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Jewish Journal

Separate And Unequal

by Yehuda Lev

June 10, 1999 | 8:00 pm

In the Museum of the City of Jerusalem, in David's Citadel, which purports to present the history of Israel's capital, the word "Arab" does not appear. A few hundred yards away in the Museum of Islam, on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which purports to tell the history of Islam's third holiest city, the word "Jew" does not appear.

Who is right? The question is superfluous. The chronicles of Jerusalem are a gigantic quarry from which each has mined stones for the construction of its myths--and for throwing at each other.

The museum descriptions and the quotation come from a book, by Meir Benveniste, who was the deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Mayor Teddy Kollek and responsible for Arab affairs. The book, "City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem" presents a history of and report on the current condition of a Jerusalem that includes both Jews and Arabs, a fact that makes both sides uneasy.

It has now been joined by a second book, "Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem," written by two Jewish former members of Kollek's administration and an Israeli journalist. As you can surmise by the book's title, they raise some serious questions about Israel's relations with Jerusalem's Arab minority. It is a topic that, by the simple expedient of repeating like a mantra "Jerusalem is and shall always remain the undivided capital of Israel" Israel's Jewish politicians of all stripes have avoided confronting. Likewise Palestinian leaders, by insisting that East Jerusalem shall be the capital of a Palestinian state, have not had to delve too deeply into the possibility of compromise on the future of the city.

And yet sooner or later, inevitably if uncomfortably, anyone who is concerned about Israel's future has to come to terms with the future of Jerusalem.

Why? After all, Israel remains in control of the entire city, Jerusalem has a sizable Jewish majority, and large Jewish towns virtually surround its Arab neighborhoods. Furthermore there is little expectation among either Israelis or Palestinians that the city will once again be divided by mine fields, high walls and barbed wire as it was between 1948 and 1967. Certainly there is no denying the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history and in Jewish religious expression.

Yet anyone who cares to can see at first hand that Jerusalem, united in theory, is still two separate cities, Israeli and Palestinian, whose populations have as little as possible to do with each other and whose lines of division are clearly marked. Where we used to walk to the Wall from the Damascus Gate, through the busy, colorful Moslem Quarter of the Old City, few Jews risk this route today except on Friday night when Jewish foot traffic is heavy. At other times Jews are advised to use the streets through the safer Jewish Quarter.

There are other divisions. As the authors of "Separate and Unequal" pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, "[Jerusalem's] Jewish neighborhoods have well-paved roads and sidewalks, parks and libraries; the Arab neighborhoods have potholes, many unpaved roads and few parks [and] only one library and it was built mostly with foreign contributions." They also mentioned the city's separate bus companies, electric companies, school systems and even police systems operating within its two halves.

Still, with our awareness of the importance of Jerusalem to Jews throughout the millennia, isn't it almost unthinkable for us to talk of compromise on Jerusalem?

I would suggest that it is not only thinkable but necessary if Israel is to arrive at a satisfactory compromise peace with its Palestinian neighbors. And before anyone calls down the wrath of heaven upon the writer of these words, let me cite two interesting decisions from Israel's birth.

In 1947 when the United Nations partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states but kept Jerusalem and Bethlehem under U.N. control, the leaders of Jewish Palestine accepted a Jewish state without Jerusalem.

In August 1948, with the city already unofficially partitioned between Israel and Jordan, the Israeli cabinet voted by 5-4 to favor the internationalization of Jerusalem over partition. In September, the cabinet voted down a proposal by David Ben-Gurion that there be a military offensive to attempt to reunite the city and then, on a second vote, by 7-4, finally agreed that partition was an acceptable solution.

Thus, the idea of a Jewish state without Jerusalem as its capital, which seems so outlandish to us today, was actually considered and approved by Israel's Jewish leadership just half a century ago.

No one today seriously considers that Israel will surrender its sovereignty over all of Jerusalem; too much has happened in the half century since Israel's founding to make that an acceptable option.

But three factors compel Israel to seek a compromise solution for Jerusalem if there is to be peace. The first is that Jerusalem has a sizable Arab population which lives its own life in the city and whose needs and rights cannot be ignored as they have been in the past.The second is that Jerusalem is already the de facto capital of the Palestinian people, its religious, historic, commercial and population center. And third, each side must realize that the other exists, not just as the enemy but as people with histories and beliefs that give both of them a vested interest in the future of Jerusalem.

There is, of course, an alternative course of action which, simply stated, is the status quo, continued conflict and an end to hopes of a compromise peace between Israel and the Palestinians.


Yehuda Lev writes from Providence R.I.

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