Encountering Peace: Our Jerusalem

The beauty, sacredness, and multiple connections and longings for this city must be released and freed from the Israeli Palestinian conflict in order to become what Jerusalem is worthy of.

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December 14, 2017 03:50
4 minute read.
PLO OFFICIALS carry the coffin of Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, Faisel al-Husseini, in 2001 on

PLO OFFICIALS carry the coffin of Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, Faisel al-Husseini, in 2001 on his way to the West Bank at Amman airport. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

When the Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini was released from Israeli prison in January 1989 after repeatedly being under house arrest and in prison between 1982 and 1989, he emerged into the reality of the First Intifada and identified the opportunities it enabled that would lead to a peace process.

Husseini made huge strides to speak to the Israeli people. He made a special visit to Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot to voice his empathy with the Jewish people and to memorialize the Holocaust as a crime against the Jewish people and all humanity.

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He said often that he did not want to see a militarized Palestinian state; that he thought that the Palestinians should spend their scarce resources on the Palestinian computer and not the Palestinian tank.

This was quite significant given the fact that he was the son of Abdel Qadr Husseini who led Palestinian fighting forces against the establishment of Israel and who was killed in the battle of the Castel.

Faisal, as the leading Palestinian political figure in Jerusalem, and as a symbol for all Palestinians in Jerusalem spoke often about “our Jerusalem,” which he referred to as “our” meaning Palestinian, and “our” meaning Israeli. He understood that if there will ever be genuine peace between Israel and Palestine, it will mean that we will have to find a way to share Jerusalem.

This is what he said in a speech on May 12, 1995, “I dream of the day when a Palestinian will say ‘Our Jerusalem’ and will mean Palestinians and Israelis, and when an Israeli will say ‘Our Jerusalem’ and will mean Israelis and Palestinians.”

Despite Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he did not unify Jerusalem, nor did he even speak about unified Jerusalem. He did say that the future of Jerusalem, its borders and its sovereignty would have to be decided by the Israelis and the Palestinians together.

This is the position of the entire world (except Israel) which after Oslo in 1993 agreed that the city would be a central permanent status issue in a future Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

Jerusalem is a deeply divided city. Jerusalem, is in fact, at least two different cities. Israeli Jerusalem is very different from Palestinian Jerusalem. It never ceases to amaze me that most of my Palestinian friends from Jerusalem have no idea where my neighborhood, Kiryat Hayovel is. And most of my Israeli Jerusalem friends have no idea how to find their way around most of East Jerusalem. When an Israeli Jerusalemite and a Palestinian Jerusalem meet and describe their Jerusalem, they describe two completely different cities. There are areas of common knowledge, like the Old City, Hadassah-University Medical Center, and the Malha Mall. But even in the Old City, the points of references are completely different. The Israelis may know the Jewish Quarter quite well, but they do not feel comfortable there or even knowledgeable about the cultural scene happening in the other three quarters. Just as the Palestinians have almost no knowledge of the cultural scene and sites of Israeli Jerusalem. Cultural is not created and produced to stay locked behind the walls of conflict. Culture is created and produced to be shared and to be pollinated by diversity which enriches those who share it.

Jerusalem was divided between 1949 and 1967, it was horrible for both sides of Jerusalem. In 1967 the walls came down, but the city has remained divided  - something which is very apparent to anyone who spends time in this city. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

That is a fact, even if only recognized by the United States and by Israel. But the recognition of that reality by most of the rest of the world will only become true when Jerusalem becomes the glue that holds a future peace treaty together. And when Jerusalem is not only the capital of Israel but also the capital of Palestine.

President Trump stated that the previous US position on Jerusalem did not lead Israel and Palestine to peace – that is basically true – but the failure to reach peace was not because of the US position on Jerusalem.

The failure to succeed in making peace comes from the refusal, so far of both sides, and their inability to discover how to divide and to share at the same time. Jerusalem is too big, with too much history, too sacred, with too many narratives to be possessed only by one side.

The beauty, sacredness, and multiple connections and longings for this city must be released and freed from the Israeli Palestinian conflict in order to become what Jerusalem is worthy of – the city of tolerance and not the city of conflict, blood and death.

Jerusalem does not need more martyrs willing to die for its sake. For the sake of Jerusalem, we all need to find the way to celebrate its diversity and not to lock it away in the chains of possession and exclusion.

The author is the founder and Co-Chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. His new book ‘In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine’ has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.



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