Palestinians and Jews Anguish Over Visions of Jerusalem
Twenty-five years ago, Israel unified Jerusalem through war. But the conflict over its future continues.
JERUSALEM — IF you stand with your back to Damascus Gate, the most imposing entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, looking left and right, the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1540 stretch away in an equally impressive bulwark against attack in both directions.
But little else is equal.
To the left, outside the walls in Jewish West Jerusalem, the excavations for a new road sweep by, and the skyline is dominated by cranes perching over bright new office blocks.
To the right, in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, a few hundred yards and a world away, poorly maintained roads lead through neglected neighborhoods of inelegantly aging buildings.
On Sunday, Israelis will celebrate Jerusalem Day, the 25th anniversary of the unification of the city by their soldiers in the 1967 Six-Day War.
But for Jerusalemites such as Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian leader whose family has lived here for more than 700 years, the festivities recall only "the day my rights were violated." (Feud over Jersalem mosque, Page 6.)
And even some Jews have their reservations. Moshe Amirav, a Jerusalem city councilman, says he went to the Wailing Wall 25 years ago, a day after Israeli troops had captured it from the Jordanians, and in the Jewish tradition tucked a written prayer between its stones.
"I prayed for peace and for an ever-united Jerusalem," he recalls. "I look back today, and my prayer has not been fulfilled."
Jerusalem, once considered the center of the universe, fought over, besieged, and ransacked countless times in its 4,000-year history, holy to three religions, is a unique Gordian knot in the already almost-impossible tangle of relations between Arabs and Jews.
For almost all Israelis, exclusive and perpetual Israeli sovereignty over the whole city as the historic Jewish capital is the only conceivable future. But that status is diametrically opposed to the Palestinians' vision of the city as the capital of the state they hope to found one day, maintaining its tradition as the cultural, commercial, and political heart of their homeland.
The Israelis' old nightmare, that minefields and barbed wire might again divide Jerusalem as they did between 1948 and 1967, "is an idea that belongs to the past," says Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which has been studying possible futures for the holy city.
Israeli building policy over the past quarter-century has seen to that, as Jewish housing settlements have mushroomed all over East Jerusalem to ensure "that the town could never be redivided," in the words of Jerusalem's city engineer, Elinoar Barzaki.
In a ring around the outer edge of the city, modern apartment blocks that now house 140,000 Jewish residents stand in stark contrast to traditional Arab family homes where 160,000 Palestinians live.
Built mainly on land confiscated by the Israeli government, the new high-rises have spread to encircle Palestinian districts in a frenzy of construction that is still going on, while Palestinians complain that they find it almost impossible to obtain a building permit.
The official figures speak for themselves. Since 1967, according to municipal official Nira Sidi, permits have been issued for 65,000 Jewish homes, and for only 8,000 Palestinian homes.
The disparities between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods are just as glaring when it comes to municipal spending, says Mr. Amirav, a member of the left wing "Meretz" Party and chairman of the city's "equalization of services" subcommittee. Gap in city services
Though some things have improved in East Jerusalem under Israeli rule - the alleys of the Old City have been paved, and running water is now in almost every home, rather than in 10 percent of them under Jordanian rule - only 5 percent of the city's development budget goes to Palestinian districts, Amirav says.
"The gap is so big you really cannot equalize," he says, "and we are only paying lip service when we speak of equalizing services," the avowed goal of Jerusalem's mayor, Teddy Kollek.
Even Mr. Kollek, whose policy of allowing Palestinians in East Jerusalem a degree of autonomy in their schools and religious authorities has won international respect, acknowledges that "we still have a long way to go," as his spokeswoman, Bonnie Boxer, puts it.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Housing Ministry under Ariel Sharon, over Kollek's protests about unnecessary provocation, is continuing to intrude still further into Palestinian neighborhoods, encouraging Jewish settlers to take over houses in such areas as Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
If that policy continues, it will undermine the basis of one of the few existing models for a harmonious Jerusalem, drawn up by both Palestinians and Israelis.
The plan, worked out under the auspices of IPCRI, and authored by Amirav and Palestinian newspaper editor Hanna Siniora, envisages the city under a joint "floating sovereignty," as the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian entity.
The deeply segregated Palestinian and Jewish districts would be under the functional sovereignty of their respective governments.
Such a system, which would allow existing Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem to remain, could function only if each neighbourhood, following Jerusalem's age- old pattern, maintained its distinctive ethnic makeup.
"By settling Jews in the heart of Palestinian areas, Sharon will kill that prospect," Amirav worries. Fate rests on peace talks
Though the question of Jerusalem's status has been deferred until the end of the current Middle East peace process as one of its most sensitive and complex issues, many of those seeking to envision a "New Jerusalem" would like the parties to confront it now.
"Jerusalem is the place for Israelis and Palestinians to look at each other," Mr. Baskin says, and if they are to coexist anywhere, it must be here. "Unless the question of Jerusalem is resolved, there will not be peace."
And so long as Palestinians, like Faisal Husseini, see Sunday's celebration marking "annexation, not unification" of Jerusalem, they say that peace will be elusive.
"Unification means equality, it means the desire of the two parties to unify with each other," insists Husseini. "Otherwise it is occupation by force."