Thursday, May 21, 2009

Darkness and Light in Jerusalem

Darkness and light in Jerusalem
By Nadav Shragai

"This nation planted the soles of its feet on this bit of earth with all its might and will not move from it," said Haim Nahman Bialik in 1925, at the inauguration of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. "All the 49 gates of impurity of the cursed exile failed to change its mind."

But 84 years later, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, which falls this week, it is sad to realize that these years of putting down roots in the most significant sections of Jerusalem actually succeeded in changing the minds of some of us, who confuse darkness and light. Therefore, we must set things straight: A great joy, not a disaster, befell us in 1967, when we realized a 2,000-year-old dream and returned to our holiest sites, to historic Jerusalem.

The 200,000 Jews whom the State of Israel has settled in parts of Jerusalem that lie on the other side of its former border are not an obstacle to peace, but an obstacle to partition. And partition is the greatest possible guarantee of a chaos that would keep peace at bay for several more generations. Muslims today question our right and our primacy in Jerusalem, and rewrite the history of the city. They alter its events, place later events earlier and de-Judaize it. If the welcome efforts to return Jews to the City of David and parts of the Old City other than the Jewish Quarter succeed, not only will this prevent partition, it will also do historic justice with the Jewish people.

Under Israeli rule, the Temple Mount - the Jewish people's holiest site, but only the third most important to Muslims - has become a place where any Jewish presence is viewed as problematic. This view is not merely anti-Jewish - which is particularly egregious given that there is no place more Jewish in the entire world - but it also violates the spirit of the law, which promises freedom of access to the holy places.

Moshe Dayan, the father of this policy, erred in reading the map in 1967. The former mufti, Sheikh Saad al-Din Alami, related before his death that he and his colleagues in the Muslim religious establishment, whose reaction Dayan so feared, had actually expected an arrangement like that instituted at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and were psychologically prepared to have Jews, too, be allotted a site for prayer on the mount. By now, it is hard to change the status quo. But at least the little that was left to Jews on the mount - the right to visit it - ought to be upheld.

Israel is making both a moral and a tactical mistake when it discriminates against the Arab population of East Jerusalem with regard to infrastructure and services, thereby creating intolerable gaps between the city's Jewish and Arab populations. It cannot grasp the stick at both ends by simultaneously claiming sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and treating such a significant portion of its population as excess baggage. Nevertheless, if you talk to East Jerusalem residents, you will discover that a great many of them view the prospect of becoming part of the Palestinian Authority as a nightmare scenario.

The West Bank separation fence, which is the most significant change Jerusalem has undergone in recent years, improves security in the short term, but inflicts a great deal of long-term damage. It raises the wall of hatred and suspicion even higher, and also encourages Palestinian migration - some 60,000 people so far - to the Israeli side of the fence, including to the city's Jewish neighborhoods.

The greatest challenge the State of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality face today is to stem the huge exodus of Jews from the city. Some 17,000 Jews leave every year, because housing prices in Jerusalem are insane and there are no jobs. The solution, therefore, involves multiple elements: building apartments in the city, immediately and in large numbers; giving entrepreneurs grants and dirt-cheap land if they will create jobs here; and encouraging the growing trend of ultra-Orthodox Jews entering the city's workforce.

1 comment:

  1. It is incredible that anybody would consider dividing up the city which generations of Jews longed and prayed for, and which we bought with Jewish blood.

    Amazing blog here. Would you ming blogrolling me?