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Kikar Hashuk Reka (The Marketplace is Empty)
By Hillel Cohen
The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem, 1967-2007
Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies
220 pages; NIS 84
In writing Kikar Hashuk Reka, author Hillel Cohen was very careful to give space to different viewpoints, sometimes to the extent that a reader who expects the author to give him or her some direction gets a little lost. But even more noticeable is Cohen's rare ability to take almost all the pathos and drama out of the rather tragic events he is relating.
Cohen is a researcher and an expert in Palestinian society, especially in east Jerusalem, a population with which he is very familiar due to the years he spent as a correspondent for east Jerusalem affairs for the local weekly Kol Ha'ir. Indeed, the book is a accessible mixture of academic research and vivid journalistic reporting. Cohen manages to show empathy when relating human issues, but maintains a professional distance regarding events.
At the heart of the book is the Palestinian political collapse in Jerusalem and the unwillingness of its Arab residents to participate in the broader political arena. After the Six Day War, Jerusalem's Arabs gained the right to apply for Jerusalem residency status, which entitled them to welfare and economic benefits from the State of Israel, but over the years also deprived them of the intimate contact they used to have with their West Bank brethren.
Additionally, Jerusalem's Arabs have boycotted municipal elections since 1967 to express their rejection of Israeli control over the city. Yet their everyday life has become deeply intertwined with the reality of life in the capital of Israel.
"What is mostly conceived as a kind of passivity," explains Cohen, "is a specific expression of the ever existing tensions between ties to Palestinian nationalism and the reality of life under Israeli control and the benefits it includes, the recognition of Israel's overwhelming strength and the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and its defects in terms of corruption and human rights."
Cohen's conclusion is that this has contributed to the "hesitations of many Jerusalem Arabs to join in the struggle to bring the city into the control of the Palestinian Authority."
He points out that in January 2006, after Israel finally agreed to allow Palestinian legislative elections to take place in the city, the participation was embarrassingly low: less than 15 percent, versus a Palestinian national average of 78%.
Although Cohen points out that Jerusalem's Arabs have been experiencing a leadership crisis since the death of Faisal Husseini in 2001 - leaving a vacuum that neither the Hamas nor Fatah leaders have been able to fill - it is too early to conclude that the Palestinian struggle over Jerusalem is over. Various forms of resistance continue, according to the author, for at least two major reasons.
The first is that they live under Israeli rule with no rights to participate in the national political process, which leads to various kinds of discrimination (although Cohen acknowledges that Jerusalem Arabs are well aware of their advantages compared to those living in the West Bank proper).
"Secondly," adds Cohen, "despite their particular status, they still consider themselves as a part of the Palestinian people and thus bound to its national and religious values."
But one thing is certain: The Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem do not agree among themselves on basic issues regarding their future.
Cohen states that although most Palestinians aspire to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state, many of them see this as an ideal that will only be implemented in better days .
Another point that is stressed is the growing strength of various Islamic movements. According to Cohen's research and private conversations with many Palestinians living in the city, the belief that Islam will ultimately prevail has gained much currency over the years.
"Their internal sense is that they are part of a huge body," he says, "which spreads over the continent and over time, that they are continuing the path of Omar Ibn-Hattab, who conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines, and of Saladin, who freed it from the Crusaders. They are brothers of the Muslims fighting the infidels in Chechnya, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan. The presence of the Jews in the city is part of a divine plan: In the days of judgment the Jews will be tried and God has brought them to Jerusalem for their trial. And the more the Palestinian Muslims suffer, the more people will believe that Islam is the solution."
Cohen's conclusions are given in the form of four basic alternatives for Israel: Preservation of the status quo, unilateral separation from the Arab neighborhoods, separation as part of an agreement that will include joint administration of the Old City, or reinforcement of Israeli control, which would include increasing Jewish settlements in all parts of the greater city and offering incentives for Palestinians to leave Jerusalem.
It remains to be seen whether any politicians, Palestinian or Israeli, will read Cohen's book before reaching any operative conclusion about Jerusalem. But Cohen's insights and smooth style make for a readable book, especially for those who really care about this city.