Jerusalem: Between the Local and Global
Many famous cities (e.g., Carthage, Petra, Athens, Rome, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul, Beijing, Paris, St. Petersburg, and Washington, D.C.) have dotted the civilization landscapes, but none stands out more famous or sacred as Jerusalem. Yet, its fame and sacredness have not saved it from conquerors or hegemonic designs and from bloodshed and conflict. The cycle of violence in its life today is truly a déjà vu experience.
Over a 4,000-year history, Jerusalem witnessed a series of invasions and settlements at the hands of the Canaanites, Jebusites, Israelites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, Jordanians, and Israelis. One medieval Christian map showed Jerusalem at the heart of the three known continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. In a poignant account of a recent journey through the Middle East, William Dalrymple writes, "In Jerusalem every street corner has its own martyr or monument, saint or shrine. Its soil is drenched in blood spilt in the name of religion."(1)
Jerusalem is thrice holy. It is the focal point of a larger universe, here on earth and beyond, for the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Besides being the only site of redemption and final judgment, it is symbolic of the interconnections between the earthly and the heavenly, the secular and the religious. As a metaphor for Israeli Jewish-Palestinian relations, it projects what it experiences and reacts to what is experienced elsewhere, especially among world Jewry and their supporters on the one hand and Palestinians under occupation and in the Diaspora and their supporters on the other. Like the prophets of old, many zealously compete for its protection from "the other" and are willing to sacrifice themselves for it.
Each of the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian communities has erected historic claims and counterclaims and psychological blinders that perpetuate a zero-sum game and make compromise and accommodation impossible. The Israeli Jewish myth of the "unified, indivisible, eternal, Israeli Jerusalem"(2) and the belief of some Palestinians that the Jewish religious connection to Jerusalem is tenuous(3) are prime examples of how each community has adopted a partial view of history that delegitimizes the rights of "the other." In addition, each community has resorted to varying levels of violence to make its case or retaliate, resulting in the killing and maiming of countless innocent inhabitants and in fear, dispossession, humiliation, subordination, and impoverishment, as expressed by several wars and bloody episodes in the 20th century and today.
Negotiations for peace designed to determine the city's future have failed. Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin postponed consideration of the city's fate at Camp David in 1978. Contending Israeli and Palestinian leaders did the same at Oslo in 1993 and reached a deadlock at and since Camp David II in Summer 2000. While Jews feel more secure in an Israeli-controlled city, Arabs and Muslims argue for placing it under Palestinian control, and some Christians believe that an international or Vatican-like rule would be most appropriate.(4)
This article has two basic assumptions. First, Jerusalem's fate is intertwined with that of the world. Hence, understanding the city necessitates knowing what is happening in it and its environs and the motivations and responses of the world community (e.g., individuals, groups, states, and international organizations) toward it. Second, the solution to the Jerusalem question lies in compromise, inclusion, and responsiveness to the needs of Israeli Jews and Palestinians, as well as the views of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Such a solution becomes easier to achieve when the two sides treat each other with dignity, honesty, and moderation and when the world community's involvement is more impartial and proactive than it is today.
Struggling for Jerusalem
Both Israeli Jews and Palestinians are racing to control Jerusalem in preparation for eventual negotiations. Their plans are to create facts on the ground, essential for determining the outcome of an agreement.
The Israeli Jews have a definite advantage given their direct possession of Jerusalem and their relative political, financial, and military prowess. Much was and remains at stake, and that is why those in positions of power and their supporters consider any proposal for resolving the status of Jerusalem unacceptable if it does not give Jews demographic and territorial supremacy.(5)
What is truly at issue? How does each side acquire validation for its own claims? First, as in the past, there is an ongoing contest over the naming of Jerusalem. While Israeli Jews refer to it by its Hebrew names of Yerushalaim and Urashalim, "city of peace," Palestinians call it Bayt al-Maqdis, "house of sanctity," or al-Quds al-Sharif, "noble holy place."
Second, there are disagreements over crucial demographic facts. In 1998-2000, the total population of Jerusalem ranged from 633,700 according to a Palestinian source to 646,000 according to an Israeli Jewish source, with the majority (around 69 percent) being Jewish.(6) Moreover, the 1997 census of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicates some 210,209 Palestinian living in Israeli-annexed Jerusalem, while 328,601 living in the Jerusalem district, which lowers the Israeli Jewish percentage and raises the Palestinian percentage. What worries the Israeli Jewish authorities is that the Palestinian population is growing at a faster rate than the Jewish population. In 1998, for example, "the annual growth rate of the Arab population was approx. 3.5% while that of the Jewish population was less than 1% ."(7)
A third issue relates to what constitutes the municipal area of Jerusalem and the space that falls within each of the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian domains. The 1998 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem reports that the municipal area of Jerusalem in the 1990s was 126,400 dunums, or 31,622 acres, with the Israeli Jews controlling 68.59% and the Palestinians 31.41%.(8) Moreover, there are actually Israeli Jewish plans that give permanent Jewish dominance and minimal Arab presence in the city, with the latter at or below 29.1%.(9)
The issues of demography and space differ markedly in the Old City from those existing in the rest of Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, some 32,488 people live in the Old City of Jerusalem. Around 70.6% is Muslim, 20.3% is Christian, and the remainder is Jewish. The proportion of Jews rose from 2,802 in 1995 to 3,800 in 2002, with 800 living in the Muslim Quarter.(10) Because of Jewish and Muslim population growth and immigration by Christians, the percentage of Christians dropped. As for land ownership, the Old City consists of 879 dunams, or around 222 acres, with the Islamic endowment, or Waqf, owning 24%, Muslims 28%, Christians 29%, and Jews 19%.(11) Again, the facts and figures differ from a Palestinian viewpoint, giving the total space area as 900 dunums, or 225 acres, with the Muslims controlling 51.2%, the Christians 35.3%, and the Jews 13.65%.(12)
Among the Israeli methods used to create dominance or insure what is called "law and order" in Jerusalem are: confiscation of Palestinian Jerusalemite Israeli-issued identification cards; demolition of Palestinian homes; confiscation of Palestinian private land for building settlements; expansion and redefinition of Jerusalem's municipal boundaries to encompass parts of the West Bank; and closing down of Palestinian institutions such as Orient House. The Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights reports on several forms of discriminatory policies: "In 2001, Israeli authorities demolished 32 Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem and seven houses in West Jerusalem. Since January 2002, some 24 have been demolished in East Jerusalem and not a single house in West Jerusalem." In addition, "In 2002, the Municipality approved 191 applications out of 219 to issue building permits in East Jerusalem, and 1087 out of 1519 applications in West Jerusalem."(13) Palestinians strongly hold that Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian area. Changing it unilaterally and exercising sovereignty over it contravene international law and run counter to the will of the international community.
Given Israel's development plans for Jerusalem and the extensive settlement activity in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, Palestinians are questioning the two-state solution and some are arguing for a one-state, two-nation solution. A document to be issued soon by the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Negotiating Affairs Department examines Israel's construction activities and their implications. It warns: "If the international community continues to remain unwilling to reign in Israeli colony construction and expansion, irreversible 'facts on the ground' and the de facto apartheid system, such facts will force Palestinian policy makers to re-evaluate the plausibility of a two-state solution."(14) Obviously, Israel will never accept a one-state, two-nation solution given the probability of Palestinian demographic superiority in such a state and hence Israel's demise as a Jewish state.
Out of fear and need, members of each national-religious community have sought continued or new international assistance. This has taken on several expressions. For example, Israeli Jews have urged world Jewry to stand in solidarity with them in these times of trouble, as they have always done. In addition to fundraising activities and political support, they have asked those able to travel not to stop visiting "their homeland." When the Jewish Reform Movement cancelled its summer youth trips in 2001 because of security concerns, Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert called the action "a spitting in the face of the State of Israel."(15) For their part, Palestinians have called upon the world community to remain steadfast in backing the creation of a Palestinian state, with its capital in East Jerusalem. The Christian communities, although small in number, have been active in promoting the concept of a just peace. The deterioration of conditions has led the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem to send urgent calls. One message stated: "We appeal to all major world political leaders to all world religious leaders together with all men and women of faith and good will-in God's name come to the rescue of all our peoples."(16)
World Behavior toward Jerusalem
Jerusalem affairs have always been on the global agenda, both influencing it and being influenced by it. This has occurred at different levels, with each generating a combination of positive and negative impacts.
First, what is important are the attitudes and actions of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim believers, some of whom or their representatives are in important political, economic, or cultural positions around the world. For Jews, Israel's creation, with Jerusalem as capital, is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and necessitates its advancement in all ways possible-financial, legal, moral, and political. For Christians, Jerusalem occupies a special place in their religious foundation, being the site where Jesus preached, was crucified, died, and was resurrected. Christian institution, including the Vatican, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the World Council of Churches, are seriously interested in the process and outcome of negotiations over Jerusalem. A small but influential Christian community has lived in the Holy Land for centuries. Nevertheless, a substantial number of American Protestants, mainly the Evangelicals among them, have made it their business to influence American actions regarding the Middle East. For them, assisting Israel is performing religious duty and ushering the ultimate conversion of Jews to Christianity. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third most sacred place on earth after Mecca and Medina, and must be protected. Jerusalem's current status reminds many Muslims of the Crusaders' control and strengthens the need for regaining sovereignty under Palestinian rule.(17)
Second, in addition to believers' views and actions, some states have had a strong interest in controlling Jerusalem's holy places or denying them to other states. Examples include Britain as a mandatory power over Palestine, among other areas, from 1922 to 1948; Jordan maintaining presence from 1950 to 1967; and Israel winning a preemptive war and Jews regaining access since June 1967.
Moreover, states have developed policies toward Jerusalem based on their relationships with Israel or the Palestinians. Those close to Israel view Jerusalem as Israel's capital, even though they have been reluctant or slow in moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Countries close to the Palestinians consider the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future State of Palestine. The Beirut Declaration of March 28, 2002, issued by the Council of the League of Arab States, called upon Israel to accept "an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel."(18) Meantime, members of the League have threatened to break relations with any state that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Currently, only Costa Rica and El Salvador have their embassies in Jerusalem.) States and international organizations more neutral or friendly to both sides (e.g., most European states, Turkey, the Vatican) hold that a just solution for Jerusalem must be anchored in international legality and United Nations resolutions. Only negotiations can fully resolve the issue.
Third, world organizations have played an important but sometimes ineffective role in settling the status of Jerusalem. On the one hand, the UN and intergovernmental organizations have repeatedly reaffirmed the international position of Jerusalem and its illegal occupation by Israel. A UN study reports on the increasing concern "at measures taken by the Israeli authorities to strengthen control over Jerusalem particularly with regard to settlements, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, measures against Palestinian residency status and Palestinian institutions, as well as the archaeological excavations."(19) The Fourth Geneva Convention is reaffirmed as applicable to all Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and the Government of Israel is asked to refrain from establishing a fait accompli on the ground which might predetermine the outcome of the final status talks.(20)
On the other hand, commissions, debates, and resolutions on Jerusalem have resulted in little progress on the ground. For example, Resolution 181 (II) adopted by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947 concerning Palestine recommended the internationalization of Jerusalem. Specifically, it provided that Jerusalem be governed as a corpus separatum under a special regime administered by the UN. Other resolutions have been passed concerning measures taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem, especially since 1967. Israel has historically distrusted the UN and questioned its actions, given the large number of Arab and Muslim member states and their supposed bias. Israel's refusal to abide by UN resolutions and or the inability of international institutions to compel it to do so have historically led several to question the international community's double standard.(21)
On December 3, 2001, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 56/31. It is prefaced by recalling 20 resolutions between December 1981 and December 2000, in which Israel is called upon not to alter the character and status of Jerusalem." Particularly mention is given to "the so-called 'basic law' on Jerusalem and the proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," which in the opinion of the majority of UN Member States are null and void and must be rescinded.(22)
Fourth, a different type of influence is being exercised, mainly in the form of donations and grants given to co-religionists or religious establishments. The main goal is to enable them to manage the challenges of daily existence or to buy property inside and around the Old City of Jerusalem, thus outdoing their "opponents." Jews have not only received major support from their own government, but also from Jewish donors around the world. Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire, is a major backer of politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu (former Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister) and Ehud Olmert (Jerusalem's Mayor) and of institutions such as Yeshivah Ateret Kohanim, "a center of the far-right movement whose messianic mission includes making East Jerusalem Jewish."(23) Christian churches and institutions have received modest contributions from abroad. In early November 2002, for example, Pope John Paul II donated $400,000 to the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan custos, Caritas, and several Catholic communities. The gift is meant to " encourage Christians to remain in these battered places, as so many missionaries are already doing in such a heroic fashion. The support is offered to improve living and working conditions in their land so they might be a fertile seed of humanity and peace."(24) Some Muslim Palestinians have received financial support from the Palestinian National Authority and other Arab and Muslim sources.
Jerusalem has also benefited from international support from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and several other non-governmental organizations. This has come in the form of activities designed to preserve the holy sites and protect its unique character, as well as to assist its Palestinian inhabitants.(25)
That is why every time an action is taken and a declaration is made in and toward the city reverberations in the global system are felt. When Israeli archeologists opened the Hashomaim Tunnel under the Temple Mount in 1996, riots erupted there and around the Middle East. When Ariel Sharon visited the grounds of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa mosques in September 2000, surrounded by a large contingent of guards and journalists, he infuriated the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims. The anger eventually triggered the ongoing intifada II, or second uprising, against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. When Yasser Arafat speaks of Jerusalem, at least its eastern part, as the sacred capital of the State of Palestine, without arriving at such a reality in final status negotiations, he troubles Israelis and gives them additional reasons to fight Palestinians. When the UN passes countless resolutions and nothing to little happens, Palestinians, Israelis, and other nations and groups find it futile to rely on international law and organizations to achieve justice. When the United States Congress considers Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, it invites the condemnation and rage of the Arab and Muslim worlds and retards U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Jerusalem in American Politics
Actually, the U.S. position on Jerusalem provides an interesting case
study. Historically, there has been a split between the executive and
legislative branches of government. Successive presidents, their private
views not withstanding, have argued that while the city must remain united,
it is up to the conflicting sides to determine its fate.
In contrast, Congress has more often than not supported the views of Israeli Jews on Jerusalem. This attitude is best explained by several decades of U.S.-Israeli friendship and is based, as explained by leaders in both countries, on shared national interests, common religious traditions, and similar visions of a reformed Middle East. There are also practical considerations for the support, including the role that American-Jewish groups play in fundraising, elections, and decision making in American public life.
In 1990, Congress passed two resolutions declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital and united (S.Con.Res. 106 on March 22 and H.Con.Res. 290 on April 24). In 1995, Congress passed S. 1322 (P.L. 104-145, November 8), which allowed for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.(27) In 1997, Congress called on the Clinton Administration to affirm Jerusalem as Israel's capital, one and undivided (S.Con.Res. 21 on May 20 and H.Con.Res. 60 on June 10).(28) On January 10, 2002, Congress prohibited conducting any U.S. government business with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Jerusalem and using "of appropriated funds to create U.S. government offices in Israel to conduct business with the PA." (P.L. 107-115.)(29) On June 17, 2002, President Bush exercised a waiver delaying the embassy move (Presidential Determination 2002-23).(30)
Actually, the decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem generated much concern around the world. Nabil Shaath, Palestinian Authority's Planning and International Cooperation Minister considered the legislation "an act against peace, an act of incitement." He added that the U.S. decision is "an insult to the Arab and Muslim world."(31) Abdelouahed Belkeziz, Secretary-General of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, expressed much concern due to "the political and legal considerations stemming from this legislation which harm Islamic interests."(32) Father David Jäger, spokesman of the Custody of the Holy Land, stated on Vatican Radio: "First of all, Jerusalem has world relevance. Therefore, they [i.e., U.S. members of Congress] should respond to the demands of the United Nations, in regard to the internationally relevant dimension of Jerusalem [S]ince the holy places affect a great part of humanity, it is not possible that their fate should depend on one nation or another. It is necessary that the responsibility be assumed by the international community, through a representative organization."(33)
Although made in America but postponed, the legislation created an international problem of a different kind. It pertains to the designated site of the embassy, which is a 7.8-acre plot of land (32,250 square meters) in West Jerusalem, on which stood the "Allenby Barracks" during the British Mandate, and which the U.S. could lease for $1 annually for 99 years renewable. According to Walid Khalidi, the general secretary of the Institute for Palestine Studies, the documented research indicates that "while 29.47 percent of the site was purchased by the Israeli government from the British government in the mid-1960s for 140,000 pounds sterling, the remainder was privately held Palestinian land."(34) The beneficiaries of the Muslim endowment and private owners numbered 76 in 1948 but now number in the hundreds. Al least 90 of them hold American citizenship and over 40 of them are nationals of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Switzerland. While the Congressional decision was to support a friendly state, it contains not only policy implications for citizens of different countries, including Americans, but also intrudes into the final status negotiations. Khalidi explains: "On Jerusalem, by mandating that it remains undivided, it unilaterally accords recognition to Israeli sovereignty not only in West Jerusalem but also in East Jerusalem. On refugees, by calling for the construction of the embassy on confiscated property, it legitimizes the wholesale Israeli confiscation of all refugee properties since 1948 ."(35)
The Road Ahead
"The more things change," a French adage states, "the more they stay the same." In Jerusalem, it seems that the more things change, the worse they become. Tensions are presently very high due to the worsening of relations between both national-religious communities. Tightened Israeli security on Palestinians, both in Jerusalem and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and in other Israeli-Jewish controlled areas have resulted in precious human and financial loss and in strong feelings of anxiety and fear in people's hearts and minds.
While some people are immobilized and feel helpless in the face of force, insecurity, and uncertainty, others are becoming more extreme in their views and actions. The hate and violence are mobilizing yet others to seek understanding and conflict management. Around 58 Palestinian intellectuals and public servants in Jerusalem and elsewhere issued an urgent appeal in July 2002 to stop suicide bombings. Their declaration stated: "Suicide bombings deepen the hatred and widen the gap between the Palestinian and Israeli people. Also, they destroy the possibilities of peaceful co-existence between them in two neighboring states."(36) In an interfaith statement, members of the clergy spoke for compassion, justice, and peace. "We, Jewish, Christian, Druze and Muslim religious leaders cry out in the name of our One God, to recognize one another, children of Abraham, as created in God's image . [We] call upon Israelis and Palestinians to recognize each other's humanity, deep roots in this land and suffering. We must find the courage to break the cycle of violence and human rights violations. Each act of violence being committed by either side elicits further violence."(37)
The world community can be more proactive in moving the relevant parties toward creative solutions and a clearer vision of the future. What must be communicated is that the more than 70 proposals for working through the Jerusalem issue over the years will be to no avail if the idea of sole Israeli Jewish or Palestinian sovereignty over the city remains unchanged. The question of Jerusalem is actually negotiable, as has been presented time and again.(38) Jerusalem as the political capital of both states is both possible and doable. The Old City-with religious sites within it and in close proximity to it-as the religious capital for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is equally possible and doable.(39) What is also essential for the world community to do is to insure that whatever agreement is reached is implemented expeditiously and fairly. The longer the wait, the more facts are created on the ground and the more charged the atmosphere becomes.
Arab diplomacy (e.g., the Saudi initiative, approved by the League of Arab States, and readiness of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to support the peace process) can go a long way to stabilize Arab-Israeli Jewish relations and resolve issues separating Palestinians from Israeli Jews, including the question of Jerusalem. The Quartet (i.e., U.S., European Union, Russia, and UN) "road map" can set the peace process on a firm timetable, build enough pressure on the contending parties to negotiate, and find appropriate funding to implement an eventual agreement.(40)
Israeli Jews and Palestinians must realize that the world community has only so much patience and attention span. Waiting longer to resolve the question of Jerusalem and other tough issues will only prolong the violence and lead to more injustice. Both sides must recognize not only their different dreams and destinations, but also their common heritage and destiny. They are neighbors forever. Mutual recognition and honest cooperation will advance compromise and reconciliation between them.(41) In such an atmosphere, Jerusalem-where the secular and the religious meet, and where the local and the global intersect-can serve as the center for tolerance and peaceful coexistence!
* *Saliba Sarsar, PhD, was born and raised in Jerusalem. He is Associate Vice President for Academic Program Initiatives and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University in New Jersey. His specialization is in Middle East affairs and he is a frequent speaker on Middle East relations. Dr. Sarsar's articles have appeared in Clio's Psyche, Peace Review, Middle East Quarterly, Jerusalem Quarterly File, Scandinavian Journal of Development Alternatives and Area Studies, Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies, Journal of Leadership Studies, Leadership and Organization Development Journal, and elsewhere. He is co-author of the books: Ideology, Values, and Technology in Political Life and World Politics: An Interdisciplinary Approach. He is also editor of Education for Leadership and Social Responsibility and author of two books of poetry. In September 2001, Sarsar received the Humanitarian Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice.