Encountering Peace: Truth, lies and legitimacy

Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Rainbow in Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Rainbow in Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
But in reality, Jerusalem is not united; we lie to ourselves when we declare that it is. Jerusalem may be under full Israeli control, but there is nothing united about it.
The high point of the celebrations on Jerusalem Day is the Israeli flag march through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, passing through the Damascus Gate into the heart of the Muslim quarter while the youths carrying the flags chant “death to the Arabs,” “Muhammad is dead,” “Jerusalem for Jews only,” “Kahana was right” and more.
Isn’t it time we become more honest, at least to ourselves. Jerusalem is not one city. Even though we have total control over Jerusalem, we don’t really have sovereignty over it. (Don’t worry, readers, I will also relate to the lies that the other sides tell.) There are at least two Jerusalems – one Israeli and one Palestinian. Jerusalem is also divided in additional ways – there is the religious Jewish Jerusalem and the secular Jewish Jerusalem. There is the Christian Jerusalem and the Muslim Jerusalem. Each identity group in the city has its own geopolitical-demographic reality which it shapes and controls through the use of its own exclusive narrative of the past, present and future.
Most of the narratives constitute a make-believe reality in which the others don’t exist. Occasionally the various identity groups may share the same space – in hospitals, in the shopping malls, on the roads – but they don’t really mix and interact. Each of them lives in its own Jerusalem.
I don’t want to divide Jerusalem – that is, I don’t want physical divisions in Jerusalem. The walls around the Old City are enough for me. I would like to see Jerusalem as one open urban space, but shared by its various identities with as clear lines of delineation as possible. First and foremost the delineation lines must be between Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem.
Because Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world, it is actually possible to draw those lines. It is possible to determine that the Palestinian neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty and the Israeli ones under Israeli sovereignty.
It is possible to have a joint police/security force in the city or for separate forces to work together. It is possible to develop all kinds of models of municipal government that will ensure the physical openness of the city while enabling each side to have its national capital in Jerusalem.
Israel does not have sovereignty in Jerusalem. Not because Israel does not claim it – Israel does. But sovereignty cannot just be taken, it must be recognized.
Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem is recognized by almost no countries in the world.
There are no embassies in Jerusalem and there will not be any here until there are two sovereignties in Jerusalem. When Israel is ready to recognize Palestine’s sovereignty over its parts of the city and then – presto – the world will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over its parts of the city. Until then, it would be wise to begin to adjust to the real Jerusalem – or Jerusalems – one Israeli and one Palestinian. With that in mind we can begin to plan how the open city of Jerusalem with two capitals and two sovereignties can actually work and be an inspiration to us and to the world.
While we are talking about lies, it is time for the Palestinians to also begin to tell the truth. The Palestinians are about to mark their national days of mourning – Naksa Day marking the loss of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and then Nakba Day, marking their catastrophe of loss and exile in 1948. There is no doubt that they are entitled to their own narrative, which negates ours. This is legitimate and for them, not a lie. The lie is in the belief and the myth that the refugees and the millions of their descendents will return to their original homes.
It is clear that the central thread of Palestinian identity is the experience of the Nakba. Keeping the lie of return alive prevents the possibility of developing the second thread of what could be the next chapter in Palestinian identity – that is building the homeland – their state. With pride the Palestinian people could come together and build their state on part of Palestine and focus their energies on the future, rather than continuing to suffer in what some of them call the “ongoing Nakba.” They can live the lie and suffer or begin to face the reality and the truth that Palestine, their state, is achievable, but only if they come to terms with Israel as well.
For Israel and Israelis, we must come to terms with the legitimacy of Palestinian existence and their rights to a state on part of the land of Israel. Both sides can continue to believe that history and God have given us all of the land while at the same time recognizing that while we all have rights to it all, we simply cannot have it all.
If we are able to do that, we will also be able to recognize that our histories intersect and our narratives must also recognize the legitimate existence of the other.
When it comes to Jerusalem, it means that each and every single component of Jerusalem’s identity is legitimate and no one identity has superiority over its other components.
Jerusalem is Jewish. Jerusalem is Israeli. Jerusalem is Palestinian. Jerusalem is Muslim, Jerusalem is Christian. Jerusalem is for all humanity. Jerusalem belongs to us all.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.