Dividing Jerusalem

 Continuing with my previous note, any current discussion of Jerusalem ought to deal with the issues of whose city? and should it be divided?


Even more basic is the issues of which Jerusalem? and when?

Ancient and medieval sources tell of several expansions and contractions of what was defined as Jerusalem. The process has continued in our lifetime, with major changes in 1948 and 1967, lesser changes since 1967, and continued disagreement about what are, and what should be the city's boundaries.

Moreover, the boundaries are porous. Thousands of Palestinians come and go on a daily basis from the West Bank, both legally and illegally.

Against this record of uncertainties and a lack of international recognition of what Israel and its friends describe as Jerusalem, one can wonder about the importance or wisdom of Israel's political opponents arguing about dividing the city.

Realities are that all cities are divided. People tend to stay in areas where they are comfortable, and avoid those that raise their hackles or their fears. This is true of Jerusalem, no more or less than in New York, London, and just about every other city of significance.

Not only are major cities divided by social, economic, ethnic, racial, religious, and/or political traits of residents, but many  have changed their borders in response to one or another consideration. They grow, shrink, merge with municipal neighbors, or separate into their parts.

One hears--but it is not all that certain--the declarations of Israel's Prime Minister and other right of center politicians, that Jerusalem must never be divided. 

Lots of us skeptics and cynics wonder about Israeli insistence on holding hostile Arab neighborhoods.

Perhaps, whenever Palestinians sit down for decent bargaining, they might get a piece of Jerusalem in order to seal agreements on numerous other issues.

And if it should never be divided between Israel and Palestine, what about those walls between a major part of Shuafat and other parts of Jerusalem. Who knows how many people are living on the other side of those walls, yet may have rights as Jerusalem residence? Estimates range from 30,000 to 80,000. 

Such a gap in estimates about part of this city does not speak well of those with the authority to administer the city or the country of which it is a part.

Realities are that all would lose with the rigid division of the city. Jerusalem Arabs and Palestinian nearby depend on economic opportunities in the Jewish sector of the city, and Jews depend on Arabs for menial and skilled labor, as well as  professional work at the upper levels of medicine, education, commerce, and government.

One should not deal with these issues with an excess of naiveté or optimism. Palestinian resistance to all offers justifies Israeli stubbornness.

Insofar as we're dealing with Jerusalem, it's not something that the locals can decide by themselves.

The Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies have their claims, as do Muslim religious authorities, the United Nations, as well as American Conservative and Reform activists who want equality with the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox.

With all the participants from afar, it sometimes appears that they cancel one another out, and leave Israel's government, with occasional squeaks from the municipality, to decide about the city. There are too many cooks for any one of them to influence things, with the exception of the one with the most power and most close to the action.

Jerusalem may be on the watch-list of many governments and international organizations, but it's not so high on their lists that they allocate much more than verbiage to the issue. It's easy for many to give money to a Palestinian or Jewish  cause and then turn to something else.

From many sides we hear that Jerusalem's Palestinians (or &Arabs& for those reluctant to honor the Palestinian national movement with its name), are chronically on the short end of things. 

No doubt their neighborhoods lack adequate school rooms, playgrounds, well kept streets, garbage pickup, and enough police protection to keep innocent bystanders from being hurt by someone else's family feuds. 

It is not clear if Jerusalem's Arabs and their neighborhoods are better or worse, relatively speaking, than the personal opportunities and neighborhood amenities available to ethnic minorities--especially those with a high incidence of troublemakers--in the cities of other countries.

For many of those concerned with Jerusalem, comparison is not relevant. The city should be an example to others, like it is glorified in the Bible, even if other passages in the same Bible describe its contentious and violent realities.

Defenders of the status quo explain the shortcomings of Arab neighborhoods by their residents' refusal to vote in municipal elections. Apparently, they would rather serve their national loyalties than do anything according to Israeli norms and thereby improve their neighborhoods. The municipality and national governments do allocate resources to the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, perhaps with an eye to what would keep tensions below a boiling point. However, it should be no surprise that residents who vote, and put their parties on the Municipal Council and in the Knesset, get more than those who shun the opportunity.

No less problematic for Jerusalemites than the Arab-Jewish divide is the divide between ultra-Orthodox and other Jews. The ultra-Orthodox are 30 percent of the Jewish sector and growing, with a much larger percentage of school children. When Jerusalem's Jews speak about &white flight& they are not talking race or ethnicity, but the flight of secular and Orthodox families from neighborhoods affected by the black spread of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The uncomplimentary use of &black& refers to the garments of the males.

Flight occurs because of the clannish take over of what had been mixed neighborhoods. What the whites (i.e., non-ultra-Orthodox Jews) fear is the eventual closing of streets to cars on the Sabbath and religious holidays, insults directed at women dressed &immodestly,& i.e., in short sleeves, slacks, or shorts, and insistence that women ride in the back of the bus or avoid the sidewalks reserved for men. 

French HIll is experiencing an increase in both its Arab and--moreso--its ultra-Orthodox residents. Those who are neither divide between feeling anxious about one group or another, or both.

None of this makes for political quiet, but the city's weather is great. 

Comments welcome