Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?


by Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director, IMRA

The Jerusalem Post, February 17, 1997

There's a small museum in the middle of the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City which puts the current struggle over Jerusalem in context.

"The Last Day" is a display of a series of photographs taken in 1948 as the Jews were assembled and expelled from Jerusalem. Among the smiling Arab faces are the relatives of some of today's leaders including Faisal Husseini.

The museum also prominently displays some "before" and "after" shots so the visitor can get an impression of the bustling Jewish Quarter with its many impressive synagogues and public buildings which was destroyed after the Jews were driven out.

The Arabs' destruction of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and use of Jewish tombstones from the Mount of Olives as building material was just another chapter in their ongoing struggle against Jewish people for the same piece of real estate, a struggle which started well before 1948.

As part of it, the Arabs did everything they could to block Jews from reaching the Promised Land or gaining a foothold there.

Before 1948 they also fought fiercely to deny Jews everything but a minimal presence at the "Wailing Wall". They did not even allow Jews to blow the shofar there at the end of Yom Kippur (a ban which Palestinian Authority Minister of Wakf and Religious Affairs Hassan Tahboob wants to reinstate so the Jews won't "disturb" Moslem services.)

During the period of Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967, all Jews were barred entry into the entire Old City.

When the Arabs failed to destroy of Jewish state in 1967 and instead found themselves facing an Israel with lines extending to the Jordan River, the representatives of the Wakf on the Temple Mount prepared for the worst.

But Israel didn't pay the Arabs in kind. They city was not cleared of Arabs and Mordechai Gur's memorable "The Temple Mount is in our hands" notwithstanding, Moshe Dayan made it clear to the Wakf that the mount remained firmly in its hands.

Today Arafat's appointees incite the masses against Israel in their Friday sermons broadcast by the Palestinian media from the Temple Mount, in gross violation of the Oslo Accords.

The struggle is not over. And it is a struggle expressed in demographics as much as in land. The Arabs and Jews both encourage high fertility rates ("internal migration") and Jews promote aliyah.

Yet, despite the high stakes, Israel's commitment to the asymmetrical treatment of the Arabs in this conflict continues.

When Israel liberated east Jerusalem it did not drive the Arabs across the Jordan River. Instead it offered them full Israeli citizenship, with the right to vote and be elected to the Knesset.

The offer still stands today to the Arab residents of Jerusalem. Those who take Israeli citizenship retain that status for the rest of their lives, regardless of where they live.

Israel went a step further, allowing Arab Jerusalemites to vote in municipal elections even if they refuse Israeli citizenship.

When one considers the many divergent groups that make up the ruling coalition in City Hall, one can only imagine the associated political power and benefits Arab Jerusalemites might have enjoyed all these years if had they opted to participate in the process. But they have preferred to wait for the Jews to leave - or be driven out.

Yes, Israel has been generous to the Arabs; but there are limits to what any people engaged in a struggle for its survival can be expected to do for the benefit of its opponent.

So, while Jews are allowed dual citizenship in order to encourage as many as possible to join the Jewish state, Arabs are not afforded this luxury.

Those Arabs who refused Israeli citizenship were allowed to stay, but were made subject to the same restrictions as any other permanent resident. Among those restrictions, which apply to all "permanent resident," is a rule that they must maintain their "center of life" in Israel.

Move somewhere else for 7 years - be it to Rhode Island or Ramallah - and you lose permanent resident status.

Now we are in a race to create facts on the ground. And since the only thing Oslo really prohibits in terms of not changing the situation is additional Israeli annexations or the declaration of a Palestinian state, much can be done.

The Arab world is pouring many millions of dollars into buying property and building in Jerusalem.

Jews are also trying to solidify their stand in the city. And as part of this "race" Israel is exercising its legal right under a law which has been on the books since 1974 to deny residency to the Arabs who refused to become citizens and left Jerusalem for seven years or more.

The Arabs of Jerusalem have another option.

Noted Arab Journalist Daoud Kuttab recently wrote on his Internet Home Page that "the only options left for Palestinians are independence in a free and sovereign (Palestinian) state or integration (into Israel) with full political rights." The Arabs of Jerusalem can already exercise the integration option.

Is it fair? Some might call it too fair; others, not enough.

But when I recall the photographs in that small museum in Cardo and try to imagine what would have happened had we lost the war in 1967, I must say, quite frankly, that I sleep well at night.

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