There is not a stone in the city but has been reddened with human blood; not a spot but where some hand-to-hand conflict has taken place; not an old wall but has echoed back the shrieks of despairing women. Jew, Pagan, Christian, Mohammedan, each has had his turns of triumph, occupation and defeat...
For Jerusalem has been the representative sacred place of the world; there has been none other like unto it, or equal to it, or shall be, while the world lasts.
- 'Jerusalem' by Walter Besant and E.H. Palmer, 1870
This recollection helps us put into context why, 41 years after the reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty, the passions, tensions and controversies surrounding our magnificent capital remain largely unresolved.
The successes and failures of Israel's administration of the city are best understood in the framework not only of the contemporary Arab-Israel conflict, but as part of an ancient, almost metaphysical struggle for the soul of Jerusalem. In other words, the conflict resolution lessons applied to modern contested cities - Berlin, Dublin, Gdansk, Trieste, Brussels, Montreal, Belfast and Nicosia - are not necessarily applicable to Jerusalem.
Centuries before Christianity and Islam came into history, the Psalmists wrote: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." This haunting Psalm, 137, recited daily in the Grace after Meals, begins with the poignant: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion."
Jews continued to remember Zion even after Israel's hard-fought War of Independence, when Jordan controlled east Jerusalem and Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall and Temple Mount. Thus, in January 1950 the Knesset, meeting in west Jerusalem, declared the city Israel's capital.
On June 5, 1967, Jordan attacked Israel. King Hussein's legionnaires occupied UN headquarters, bombarded Mount Scopus (the Hebrew University enclave), and attacked Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. In this war of self-defense Israel threw back the invaders and unified the city.
TODAY the city flourishes. It is home to 746,000 souls, of whom 257,000, or 34 percent, are Arabs. Birthrates (Jewish and Arab) are booming and nearly identical. Fewer residents than in the past are leaving town. Health care for all is outstanding. On a summer weekend, you would be hard-pressed to find a hotel room, or a table at one of the city's fine restaurants. Tourism has never been better. The city's cultural attractions and trendy neighborhoods make Jerusalem an altogether delightful place. Even our gazelles were recently granted a secure area in which to flourish.
Yet all is not rosy.
The city desperately needs more jobs and affordable middle-class housing. Too many citizens work in the public sector. A disproportionate number of haredim are outside the workforce. Too many residents live below the poverty level - the city is Israel's poorest - and too many elderly rely on charity. While city managers have made driving in the center of town hellish, a much promised light rail system has been years in the offing.
WHILE ONE can evaluate conditions within the city using the criteria one would with any urban center, Jerusalem is unlike any other place: It is a focal point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Solutions which may seem obvious from far away are impractical here on the ground. Those across the political spectrum who speak of "dividing" or "sharing" Jerusalem; of keeping it "united"; or of "east" as opposed to "west" Jerusalem are treading on dodgy semantic, political and geographical ground.
The city, spread out across hills and valleys, does need to be better integrated. With sovereignty comes responsibility - even over such mundane concerns as sewers, street paving and garbage collection. It is unacceptable that Arabs should live in more dilapidated neighborhoods, even though they have boycotted every municipal election and rejected representation at city hall. Mayors Teddy Kollek, Ehud Olmert and now Uri Lupolianski all failed to proactively provide equal services to Arab and Jewish areas, across the board. However, this is now beginning to change. More schoolrooms are being built, more housing units are to be approved.
Today, rejoicing that Jerusalem is again in our hands, we pray for the wisdom that will allow Israelis to help make it a true city of peace.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Politico-Strategic Briefing... Enhance and deepen your understanding of Israel...Go beyond the 24/7 news cycle... Elliot Jager is a Jerusalem-based journalist, former NYU political science lecturer and a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report. He is a former editorial page editor at The Jerusalem Post and was founding managing editor of Jewish Ideas Daily (Mosaic). His 2017 book, The Balfour Declaration Sixty-Seven Words – 100 Years of Conflict told the story of what is, arguably, the most important political letter of the 20th century and why it still matters. Elliot will customize his briefings to suit your interests and schedule. He can meet you over breakfast before you start your day of touring or when you are back at your hotel.
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