Living in Jerusalem with wisdom

Provocative or impulsive actions will not serve our interests when dealing with the Arab population.

jerusalem sunset 88 (photo credit: )
jerusalem sunset 88
(photo credit: )
The writer, Jerusalem's former mayor, died yesterday. He wrote the above for the 'Post' on August 9, 1998. Jerusalem is the focus of political, religious, cultural and social tensions - not just internally, but between ourselves and the Palestinians and the Arab nations; between ourselves and the world at large, including our American friends. This calls for a balanced and responsible policy for the capital, unlike the concept adopted today. I know that in the face of terrorist attacks, hostile decisions taken by international forums and harsh declarations emanating from the Arab world, it is difficult to practice patience and forbearance, which are often interpreted as a sign of weakness. But my experience leads me to believe that it is precisely the honesty and the cool-headed logic of responsible action - democratic norms and tolerance in all dealings with the Arab population - that will strengthen our historical rights to the city and its status as Israel's capital. Provocative or impulsive actions will not serve our interests. On the contrary, they will damage any attempt to achieve national goals. For the Palestinian leadership and the Arabs of Jerusalem who represent close to 30 percent of the city's population, Israeli rule is that of the occupier. Since 1967, the Arabs of Jerusalem have avoided taking an active role in city administration, for fear their participation would be interpreted as an acceptance on their part of the new geopolitical reality and of Israeli sovereignty. Immediately following the reunification of the city, I invited the 10 Arab members who had served on the city council under Jordanian rule to join a new united city council. My invitation was rejected. From my experience of many years as mayor of Jerusalem, I know that many of Jerusalem's Arabs were convinced that the stance they took harmed their own sector. Many felt that their participation in running the city would have improved their situation and their quality of life. Their absence from city representation merely contributed to the present difficulties of the Arab sector as regards social and economic development, construction, and the standard and scope of the municipal services they receive. This situation is also the consequence of the uneven policy followed by Israeli governments, both Right and Left. WE MUST recognize the fact that the Arabs of Jerusalem are an integral part of the city by right, not by favor, and that they are determined to live here - because it is their home. Pressure policy intended to harm, to limit, or to edge Jerusalem Arabs outside the capital's borders is not only morally and humanly unjustifiable; its implications also place it in opposition to both national and local interests. In fact, none of the mistaken approaches to this topic has shrunk the dimensions of the Arab population. On the contrary: pressure and constant threat have merely added a strong national motive to the natural growth of the Arab population. The damage caused by Israeli settlement within distinctly Arab areas such as the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, Silwan, Ras el-Amud and the Flower Gate, is the most serious. It is perceived by the city's Arab population as a threat to their existence, it arouses hatred and bitterness, strengthens extremist factions, encourages unauthorized construction, and causes the international community to distrust us. Existence in this problem-ridden city calls for living side-by-side in mutual respect and avoiding friction. The invasion of small extremist groups goes against all logic, just as would the invasion of secular Jews into Mea She'arim or that of a haredi group into a wholly secular community. In a city like Jerusalem, activity such as this adds fuel to the flames. It represents a source of friction and endless outbreaks of violence, and it damages all attempts to ensure the peace that is a precondition for the promotion of the city and its inhabitants, for attracting new immigrants and investors, for the development of tourism. IT WOULD befit us all to be angry at the fact that thanks to vast sums of money - and at the instigation of wealthy men whose own homes are far away from our city - there exists a process that is at odds with responsible policy, one that forces the state into massive expense and politically impossible situations and turns the city into a maze of tensions. If these efforts, this money, were invested sensibly, housing for hundreds of young couples in Jerusalem could be constructed, thus promoting our national goal. My knowledge of the process under way in the Arab sector convinces me that there exists a strong desire, just as there does among the Jews, to take steps to improve the quality of life and the environment. This was the motive that led me to establish local community administrations throughout the city, including in east Jerusalem. Such local administration prevents the gap between establishment and citizen and deepens people's involvement in the daily management of their lives. The knowledge and experience garnered by the leaders of the communities in promoting their daily interests - whether in the Jewish or in the Arab sectors - will also contribute to the calming of political tensions. Throughout the 30 years that have passed since Jerusalem was reunited, the city has developed in impressive fashion, reflecting the Israeli consensus that united Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, is the capital of Israel. I believe that this fact is irreversible - so long as we behave wisely. Owing to this fact, we are able - and even obliged - to deal with the everyday needs of the Arab population in a much more enlightened and fair manner. While Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it needs to be at the same time home to both Israelis and Palestinians.