Friday, October 26, 2007

Envisioning a divided Jerusalem

Nadav Shragai

It is hard to decide which is more embarrassing: The inconceivable quiescence with which the division of Jerusalem is being discussed, or the unforgivable impotence and weak arguments evinced by the right and the religious in this debate.

Forget about ideology for a moment. Anyone who has not yet understood why Jerusalem is the embodiment of Jewish rights in this land is not going to understand it now. Pragmatism, for better or worse, is what will decide the battle for Jerusalem. Yet on this of all issues, the obliviousness is almost total: It is impossible to talk again and again about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who visit the Old City and Western Wall without explaining that this will stop once Jerusalem is divided. It is impossible to fight for Jerusalem without telling the sorry tale of Rachel's Tomb, which the Oslo Accords turned into a half-abandoned border post on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It is impossible to wage this battle without recalling the 19 years in which Jews were forbidden to visit their holy places, even though the armistice agreement with Jordan ostensibly guaranteed such visits.

There will be no safe, quiet houses in Neveh Yaakov, French Hill or Pisgat Ze'ev without control over "outlying neighborhoods" such as Shoafat and Beit Hanina, which abut them. There will be no safe shopping at Jerusalem's Malkha Mall, no visits to the Biblical Zoo, no train rides from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and no peaceful houses in Givat Masua and Malkha without the adjacent "outlying neighborhood" of Walaja. There are also "outlying neighborhoods" adjoining Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, Talpiot and Har Homa. Beit Jala, the "outlying neighborhood" next to Gilo, was inhabited by thoroughly decent people, just as Walaja and Shoafat are - until one day (and this was before the rise of Hamas), it was taken over by armed gangs, who shot at Gilo from it every day.

Those who give the Palestinians control over the Temple Mount, the "outlying neighborhood" next to the Western Wall, will no longer be able to pray in peace at the Wall, or hold Memorial Day ceremonies or induction ceremonies for paratroopers there; nor will they be able to ensure the safety of the president or prime minister should either wish to participate in such ceremonies. Imagine the street battles in the alleys of Sajiyeh and Beit Hanun, in the Gaza Strip, transferred to the ancient streets of Jerusalem, which today teem with Jews.

Think about how bar-mitzvah ceremonies or wedding pictures could be held at the Western Wall, or even plain old visits to place a note in the cracks, if Palestinians "controlled" the area a few hundred meters away. How would Jews visit their loved ones who are buried on the Mount of Olives in a divided Jerusalem? In armored cars? Would Mount Scopus, which contains the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, once again become an isolated enclave? Har Gilo would also become an enclave. And what would happen to cars on Route 1, one of the city's main arteries, which is dominated by Issawiyeh, Wadi Joz and Sheikh Jarrah; would they also be armored? Granted, in many people's eyes, Jerusalem is already divided. We have discriminated, in terms of both infrastructure and services, against the residents of East Jerusalem. We have ignored many parts of the city's eastern half.

The question is whether one fatal folly justifies another. Would it not be preferable to rectify the first folly and reunite the city, instead of ratifying the division and thereby sinking all of us, Jews and Arabs alike? Do we need to simply accept the "demographic problem," or should we deal with it by strengthening the Jewish presence in the city, through finally implementing an infinity of decisions that were never carried out? In 2000, it was Ehud Olmert who fought for Jerusalem's unity. Today, the city is still searching for a leader to wage the battle against him

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