Rainbow in Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the
State of Israel and the Jewish people.
But in reality, Jerusalem is not
united; we lie to ourselves when we declare that it is. Jerusalem may be under
full Israeli control, but there is nothing united about it.
point of the celebrations on Jerusalem Day is the Israeli flag march through the
Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, passing through the Damascus Gate into
the heart of the Muslim quarter while the youths carrying the flags chant “death
to the Arabs,” “Muhammad is dead,” “Jerusalem for Jews only,” “Kahana was right”
Isn’t it time we become more honest, at least to ourselves.
Jerusalem is not one city. Even though we have total control over Jerusalem, we
don’t really have sovereignty over it. (Don’t worry, readers, I will also relate
to the lies that the other sides tell.) There are at least two Jerusalems – one
Israeli and one Palestinian. Jerusalem is also divided in additional ways –
there is the religious Jewish Jerusalem and the secular Jewish Jerusalem. There
is the Christian Jerusalem and the Muslim Jerusalem. Each identity group in the
city has its own geopolitical-demographic reality which it shapes and controls
through the use of its own exclusive narrative of the past, present and
Most of the narratives constitute a make-believe reality in which
the others don’t exist. Occasionally the various identity groups may share the
same space – in hospitals, in the shopping malls, on the roads – but they don’t
really mix and interact. Each of them lives in its own Jerusalem.
want to divide Jerusalem – that is, I don’t want physical divisions in
Jerusalem. The walls around the Old City are enough for me. I would like to see
Jerusalem as one open urban space, but shared by its various identities with as
clear lines of delineation as possible. First and foremost the delineation lines
must be between Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world, it is actually possible to
draw those lines. It is possible to determine that the Palestinian neighborhoods
would be under Palestinian sovereignty and the Israeli ones under Israeli
It is possible to have a joint police/security force in the
city or for separate forces to work together. It is possible to develop all
kinds of models of municipal government that will ensure the physical openness
of the city while enabling each side to have its national capital in
Israel does not have sovereignty in Jerusalem. Not because
Israel does not claim it – Israel does. But sovereignty cannot just be taken, it
must be recognized.
Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem is recognized by
almost no countries in the world.
There are no embassies in Jerusalem and
there will not be any here until there are two sovereignties in Jerusalem. When
Israel is ready to recognize Palestine’s sovereignty over its parts of the city
and then – presto – the world will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over its parts
of the city. Until then, it would be wise to begin to adjust to the real
Jerusalem – or Jerusalems – one Israeli and one Palestinian. With that in mind
we can begin to plan how the open city of Jerusalem with two capitals and two
sovereignties can actually work and be an inspiration to us and to the
While we are talking about lies, it is time for the Palestinians
to also begin to tell the truth. The Palestinians are about to mark their
national days of mourning – Naksa Day marking the loss of the West Bank and Gaza
in 1967, and then Nakba Day, marking their catastrophe of loss and exile in
1948. There is no doubt that they are entitled to their own narrative, which
negates ours. This is legitimate and for them, not a lie. The lie is in the
belief and the myth that the refugees and the millions of their descendents will
return to their original homes.
It is clear that the central thread of
Palestinian identity is the experience of the Nakba. Keeping the lie of return
alive prevents the possibility of developing the second thread of what could be
the next chapter in Palestinian identity – that is building the homeland – their
state. With pride the Palestinian people could come together and build their
state on part of Palestine and focus their energies on the future, rather than
continuing to suffer in what some of them call the “ongoing Nakba.” They can
live the lie and suffer or begin to face the reality and the truth that
Palestine, their state, is achievable, but only if they come to terms with
Israel as well.
For Israel and Israelis, we must come to terms with the
legitimacy of Palestinian existence and their rights to a state on part of the
land of Israel. Both sides can continue to believe that history and God have
given us all of the land while at the same time recognizing that while we all
have rights to it all, we simply cannot have it all.
If we are able to do
that, we will also be able to recognize that our histories intersect and our
narratives must also recognize the legitimate existence of the
When it comes to Jerusalem, it means that each and every single
component of Jerusalem’s identity is legitimate and no one identity has
superiority over its other components.
Jerusalem is Jewish. Jerusalem is
Israeli. Jerusalem is Palestinian. Jerusalem is Muslim, Jerusalem is
Christian. Jerusalem is for all humanity. Jerusalem belongs to us
all.The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center
for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the
initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad