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Jerusalem - Views and Plans

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Changing Sides in the Middle East:

Zionist and Palestinian Exchange Opinions about Jerusalem

It is always very difficult to see the other's point of view. Many months ago, PEACE/MidEast Web group member Anita Abu-Daya suggested an exercise in which members would "change sides" - Palestinians would take the Zionist side, Zionists would defend the Palestinian viewpoint.

Recently, Peter Mann voiced a similar idea at MidEast Web Forum. The result is presented below as an eye-opening exercise in dialog. Anita Abu-Daya has taken the Zionist Jewish view of the Jerusalem Issue. Peter Mann presents the Arab Palestinian side. The result is proof that people on either side can and do listen to each other.

As you read these presentations, try to remember who wrote them: not "the enemy," but a Zionist or a Palestinian like you. Try to envision yourself doing the same thing. Peter and Anita noted that the attempt produced symptoms of dual personality. They have not simply produced a literary exercise but rather an interesting attempt at molding their own opinions and at generating openness to dialog among others.   We invite others to try the same exercise with issues such as Jerusalem, the refugee question, Zionism and anything else you want to tackle. We hope that these exercises will serve as food for thought

Jerusalem: The Palestinian Side

Peter Mann

This is an experiment. I am a Jew. I am taking the position of a Palestinian in order to better understand that position. I have studied the issue of Jerusalem, and the possibility of returning at least a part of it to the Palestinians to be used a a capital of the Palestinian state, i.e.; Palestine. Probably the best description of this kind of exercise is a role-reversal. I do not claim perfection in my understanding through this process, so please bear with me. If I am not completely reflective of reality, this is not my fault. I am only trying to gain greater empathy, and to pass this on.

I was born in Jerusalem. My family has lived in Jerusalem since before the Crusades. Our family is very close, and we have always tried to keep together. Some of us fled. In 1967, my uncle and aunt went to the U.S. I write to them sometimes and we talk about things. Recently we talked about the possibility of Jerusalem becoming at least in part, part of the new Palestine. My uncle was cynical about the thing, saying that the Israelis consider the whole of Jerusalem to be holy, from the pebbles in the street to the molecules of oxygen. I feel like much of the negotiation is going nowhere, that past agreements are always being abrogated and we get less and less. We talked about Jerusalem and what it means emotionally to him. He remembers the beauty of the Dome as a shining symbol of the holiness of the place. He told me the story of the night journey, of how Mohammed ascended on his horse beyond the earthly sphere into the heavens and what this means to Moslems everywhere. It is the first Qibla, the direction one posits oneself before praying. It is not a good thing that this holy site be in the territory of those not of Islam. It must come back to the land of the believers and those believers are of Allah. We do not invest out time trying to wrench the wailing wall from the Israelis and hope that they respect us to the degree that access shall be made to connect this very holy site to the new Palestinian capitol. My uncle says this will happen when the Jordan runs backwards. I mentioned the Rock and my uncle told me that some Israelis diminish its importance and see it as totemistic stone worship. That would put us back before Islam when we believed in many Gods. It is an insult to infer paganism. The Rock has traditional importance as the place of Ibrahim's sacrifice. I would think there would be some respect in that regards to that. We have always helped to maintain and improve the ancient holy places of the city. For that alone, we deserve something of it. We talked about the land Israel has returned to us, about how it is only a percentage of what was discussed in negotiation. How does one compensate the losses suffered in 1948 and 1967? The land is gone now. People are displaced, refugees, or worse. To truly compensate for the loss of east Jerusalem to so many, something of east Jerusalem needs to be returned to the Palestinians. My uncle scoffed and said that you would think that displaced people might understand that when displaced people displace people there are just a different group of displaced people in the end. He says he dreams at night of the shouk and can still smell the fruit and the coffee smells in his mind. He has a hard time believing that other nations in the area will take Palestine with any kind of seriousness unless they have a capitol in Jerusalem. Not only will they have returned an important holy place to the Islamic world, but they will themselves be able to manage the visitation and gain importance in the eyes of the many pilgrims from all over the world who will come to worship. It is for legitimacy's sake that we need to administer the government from a new east Jerusalem. I told my uncle that although this agreement may go through in September, there have been other agreements made and broken throughout history. Jerusalem was not always in our hands. He said, "what makes one people's history less important than another's? How do you measure that over centuries and in this case, millennia. Who owned the place originally? The Jebusi, the Jebusites. Where are they now? Someone probably owned it before them. It is a fact that I lived there, in the city, some forty odd years ago. If there are people alive to remember what was, then it is the present." The Israelis want peace. Peace is negotiable through the trading of land. When land is traded, the details, social, religious, historical, cultural, economic, all get dissected and reviewed. Every little detail has got to be examined before anything happens. I am beginning to think that my uncle is right. It will happen when the Jordan runs backwards.

Jerusalem: The Zionist Side

Anita Abu-Daya

Of all the "final status issues" that have to be resolved to get peace in the Middle East, the fate of Jerusalem is deemed to be the most difficult. This might seem quite strange since unlike the question of borders, territory or water rights the possession of Jerusalem does not confer a material advantage on the Palestinians. A viable Palestinian state is quite possible even if its capital is not Jerusalem. It is the symbolism of the city and the holy sites in it therefore that make it so important.

For the Jewish people Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish nation before the diaspora. For the next 2000 years it was mentioned in Jewish prayers, as a place where the Jews wanted to return to, wherever Jews found themselves to be, from Morocco to Russia. The old city which lies in East Jerusalem and which is claimed by the Palestinians for their Capital contains the wailing wall and temple mount, the holiest sites in Judaism. Is it that strange that now that the Jews have finally returned to Jerusalem, giving it up seems unthinkable?

It has been suggested by certain Israelis and certain Palestinians that it is not necessary to divide Jerusalem, that the whole city could function as a capital for both states. Although this is a beautiful idea in theory, in practice it would simply not work. The outcome of the final status talks should be two states, Israel and Palestine with clearly defined borders, separate governments, laws, custom duties etc. Such states cannot share a city in common. The movement of people from Jerusalem to the rest of Israel would necessitate border controls at the border of Jerusalem. Every nation must have free movement of people between its capital and the rest of the country. Therefore the idea of a shared capital is simply impossible in practice.

When East Jerusalem was controlled by the Jordanians Jewish people had no access to their holy sites. The Palestinian community contains many factions of religious fanatics such as Hamas who don't accept the peace process and will probably persist in their belief that "Israel must be thrown into the sea" no matter what. The Palestinian authority is on the whole a secular government but the "fringe groups" have a large influence on Arafat et al. It is very easy for them to whip up the Palestinians into a frenzy of anti-Jewish protests (as happened a few years ago when the Netanyahu government tried to open a tunnel for tourists). Hence even if the Palestinian authority were to promise and swear that they would not block access to our holiest sites, it would not be an easy promise to keep and things would probably be back to the pre 1967 nightmare. Of-course, we Israelis also have our religious fanatics, including a group that believes we should demolish the Al-Aqsa mosque and build the third temple. However their influence on the government and the population of Israel is negligible. Therefore under Israeli control all 3 major faiths (including Israel's Arab population) would have access to their holy sites.

The Palestinians often quote UN resolutions to prove that they should have control of East Jerusalem. This is somewhat disingenuous. The reason we have been at war for the past half century is that the Arab people refused to accept the division of Palestine that was voted upon by the UN. One can't pick the UN resolutions that one thinks are "fair" and insist that these are the ones that have to be implemented. Due to their stance in 1948 the Palestinians lost everything. Now they stand at the threshold of regaining the West Bank, statehood and final self-determination. It would be a tragedy if they let that opportunity pass by because of their insistence that Israel must give up Jerusalem.

This article gives a view of the future of Jerusalem, seen through the eyes of a native

A Geologist Looks at the Stones of Jerusalem

Arie S. Issar
Jerusalem & BeerSheva Israel

(a version of this article originally appeared in American Scientist)

"A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing" (Eccl. 3:5)

During the late sixties I was exploring for ground-water in the semi-arid Nordeste of Brazil. Once while traveling to the drilling site, the driver of my jeep, asked me where I come from. As I had learned already that the name "Israel" may mean nothing to many of the people in that remote part of that big country, I told him that I was born and I live in Jerusalem. He stopped the car, looked at me and said: "No, Senior, you must forgive me, but you are either joking or God forbid lying, we were told in our church that Jerusalem is in Heaven." Fortunately I had my passport with me, in which it is stated that I was born in Jerusalem on the 13th of July 1928.My driver studied the written document, shook his head a few times, and went on driving, still shaking his head and murmuring to himself from time to time. I gathered that this poor fellow was going through a process of changing his whole attitude towards my city of birth.

Recently I found that there is no need to travel to the remote Nordeste corner of Brazil in order to shock people by telling them that Jerusalem can be regarded in an altogether new and different way. I published in the Israeli daily newspaper "Haaretz," suggesting that the old city of Jerusalem, instead of being a place of clash between religions and their faithful, should become a center for study of international law and thus of international peace. Of course, the sites considered holy for the different religions would remain as they have been. However, there are enough places inside the walls, which can be purchased and turned into a university and into law institutes, where students from all over the world can come and study international law, and in due course deal with lawsuits between nations. People whom I knew as far from intemperate reacted to my suggestion disapprovingly, saying that Jerusalem is regarded too holy for each of the people of the three religions to cause anyone to agree to such an idea. I did not get any reaction from religious and nationalist extremists. I suppose they regarded my suggestion to be too ridiculous to be worth consideration and reaction.

I asked myself how come I, born and raised in Jerusalem in an orthodox-tolerant Jewish family, was ready to consider a new scenario, in which the Old City turns into an international city. rather than fight for fulfilling the ancient dream of my ancestors to rebuild this part of Jerusalem as the national and religious center of the Jews of all over the world. During my youth I had prayed, as have all orthodox Jews for two millennia, that Jerusalem and its Temple should be rebuilt, that all the Jews will return to their land and that the ancient rites of sacrifice should be restored. Moreover, spending my youth in this city I have some special memories of its past interconnected with its present. I remember that my friend and I, when preparing for our high-school final exams, chose a shady place on the flat roof of the three story building where I lived with my parents, overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. For Bible and history exams we were often able to look around and see the very places which were mentioned in the various books from the time of the Judges to the kings of Judea to that of the Romans. As a young man, during the time of British Mandate over Palestine, I served in the Hagana, the underground army of the Jewish community in Palestine. My squad was in charge of security in the area around the Wailing Wall. On the night before the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, we were put on special duty, as thousands of people flocked to the very narrow alley that was available at that time for worship by the Jews at the foot of the Wailing Wall. Many of the people sat down on the floor, lighting candles, crying and chanting from the Book of Lamentations.

I think my attitude toward the Old City changed partly because the Jewish people did gain their independence, and Jerusalem became a flourishing capital of the State of Israel. Secondly, I think that my attitude towards rocks and stones in general and those of Jerusalem in particular changed completely because I became a geologist. I know this with certitude because I remember the way I looked at the massive stones of the colossal Wailing Wall, towering above the narrow alley, just a few days after the Six Day War. We had then come back to the Old City after being away from it for twenty years, while it was under Jordanian rule. When I stood in the front of the wall I found myself asking from which of the geological strata these stones had been quarried out. I also looked at the rock above which was erected the dome of the Mosque of Omar. I could see that it is of Turonian i.e. Upper Cretaceous age. This very rock played a special role in Jewish tradition. One can write a whole book on the legends, traditions and myths attributed to this rock.

Thus to look at a stone and remain totally in the past, or to ask what the past of this stone can tell us with regard to the future, makes the stupendous difference between my way of looking at the stones of Jerusalem and that of a religious person. Yet, I will not pretend to be aloof from the feelings which man has to his homeland and to its stones. Thus with all the members of my reserve army unit, I was elated to tears on the day of the Six Day War, when we stood near our guns, on the mountain north of Jerusalem, and heard on the radio the announcement of the commander of the paratroopers: "The Mount of the Temple is in our hands."

So I must confess that though I am a geologist, I feel a special sentiment to the stones of Jerusalem, and after many years of travel and visiting many other cities, I still admire the view of the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, in the early and late hours of the day, when the oblique rays of the sun emphasize the golden reddish color of the stones of this city. However, at the same time, as a scientist, I know how dangerous maintaining ancient attitudes can be, especially when it comes to the adoration of ancient stones. In fact the holiness attributed to the stones of Jerusalem caused this city to witness so much bloodshed, cruelty and atrocities since it became a city. At the same time it inspired most futuristic prophecies of human and international justice. Today Jerusalem is again in the center of a political and religious controversy. Once again one hears many words about the holiness of the stones of this city. One can guess that in the future, as in ancient times of cult, these words about holy stones, will cause more bloodshed which will make these stones even more holy to many people. During years of living in Jerusalem, one learns to distinguish between the various ways in which the masons in the different periods of its long history used to dress the stones to put in their buildings. Thus, one can see that many stones were reused each time the city was conquered, destroyed and rebuilt.

Naturally, one would like the city of his birth to survive and escape the fate of war and destruction, and this brings me back to the stones of Jerusalem and to its new future, namely to use these stones in order to build a Center for International Law, Justice and Peace in the Old City. I cannot claim to be the first to raise this idea. The prophets Isaiah, Hosea and Micha prophesied that Jerusalem would one day become a center for judgment among the nations, and justice among the people, making them beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.

As a scientist, I regard prophecies as foresight and intuition. The intuition of these clairvoyant people, acclaimed as prophets, concluded that the existence of a nation depends on peaceful coexistence with other nations, and that this is better ensured when the rule of justice dominates the world rather than the rule of the sword. It takes more than stones to build a Palace of Peace or a Center of International Law and Justice. Yet stones become what they are according to the beliefs and ideas of the men who use and acclaim them. If enough people come to believe that the stones of the Old City of Jerusalem can be turned into buildings that accommodate the Center of International Law, Justice and Peace, this belief may overwhelm those who maintain that the stones of Jerusalem are holy only to them. The sad question now is, how much more blood will be spilled over the stones of Jerusalem before more people decide that this city of peace should be a cornerstone of peace on earth, and not in heaven?

Prof. em. A. S. Issar J. Blaustein Institute for Desert Research Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Sede Boker Campus 84990 ISRAEL


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