Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


Photo by Izzet Keribar
Jerusalem in 2002

Since 1948 there has been waged a ‘war of memories’ between Israelis and Palestinian people, writes Mahmoud Darwish. (Mahmoud Darwish, Tagebuch der Alltaeglichen Traurigkeit, Berlin 1978). With it goes the Israeli pledge, ‘if I would forget you, Jerusalem, I shall relinquish all my Rights’. It makes Jerusalem into a prime symbol for the whole of Israel and its people.

Consequently there is confusion in what is reality; it depends upon the ‘facts’ within a specific way of interpreting history. Kamil Jalil Asali, in his analysis of “Jerusalem in der Geschichte” (Jerusalem in History), published in La Lettre, Winter 2000, p. 20 – 22), accounts that in 1994 the Ministry for Tourism and City’s Administration announced festivities to be held in 1996 to celebrate the 3000th anniversary of Jerusalem. But already in 1970 there was held a musical festival in memory of Jerusalem being 4000 years old. It lead to a public debate how was it possible for the city’s administration to reduce the age of the city by 1000 years.

Kamil Jalil Asali states that the choice of the number of years is politically motivated. Consequently it is important to speak about political solutions in the making as trying to seal the fate of that city. Such solutions always reflect the fact that power preceded justice, but he adds, that is maintained by those in power today although over time the visionary shall prevail. He adds that Jerusalem is ‘key’ to the solution, if really a truthful peace is sought.

He wrote that in 2000, that is well prior to the second Intifada and the incursion by the Israeli Defense Force, that is before what happened in Jenin and after the siege of Bethlehem during that gruesome month of April 2002. That left the vision of the ‘eternal capital’, where all religions could live together, less convincing than ever before.



It all seems to depend upon who lived there first. Kamil Jali Asali speaks about King David’s occupation of Jerusalem taking place 1000 before Christ, at the time of which Jerusalem was already 2000 years old with inhabitants not being Jewish people, but Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, Hetites and other people with each one of them possessing their own language and culture. The oldest rulers, Saz Anu and Yaqir Ammo, have been identified by the American archaeologist W.F. Albright as Amorites.

In the Old Testament there is the quote: “So speaks God, the Master, to Jerusalem: According to your origin and birth you are derived from the land of the Canaanites. Your father was a Amorite, your mother a Hetiterite.” (Book 16)

Multiplicity in the unmaking

Since then many elements came together in those winding streets filled with voices from different cultures, religions, mythical and utopian beliefs. How this lead to identification of nationalist protagonists, forever swearing revenge if the other would try to lay claim over the entire city, must be explained by more than usual consequences following the occupation of different protagonists.

Compared to a city like Palermo in which each new culture attempted to add in a complementary manner to the previous ones, in Jerusalem it matters how the victorious protagonist treats representatives of those people who were displaced last. There appears no willingness of the one culture wishing to complement the previous one, never mind value a type of co-existence.

Jerusalem as symbol of Israel’s post colonial atavistic drive

Walid Kalidy in his article “The future of the holy City” (Lettre International, Heft 51, 2000, p. 24 – 28) speaks about Israel’s ‘atavistic drive’ to unify Jerusalem completely, and this in tradition of the 1.Zionist congress in 1897. This makes then Jerusalem into a factual and symbolic paradigm of the Israeli post-colonial hegemonial policy.

Although the city has the support of the United Nations, as well as of the European Union, the Council of Catholic Churches and of the Arabic Nations, Israel is capable of defying this world opinion of Jerusalem to remain an open, that is international city due to the single support the American Congress gives to Israel. More than anything is this represented by the drive of Israel to transfer the capital city from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the ‘capital forever’ of Israel.

Due to this symbolic value of Jerusalem being first set by political circumstances, the living of all cultures and religions together as expression of a single effort to achieve something humane at this place is made impossible.

UN – the international status of the city

Most likely the problem arises out of religion being mixed with more than just ideological or political claims, while fear prevails not only amongst the suppressed, but also by those holding power. Walid Khalidy must have this in mind when saying that the victorious power takes into possession not only the bounty of the war, but also can influence the presentation of the historical facts.

Yet to all sides it is undeniable that the United Nations’ Assembly of 29.November 1947 declared Jerusalem to have the status of a ‘corpus separatum’, that is neither belonging to the Israeli state being founded then, nor to the Arabic state being named by the resolution.

As such the observance of the international status of Jerusalem would preclude any effort by Israel to declare that city unilaterally to be its capital despite of being a divided city with East Jerusalem being claimed by the Palestinians.

Once the city is made into a conflicting fix-point of statehood, whatever the outcome of peace negotiations, there must be included a settlement of this permanent question.

Condition of peace settlement

Not merely the history of the city, but of the entire region has shown that the protagonists are unable to see ‘eye to eye’ and, therefore, out of fear to appear weak if willing to compromise, unload everything they had to show despise of the others, in order to hide the dependency upon the others.

At the very beginning, it was said that in terms of the Middle East, that means above all as historical pledge, no single defining power should be allowed to determine how Jerusalem shapes its own destiny. If it is to be not merely a capital of the Jewish state, but an international beacon linking Israel to the region, then care must be taken to retain the open character of its urban structures.

Within that special, because an international status, clarity has to be sought in what say have not merely religious forces within the confines of their beliefs, but also all residents and non-residents within the possibilities of a ‘dialectic of securalization’.

If Jerusalem does not live up to its name as being the key to all solutions, all will end up struggling to get but in vain out of the ‘biotope of violence’.

Destruction of the city


The reasons for further destruction of the complex cultural fibers creating a web of the city are more complex and increasingly difficult to explain once political challenges are no longer met openly in the streets of Jerusalem. That leaves both sides entangled in a symbolic dispute but with deadly consequence. After all ‘wounded pride’ leads to but more isolation and defiance. It leads to an increased inability to make any historical compromise work. The failure is due to one side denying the other access not merely to that half of the city being claimed, but also to one’s own community although both need the other as lifeline for all economic, cultural and religious activities.

As Nikos Stavroulakis pointed out on hand of what cities like Thessaloniki or Sarajevo experienced, any city can be destroyed once political forces seek to put but a single cultural stamp on its urban structures. What holds for these cities applies equally to Jerusalem.


The failure of Jerusalem


Given the apparent failures in that city, the entire region has become engulfed in a sea of growing resentment. It may be the result of just fear about one’s own identity being not secure enough to demand respect from the other side. But this reason is too psychological as to manifest itself as a failed model of cultural accommodation of the other. Rather the city has yet to realize what it means, internationally speaking, that it has failed to give any authentic cultural orientation towards multicultural integration.  Instead Jerusalem appears to reproduce paradigm for measures taken by the authorities that indicate worse things are still to come. This is due to being measures of great injustices. They are the result of one-sided power imposition that prevents the working through of all demands and claims in order to reach such viable solution that is not merely satisfactory to both sides, but to the international world as well. As a result of that failure the Middle East has become a crazy, equally explosive mixture of helplessness and fear.


Bad practices


Yet precisely the imposing of power upon the region links Jerusalem to the drive by Israel to expand its settlement scheme at the expense of the Palestinian and Arabic population who shall be pushed to the fringe of luxury developments lacking not only social sensibilities, but equally political legitimization.

John Kifner reports June 4, 2002, that “on a ridge-line in the southeastern part of Jerusalem conquered by Israel in 1967, a backhoe had been digging through the night. On Monday morning, under the watch of armed guards, workers began putting up protective fences for the construction of a multimillion-dollar Jewish area of hundreds of homes and a luxury hotel. To be called ‘Golden View’, it will sit atop the old Arab village of Jabel Mukaber.

The sudden onset of construction – a ‘neighborhood’ to Jews, a ‘settlement’ to Arabs – touched two sensitive nerves: The implanting after 1967 of Jewish areas into what had been Arab villages, and the overall expansion of Jewish settlements.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the settler population, excluding East-Jerusalem, right after the signing of the Oslo accords was some 100,000. At the end of 2000, it was more than 190,000, accounting for much of the Palestinian anger and frustration and making any final settlement of the Jerusalem issue more complex.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres worried over Israeli radio Monday evening that the new building came at ‘a very difficult and sensitive time without consulting with the government’.

However, Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem, long committed to Jewish expansion in the eastern sector, said: ‘The truth is, if it were up to me this neighborhood would have been built a long time ago. And I am very happy, very happy, at this particular time when everyone is going around like they are in mourning and are crying about lost opportunities, there are diligent private entrepreneurs that know how to make economic considerations.

Another level of the seemlingly endless struggle was being played out Monday morning on the hills of Jabel Mukaber. There, Arieh Amit, until four years ago Jerusalem’s police chief and now the chief executive officer of Digal, the private company developing the site, sat under a sunshade in a parking lot, talking incessantly into his cell phone.

The hill and valley, he said, would be developed into a luxury hotel with a revolving restaurant on the top, a cable car over the historic sites and a nighborhood of houses and apartments that would run down to the bottom of the valley. ‘We are building a neighborhood’, he said, ‘Something we think will be good for everybody’.

For the Arabs down the slope, the prospect seemed less sanguine. They had seen this happen before.

In a grocery store, the anger was palpable. Young men glowered and an old woman, dressed in traditional embroidered village garment, shrieked at a passing bulldozer.

‘The Jews, they do whatever they please’, said Itallassi Yihya, who was picking up his 88-year old father, Suwan, near the construction site. ‘They will discover the land is too small for them and they will take more.’”

(John Kifner, “Israelis decry Palestinian court ruling to free hard-liner”, International Herald Tribune, June 4, 2002)

Trade-off in what the world should perceive, or continuous sand in the other eye

Israel itself wished that the international press focuses, however, on the decision by the Palestinian Authority’s High Court to release Ahmed Saadet, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Israelis accuse him of ordering the murder of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, an advocate of ‘transfer’ or expulsion of Arabs, who was gunned down in an East Jerusalem hotel in retaliation of the assassination of Saadat’s predecessor, Abu Ali Mustapha, who was killed by a rocket fired from an Israeli helicopter trough his office window.

Immediately Sharon stated that if this man were to be set free, no one could guarantee his life. He is quoted as saying:

“We will take all necessary steps so that it will not be possible to release a person who was involved in murder, who ordered murder and whose organization carries out murders to this day.”

His arrest and imprisonment was a part of the deal Israel made with the Americans prior to releasing Arafat out of his confinement.

As this endless accusation goes back and forth, while facts are being created on the ground not only in East Jerusalem but also in Nablus at the same time, the Israeli defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezar, who is from the same party as Peres, is quoted as saying Saadat’s “release basically violates the agreement reached with the Americans, the British, the Palestinians and ourselves. This is a person who, as head of the organization, is responsible for murder. We expect all those party to the agreement to meet the joint agreement’s demand.”

And he added:

“If the agreement will be violated, Israel will find itself free of its commitments, and it will act in accordance with its own security interests.”

The trade-off is a predictable response in an unpredictable situation. To that belongs the political strategy to undermine any future trade-off ‘land for peace’. The aim is to become free from international restrictions so as to unify Jerusalem under own terms.

Of interest is that the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 was justified by Israel as an act of ‘self defense’. Walid Khalidy points out that Israel presented the key argument for entering that war in conjunction with King Hussein from Jordan having shot first. That is important since at that time King Hussein controlled Jerusalem. What Israel fails to mention is that they started a surprise offensive themselves against Egypt. Charles DeGaulle stated at that time Israel had no such defensive but offensive intentions. Later Mosche Dayan would confess that there were other choices possible – an indication that this was not as claimed a purely defensive war.

Solution for Jerusalem

Aside from reflecting upon the complex history of the city, and to what extend international solutions are feasible, it might be advisable for the United Nations to renew its initiative in seeking clarification of the city as having ‘international cultural heritages’ as source of identity for many different cultures, religions and social groups.

There is no denying that between demanding free access to all religious places, there goes with it the safeguarding of the various communities. Jerusalem has according to the ‘foot soldier’ the reputation of less violence than in other parts of the region. That claim indicates both a potentiality and a half-truth.

If anything, the ‘unity of perception’ at a non-symbolic level would have to ensure that all citizens enjoy the same Rights and obligations. In terms of settlers receiving all kinds of incentives e.g. 7% lower income tax than the average, easier loans, etc., there could easily be developed a system supporting structures of multi-cultural development. It would require also an end to school segregation so that children learn together to respect one another.

Walid Khalidy suggests following solutions:

  1. demystification of terms such as reunification
  2. no sovereign rule by one at the exclusion of the other
  3. no ‘aristocratic’ rang for one religion over others
  4. no victors and no defeated people within the city
  5. recognition that Jerusalem is significant for both sides

The city must say ‘no’ to violence.

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