Saturday, October 31

Disturbances in Jerusalem

A Palestinian youth marks a V sign during clashes with Israeli policemen in the Arab neighborhood of Ras Al Amud in east Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009. Israeli forces stormed the Jerusalem's holiest shrine, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, Sunday, firing stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinian protesters who

were pelting them with stones. ((AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

There seems to be certain regularity in the occurrence of disturbances in Jerusalem. There are periods of calm followed by violent conflagration between Jew and Moslem extremists. Both sides claim what they regard as their legitimate rights in Jerusalem. Both sides blame each other for the disturbances. Who really is to blame?

It is difficult say with absolute conviction. Both parties are moving towards extremist positions. The Moslems are goaded on by their radical religious leaders (many of whom are adopting anti-Jewish Hamas positions) also coupled with fears of the "Judaization of Jerusalem”. This can be seen on the ground as right-wing Yesha rabbis - the spokesmen of the settler movements - goad the faithful to pray on the Temple Mount. This is intended as a provocation to the Moslem community "to show who is boss".

It would be worthwhile to see what is happening in Jerusalem and to ask ourselves whether it is a provocation. According to a Haaretz Editorial of 26th October 2009, certain facts are indisputable. Mention is made of archaeological digs; the construction of Jewish neighborhoods and Jewish housing in and around the Old City; the purchase of property and condemning of public parks with the intention of using land to build Jewish residential neighborhoods seem to be part of a deliberate policy pursued by the Israeli Government..

The issue of Jerusalem is a highly emotional issue. Both sides lack the sensitivity to deal with this issue effectively so that both sides could live side by side in harmony, each side being pragmatic towards the other. Both sides have a religious stake in Jerusalem and yet no side really has the monopoly on Jerusalem.

Logic requires a tremendous amount of pragmatism and moderation in order to prevent religious violence which could have wide ranging repercussions. This could ignite the whole Middle East which would benefit nobody.

Jerusalem will always remain a divided city. The demographic make up of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings is not conducive to uniting the city under Israeli rule. Western Jerusalem (or Jewish Jerusalem) prior to the Six Day War of June 1967, has a Jewish majority and this is indisputable. Eastern Jerusalem captured in the Six Day War is mostly Arab. Israel's control of Eastern Jerusalem will always be a contentious issue. Trust between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a new low not that it ever had any highs.

Jerusalem is like a dormant volcano. It can remain quiet for a period. Unlike a dormant volcano whose eruptions are more or less predictable, Jerusalem is not. The use of force to prevent violence is not going to work. The burning embers will always remain only to ignite at the slightest provocation.

The Jerusalem issue remains a hot potato with both Palestinians and Israelis laying claim to it. The forces of reason are not much felt here and while the one side encroaches on the interests of the other there will always be a conflict of interests.

Jerusalem is a holy city that is important to the three monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In this fact also lies the solution. Perhaps Jerusalem should not be under the rule of any sovereign nation but declared an international city under the rule of representatives of the three monotheistic faiths, each faith having jurisdiction over the holy sites peculiar to their respective faiths.

Maybe Jerusalem should have a separate status. It could be the capital of Israel and Palestine, with both peoples having their legislative assemblies there. Naturally there will be areas of cooperation between both peoples in the day to day running of Jerusalem for the benefit of both. Jerusalem should have a special status and be an open city accessible to all worshippers.

Jerusalem could be divided into boroughs that are determined by the demographic nature of the city. This could be done so that the interests of all residents are safeguarded. In order to end the periodic cycle of violence in Jerusalem between Jews and Palestinians, new and imaginative approaches need to be investigated.

Both sides need to change their ideas and seek ways of cooperation. Projects focusing on peace education and emphasize the equal claims of both Israelis and Palestinians to Jerusalem. Neither side is going to disappear at the expense of the other. It is not an easy task because of the tragic histories of both sides resulting in a total lack of trust.

This is a conflict where both sides are right, as Amos Oz, the well-known Israeli writer, aptly describes it.

Dialogue between the two sides must be initiated. One must always remember that what is happening in Jerusalem is determines the future of the Palestinian - Israeli conflict that affects the whole Middle East.

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