Every city has its pluses and minuses. They are part of what makes a city, i.e., a mixture of different peoples and their perspectives, along with whatever lays heavily on the current generation due to the history of what happened before them and the precedents created.
Jerusalem must be somewhere near the top of the list for internal tensions against a long history, as well as being at the focus of competing interests from afar.
It ain't easy living here. Annual celebrations, new interests that demand their own parade in this iconic place, a mass of tourism that makes shuffling in a crowd the only way to pass by key sites, as well as lots of visiting dignitaries assure frequent interruptions in travel from place to place.
Among the benefits is a climate that has nothing to do with politics or the city's long history, but comes from an elevation of 800 meters (2500 feet), far enough from water to assure low humidity, average temperatures ranging between 12C and 5C (52F and 40F) in January to 30C and 19C (86 F and 66F) in August, annual rainfall only a bit lower than London's, but with very little of it between March and November. Due to our distance from industrial areas, the air scores well on conventional measures. On a clear day we see the Jordan Valley, the River Jordan, and the Jordanian capital of Amman from our balcony.
Bloodshed is never far from Jerusalem's tensions. From last September there were several months of Palestinian violence, this time marked by individuals aspiring to be mourned as martyrs for wielding kitchen knives against Jews encountered on the street. Gays, lesbians, and transgenders feel a need to parade in this city, despite being marked for death in both Muslim and Jewish tradition. There are stories of Arabs who flee from their neighborhoods or villages to Jewish areas to escape the deadly wrath of family members. And the 30 percent of Jerusalem's Jewish population that is ultra-Orthodox produced Yishai Schlissel, who was imprisoned for 10 years for stabbing three people in the 2005 gay parade, and evaded police controls and stabbed six participants in Jerusalem's gay parade of 2015, causing the death of a 16 year old young woman.
The city's long history also assures an intensity of conflict as well as great turmoil for anyone inclined to build. Who owns what, and who can grant or withhold consent is far from simple in a situation where regimes registering property ownership changed three times in the most recent century, and four times for that part of the city under Jordanian rule during 1948-67. Christian Churches, Muslim religious authorities, and foreign governments claim extensive land ownership acquired in centuries past.
Not too far from these fingers is an apartment project, meant to have five towers and a number of lower units, but currently stuck at two towers and a messy portion left ugly for years due to legal disputes in the way of further construction. Among the stories is that of a Christian intermediary, accused by church authorities of defrauding them by taking bribes from property developers so that he would urge the church to accept a lower price than it could otherwise obtain for a long term lease.
Currently us poor benighted residents of French Hill, along with Arab neighbors in the nearby locales of Shuafat and Isaweea, are trying to deal with what appears to be the dumbest of municipal projects moving toward implementation.
It involves a land fill meant to provide for the dirt, rocks, old construction material, and who knows what other refuse produced by construction projects throughout the city.
While a glance at a map would suggest the appropriateness of putting such a nuisance (involving heavy trucks, noise, dust, and other pollutants) five or so miles east where there is lots of empty desert, the municipality is moving to locate the dump in the midst of an urban area, close to French Hill apartments and even closer to Arab neighbors.
No surprise that there are lots of reasons to justify and oppose this particular location, with some of them reflecting what Jerusalemites of all persuasions must endure on account of Jerusalemites of other persuasions.
All Jerusalem is problematic, given its shaky status in what is called "international law" by foreign governments and international organizations. The desert to the east may be even more problematic, insofar as others have assigned it to Palestine.
And be assured that Palestinians will rush to international forums to oppose Israeli dumping of Jewish waste in what they view as their desert, perhaps even faster than they'll bother with opposing dumping the same waste alongside Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
Residents of French Hill, Shuafat, and Isaweea are not usually good neighbors. Efforts by French Hill activists to create joint projects have been met with cold shoulders by persons thought likely to be friendly, who have described serious threats of harm if they cooperate with the Jews.
On this matter, however, there are signs of joint efforts, with activists from all three neighborhoods speaking at hearings prior to planning approvals.
For those who see coexistence as important to at least minimal civility in this city, the prospect of a joint Jewish and Arab campaign appears to be an ideal way to fight a nutty idea put forward by municipal planners. It should appeal to the worthies and powerful of overseas institutions that are more concerned with this city than with other places far from their own homes.
Alas, it ain't simple. There are racist Jews as well as Arabs who oppose cooperation with the other more than they value the achievement of mutual benefits, or the avoidance of mutual harm.
Among those opposing the dump are those also opposed to the extension to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's highly successful light rail. One can wonder about the thoughts of those with the authority to decide on planning matters in a city beset with so many issues. Is any one of the matters just another case of NIMBY (not in my back yard), or something that truly deserves to be dumped.
My own view is that this location of the dump for construction waste is one of those proposals that should be rejected, but it is my backyard we're talking about.
Also characteristics of Jerusalem are recent national celebrations where politicians found it easiest to side with the excessive glorification of what seems certain to set back whatever hopes there might be for coexistence.
Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day (marking Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in 1967) are within a month of one another, and signify important landmarks in Jewish history. They are also occasions for excited Jews to stick their fingers in Arab eyes.
All should know that Israel has created one of the most decent of societies, and has the means to defend itself against the madness of Arab extremists. We can hope that the Prime Minister's remark that he would like to see a military parade in Jerusalem on Independence Day will go the way of his blather that never approaches implementation. It was more than enough when enthusiastic religious Zionists organized tens of thousands of young people to celebrate Jerusalem Day by waving flags and dancing through the streets, insisting on a route that went through Arab quarters of the Old City.
Israeli police and courts insisted that organizers monitor the Jerusalem Day parade to keep the kids in line, and that it would conclude before the onset of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. We can also assume that the word went out to Muslim activists that the consequences could be dire for them if they did more than express their opposition to Jerusalem Day in an acceptable fashion.
That's Jerusalem. Call it the world capital for excitable Jews, Muslims, and still a few Christian residents. It's a place that provokes excesses of religion and/or nationalism, or simply a place more beset than most others with contrasting claims and celebrations that annoy or infuriate others living here.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem