When Teddy went to Silwan

How Kollek handled his responsibilities to Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods.

teddy kollek 88 298 (photo credit: )
teddy kollek 88 298
(photo credit: )
Teddy Kollek's car was indisposed this day and he had to pry himself out of his aide's Beetle by lifting his legs out with both hands, one at a time. His Arab hosts received him, however, as if he were alighting from the rear of a chauffeured limousine. He had come to meet the mukhtars and notables representing close to 15,000 residents of Silwan, the sprawling village on the slope southeast of the Old City. It was a routine meeting, the kind Kollek held periodically with neighborhood groups on both sides of the city. Fifteen men awaited him in the living room of the mukhtar of Upper Silwan. Everyone settled into upholstered chairs except for the mukhtar who remained on his feet to deliver a formal welcome in Arabic translated by a young Arab seated next to Kollek. It was just a few years after the Six Day War and fewer Arabs were fluent in Hebrew than would be the case later. On the 10-minute drive from City Hall, Kollek's aide had briefed him on the problems likely to be raised at the meeting and the solutions the municipality was offering. The mukhtar spoke of an open drainage ditch whose runoff in winter was "strong enough to sweep away a camel, let alone a man." Kollek pulled out a large cigar and lit up. On the walls were framed inscriptions from the Koran and a color photograph of the Dome of the Rock. When the mukhtar had finished reading a list of requests, there was a break and two men distributed soft drinks. A man in a brown business suit now took the floor. He begged pardon for exploiting Kollek's visit to complain about the neighborhood's problems but he was sure, he said, that the mayor had Silwan's interests at heart. The street lights on Mustafa Street, he said, had no bulbs and there was total darkness at night. The men serving as waiters returned with apples and bananas on individual plates. The opening presentations over, Kollek responded. "Today, 20 American state governors came to see me," he began. The men in the room nodded appreciatively and one man said "Ahalan wa sahalan (welcome)." The governors, continued Kollek, had asked how he maintained contact with the Arab population and how he served their needs, given that there were no Arabs on the city council. "I told them that Arab municipal employees were an important channel." There were also regular contacts with the east Jerusalem chamber of commerce, he added, and with Arab businessmen who come to City Hall with their requests. Finally, Kollek said, there were meetings with neighborhood groups like this one which had kindly invited him. "When I come to any neighborhood there are demands because the municipality is not rich and always does less than enough. I came here to learn what is pressing you. I can tell you ahead of time that we can't solve all your problems. Some of them you must solve yourself." The mayor expressed satisfaction that the villagers would contribute land for a needed girls' school. The municipality, he said, preferred not to expropriate land. An earnest looking man in his 30s rose to thank the mayor for a new street built in his quarter. "But we're uneasy," he said. "Houses have been built without a permit and with growing families we have to build more." Kollek took a puff and nodded as the translation came in. The problem of building permits was critical because there was no approved master plan for east Jerusalem on which to base such permits. Another resident asked for the extension of a road by 100 meters so garbage trucks could get in. Kollek's aide intervened. "There are 100 stretches like this of 100 meters. If we paved half of them there'd be no money left for sewers, lighting or water lines." As coffee was served in porcelain cups, the aide outlined to the group what the municipality was planning to do in Silwan in the fiscal year ahead, including new sewer lines, roads and lighting. Summing up, Kollek returned to the absence of Arabs on the city council. He cited objections recently made by right-wing councilmen to a new mosque proposed for the northern entrance to Jerusalem. They had complained that it was too large for the location and that it would give a "Moslem character" to the city at one of Jerusalem's main entrances. "There was no Arab on the council to say 'We have this coming to us jut like any synagogue or church'." Taking another puff, he said "Still, it was easier getting it through the council than it would have been getting a synagogue built in Damascus." The remark got a good laugh. In the ensuing conversation, some of the men called him "mayor," some "Teddy." It was dark outside when Kollek drove away. "The standard of living on the Jewish side may be higher," he said, "but the problems are the same." WITH ISRAEL'S annexation of east Jerusalem three weeks after the Six Day War, it was apparent that relations with the city's Arabs was the measure by which Israel would be judged by the world and, for that matter, by itself. Both Israel and the Arab population were fortunate to have Kollek, a cosmopolite from Vienna, as their intermediary. He himself recognized early, however, that sensitive concern could only be an interim solution at best. "In the long run, paternalism can't work. The Arabs must do things for themselves and feel responsibility for the things being done." Given the Arabs' refusal to field candidates for the city council, which would have meant acceptance of Israel's rule, Kollek and his deputy in charge of east Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, decided not to appoint "Uncle Mohammeds" who would sit on the city council in keffiyehs to provide window dressing. The two men themselves would act as surrogates for the Arab population. When the government announced plans to hold a military parade through east Jerusalem on the first Independence Day after the Six Day War, Kollek protested that it would humiliate the Arabs by rubbing in their defeat. He managed to persuade the army to shorten the route through the Arab areas. When he presented to the City Council a request from Arab residents to put up a memorial near Lion's Gate for their fallen in the Six Day War, there were vigorous protests at honoring enemy soldiers and warnings that the memorial would become a base for violent demonstrations. Kollek countered that the Arabs were entitled to mourn their war dead just as Israelis were. A memorial obelisk was duly raised and became a site in the coming years for decorous memorial services. Kollek persuaded the government to shelve its plan to have Arab schools in east Jerusalem follow the Israeli Arab curriculum. Most east Jerusalem high school graduates wanted to attend universities in the Arab world and an Israeli matriculation certificate would be of little use. The government finally agreed to continue the Jordanian curriculum and to have Jordanian educators come to the West Bank to mark the matriculation exams. When a group of distinguished foreign architects urged Kollek to raze the Moslem hospital on the Mount of Olives, which they said was an eyesore, and build a replacement on a less sensitive part of the landscape, he replied, "We can't do that because they built the hospital themselves. They infinitely prefer it to anything we can build even if we build it infinitely better." He attempted, without much success, to somewhat limit expropriation of Arab land in east Jerusalem for Jewish housing settlements. The land between French Hill and Neve Yaacov, he argued, was owned by middle class Arab residents in the Shuafat area and was their natural direction of growth. However, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin viewed the area as integral to the ring of developments intended to prevent the city's redivision in the future. The site was developed as the Jewish Pisgat Zeev neighborhood. Kollek's efforts won him epithets from the extreme right wing, including the title "Defender of Islam." He recognized that the Arabs did not want to live under Israeli rule but he believed that respect, decent treatment, the passage of time and the geopolitical situation would eventually change their mindset. "When people ask 'When will there be integration?' or 'Why don't the Jews and Arabs love each other?" they have an absolutely wrong concept," he said. "Jews and Arabs will not easily love each other in this generation or the next and it isn't necessary. The question is whether with all the antagonism that exists you can find a way to live together. Can we who run the city be tolerant enough to give others a chance to live their own way of life?" THE OUTBREAK of the first intifada in 1987 appeared to have nullified all the efforts of the previous 20 years at co-existence. But the violence in the city was appreciably less than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Kollek appeared to eventually regain his optimism. "It may take several generations to eradicate fear, resentment and religious fanaticism," he wrote. "But only a united city can ensure that Jerusalem will be a city with sufficient spiritual space to embrace its multiplicity of faiths and ideologies." When the even more violent second intifada broke out in 2000, however, Kollek appears to have finally given up on the idea. A left-wing former city councilman, Moshe Amirav, wrote in The Jerusalem Post this month that he had been sent to Kollek's retirement home in Kiryat Hayovel by Prime Minister Ehud Barak in September, 2000 to solicit his support for Barak's proposal to cede Arab Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority as part of a final peace settlement. To Amirav's amazement, he wrote, Kollek readily agreed. "Young man," Kollek reportedly said, "We have failed to unite the city. Tell Ehud Barak that I support dividing it." Isaac and Ishmael had not after three decades, embraced on the Temple Mount. The two had had the opportunity, however, to observe, for whatever it was worth, that the other had a human face. His finest hour When the mayor salvaged the master plan It was, for me, Teddy Kollek's finest moment. It came at the second meeting of the Jerusalem Committee in 1970. The committee, made up of some of the world's leading architects, town planners, theologians, scholars and artists, had been organized the year before by Kollek. The world did not recognize Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem and calls were being heard again for internationalization of the city as the 1947 UN partition decision had decreed. In a brilliant move, opposed by the foreign ministry, Kollek had conceived of the Jerusalem Committee as a way of giving the international community a voice in the development of Jerusalem by serving as an advisory body to the mayor; this, without undermining Israel's claim to sovereignty in the united city. The committee members had no intention of serving as a rubber stamp and their advice would indeed prove instrumental in sparing Jerusalem a network of major highways that would have cut through some of its most sensitive areas. At this second meeting, the committee had been presented with the just completed master plan for Jerusalem, drawn up by local planners who were present at the meeting. The result was explosive. One after another, speakers rose to denounce the plan, sometimes in tones of outrage. "This plan is something awful," said Prof. Bruno Zeevi, an Italian architect, his face white and his voice shaking with anger. "If my words insult, we are insulted by the plan." American architect Louis Kahn spoke in his usual gentle tones but his verdict was no less searing. "I'm completely puzzled by the plan because I don't sense the principles behind it. The solution for things like roads and parks comes out of what you're trying to do. Jerusalem deserves the aura of the unmeasurable." Architect Richard Meier called for the plan to be totally scrapped. Then San Francisco architect Larry Halpern paused in the middle of similar remarks and said "I forgot what I was going to say." An Israeli planner sitting behind him said "Then don't say it." Halpern sat down and had to be prevailed upon to continue. In the stunned silence that followed the last speaker in this orgy of criticism, there was a sense of catharsis and deep embarrassment. So total and unforgiving was the criticism that when Kollek rose it seemed an eminent act of courage. "All of us," he began, "even the planners, had some doubt about the plan. Your criticism was more devastating than we expected. Anyone who says he likes criticism is a hypocrite." In this and his subsequent remarks he returned the session from an emotional tirade to a dialogue among colleagues, including the Israeli planners. He fully acknowledged the criticism and paid respect to the distinguished participants who had volunteered to come from distant countries to offer their insights. But he did not succumb to the moment and bow to the clear verdict of the committee that the plan be thrown out. The plan would be reviewed, he said, by a foreign planner of international standing yet to be chosen. As emotions subsided, it became clear that while the committee's criticisms had been pointed, the points conflicted with each other. One architect had warned against turning the Old City into a stage setting by over-preservation, another urged that it be preserved by every architectural trick necessary. One planner said the master plan was too detailed, another that it was incomplete. Some advocated high rises, others opposed. Some called for a mosaic of dispersed neighborhoods, others for concentration. Some praised the by-law calling for stone facing on all buildings, others condemned it. Kollek put the meeting in perspective in a talk a few days later. "You are fighting here battles you lost in your cities. You would like to ride in Cadillacs and see us riding on donkeys. I have a suspicion that you are asking us to do much more than you have done in your own cities without telling us how." His view was supported by architecture professor Harry Mayerovitch of Montreal. "We are on a desperate quest," he said. "We are coming from cities which destroy us, where our best efforts have failed, hoping for our wounds to be bound, hoping Jerusalem won't make the same serious mistakes." Philip Johnson, one of America's best-known architects, urged Kollek to emulate Pope Sixtus V who rebuilt 16th Century Rome. "I think Teddy Kollek will be our Sixtus. Cities are people, not buildings. I've seen him handling people with a mastery I've never seen anywhere. I hope Teddy has the architects to do it but he'll have to do most of it himself." The writer is author of Jerusalem on Earth.