rights too, and resistance to such rights by either side tots up the pain and losses on both sides.

Israel is fully within its right to exist with security in the Middle East. However, it cannot use its overwhelming military might to coerce another people into submission and surrender. It cannot simply pretend that well over three million Palestinian men and women do not exist on Palestinian soil. Israeli security relies largely upon a peace agreement with its Palestinian (and Arab) neighbours that recognises the principles of international legality enshrined in the UNSC resolutions and associated international covenants or agreements.

Instead of mutual negation and mutual recrimination, what should be strengthened today are goodwill, good faith and mutual trust. They alone can lead to the confidence-building measures that provide a win-win solution for both peoples and possibly lead toward ultimate reconciliation. Such a peace alone can revoke the radicalism - religious and political - that is besetting this region and taking it down the spiralling path toward further violence.

This outcome is a responsibility that Israelis and Palestinians must assume with courage. But it is one that the European Union - as a political body - and the international NGO’s - as a moral force - should also pursue with relentless vigour, clear advocacy and targeted lobbying.

The future of the region looks gloomy! Israel will remain an invincible and unconquerable military giant in the midst of a weak and riven Arab world. Its economy will be stronger than those of most of its Arab neighbours. But it will still have no genuine and lasting peace. Its security will remain threatened, exposed and false. The suffering and bereavement of Palestinians and Israelis destined to live together could well continue much longer.

Unless, of course, there is peace ..?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   3 April


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