Think about it: The divided city

It isn’t only the Palestinians who do not recognize united Jerusalem. The world at large does not recognize the lingering fiction.

IDF soldiers sit in front of the Western Wall in June 1967 after it was captured during the Six Day War. (photo credit: REUTERS/IDF HANDOUT)
IDF soldiers sit in front of the Western Wall in June 1967 after it was captured during the Six Day War.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IDF HANDOUT)
A view of Jerusalem from the air shows just how divided the city is geographically, with walls and cement blocks zigzagging across the municipal territory. The current wave of knife-wielding terrorists – most of them young Palestinians with blue identity cards – shows just how divided Jerusalem is population-wise as well.
Soon after the Six Day War Israel annexed east Jerusalem: the walled Old City and another 1,400 acres outside the Old City, which formed part of pre-1967 Jordanian Jerusalem. In addition another 16,000 acres, made up of 28 Palestinian villages that never in history constituted part of Jerusalem, were annexed to Jerusalem for strategic reasons, on the basis of Israel’s traumatic experience in the years 1948-67, when Jerusalem was surrounded on most sides by hostile Jordanian territory.
In 2013 the inhabitants of these villages constituted a vast majority of the 307,600 Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem, whose total population was 829,900. Only several thousand of this population bother to vote in the municipal elections, and this because they refuse to recognize the annexation. No doubt if the Jerusalem Palestinian inhabitants started to think strategically rather than emotionally, and went out to vote, Jerusalem’s municipality would have a totally different character. A wild guess suggests that there would be an Arab-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) coalition.
It should be recalled that currently there is no conflict between the Muslims and haredim with regard to the Temple Mount – the haredim simply don’t set foot there, for halachic reasons.
In such a situation the Zionists would constitute a minority in the city, and extreme right-wing settlement activities in Arab neighborhoods wouldn’t stand a chance. But the general tendency in this country is to think with one’s guts rather than one’s brains, and the current reality is the result.
It isn’t only the Palestinians who do not recognize united Jerusalem. The world at large does not recognize the lingering fiction. No state has recognized Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, and since 1982 there isn’t a single embassy of a foreign state in Jerusalem – only consulates that engage primarily with Palestinian issues, and services for their citizens in the city.
I was part of the wave of ecstasy that swept the country when the city was united in 1967. I arrived in Jerusalem several days after the war ended, volunteered in the Hadassah neurosurgical department for over a month, and spent the little free time I had visiting the sites. For two decades after the Six Day War I regularly visited east Jerusalem and the holy places of all three religions, and had friends in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and Palestinian friends in other sections of the city.
Gradually, over the past 25 years, the city was re-divided before my eyes – not because of the Palestinians, but because of my Jewish compatriots.
Today I venture to the other side of the city only when I visit the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus (which had remained an Israeli enclave in the years 1949-1967), the grave of my grandfather’s grandfather, who came from Russia to die in Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century and is buried on Mount Olives, or friends who live in the Jewish neighborhoods outside west Jerusalem.
This is not as a matter of principle, but simply because the reality that has developed in the eastern side of the city is disturbing to me.
As a child in the early 1950s the photograph that captured my imagination most in my grandfather’s home in Rehovot (besides those of all my bearded forefathers and serene-looking foremothers in Russia) was a picture of Jews praying at the Western Wall. One of my first visits in the Old City in 1967 was to the Wall. Only once did I manage to see it the way it looked in my grandfather’s photograph – a narrow passage in a crowded neighborhood.
When the IDF razed to the ground the neighborhoods in what is today the Western Wall compound, the Wall lost its magic in my eyes. I continued to frequent the Wall until the compound was hijacked by all sorts of religious associations.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when on my last visit there a religious woman threw a filthy piece of cloth on my shoulders (even though I wasn’t dressed “indecently”) and when I tried to discard it, was not allowed to proceed.
As a Jewess the Western Wall is part of my history, and since it is not part of the Temple – just an external protective wall built by King Herod – I object to its having been turned into an outdoor synagogue.
So my Western Wall remains in a book of 19th-century photographs of Jerusalem.
In addition, I find the efforts of right-wing associations to settle Jews in Arab neighborhoods by both legal and illegal means, and the efforts to erase or belittle all the non-Jewish history of the city (even though most of this history is non-Jewish), offensive and divisive. The distorted manner in which the archeological finds in the City of David are presented to the public, and aggressive Jewish settlement activities in Silwan, are part of this objectionable process.
Since all my secular friends, who used to live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, have long ago escaped, I no longer set foot there, even though one of my grandmothers was born in the Jewish Quarter at the end of the 19th century. I believe that if my grandmother were still alive today, she would feel totally alienated as well – she was a socialist, who organized the first teachers’ strike ever in the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not in favor of dividing Jerusalem, and nothing would make me happier than for Jerusalem – the city which I turned into my home in 1969, and where my daughters were all born – to remain united. However, it should be a real unity, not a fictional one.
My united Jerusalem would shed the 28 Palestinian villages and their 200,000 (or more) inhabitants, which the current municipality of Jerusalem totally neglects and regards more or less as enemy territory. I am not saying that we are the only ones to blame for this, but over the years we have certainly not gone out of the way to truly integrate these villages into the city (not that we are doing much better in the case of the “true” east Jerusalemites).
A truly united city would not only treat its Arab inhabitants the same as its Jewish inhabitants, but would also ensure that Jerusalem remained a welcoming home to its secular Jewish inhabitants.
Many of my liberal, secular friends left Jerusalem after retirement from the Hebrew University, Hadassah and Shaarei Zedek hospitals, and public and government service. The younger secular generation is also inclined to leave the city, even though the situation has certainly improved since I moved to Jerusalem in terms of places of entertainment that are open on Shabbat.
One thing is certain: as long as Jerusalem is not truly united, the potential for Palestinian violence and acts of terrorism will remain much higher than otherwise, though certainly the recent wave of violence also feeds on incitement and fanaticism from the Palestinian side. However if the field is left dry and uncultivated, when the fire is ignited it spreads much faster and with greater ferocity than if it were cultivated and cared for.
Something for the occupier of the house on Balfour Street, and the man who hopes to replace him – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – to think about.
The writer is a political scientist and retired Knesset employee.