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Jerusalem Syndrome: The Palestinian-Israeli Battle for the Holy City by Moshe Amirav.

Jerusalem's dazzling light blinds all of its heroes and rulers. Memories of past glories and grandiose dreams for the future throw them off-balance. They liken themselves to the city's earlier conquerors and are confident they will succeed where all their predecessors have failed. Captive to the myth of the holy city, they crash against the rocks of Jerusalem's reality and are afflicted with "Jerusalem Syndrome"....

With this scene-setter, Moshe Amirav explains the title of his book. "Jerusalem Syndrome" is the psychological condition which afflicts scores of visitors to the city: They suffer religious delusions and believe they are, for example, God or Jesus Christ. They seek the redemption of Jerusalem, but the contradiction between "heavenly Jerusalem" and "earthly Jerusalem" appears to disturb their mental balance. About 200 people a year are admitted for treatment to the mental hospital in Giv'at Sha'ul.

The title is also Amirav's theme: The delusional illness, he says, seems to have affected mayors, cabinet ministers and prime ministers. Hence the muddled, contradictory, unrealistic, counter-productive and harmful policies and actions in dealing with Jerusalem, which he blames on a succession of Israel's leaders.

Amirav presents his analysis on the basis of formidable, indeed unique, experience and authority. His passionate love for the city goes back to his boyhood days and membership in the right-wing Herut. He was a paratrooper in the Six-Day War in 1967 and, although injured in fighting for Jerusalem, he took himself, bandaged, out of a hospital bed, to go to the Western Wall to celebrate its liberation. He went on to work for then-Mayor Teddy Kollek, in charge of the city's planning and development and was advisor on Jerusalem to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David II.

Although Jerusalem is often called the "City of Peace," its history contradicts that. Devotion to it down the ages by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world has made it a city of strife. The city has changed hands 36 times during its known history, usually in a bloody war. Conquerors from different countries and nations have destroyed structures sacred to other faiths and built their own holy sites.

Amirav argues that the "pervasive euphoria and self-confidence" which followed 1967's unexpected military triumph led government ministers to believe that they only need set goals for Jerusalem's unification and international legitimacy, for that would follow, sooner or later. Hence a series of "utopian, unrealistic goals" were given the weight of "national objectives" - all of which have been marked by "monumental failure."

Controlling the Land

The first goal has been territorial: consolidation of Israeli control in East Jerusalem by settling more Jews there.

The immediate step after victory was to vastly expand Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. West Jerusalem consisted of about 37 km2 while conquered East Jerusalem, including the Old City, added 8 km.2 East Jerusalem was not only annexed, but the area of the city was expanded to encompass 70 km2 of the West Bank. Overnight, Jerusalem grew to three times its former size and stretched over an area larger than Tel Aviv.

Jewish settlement has meant investing billions of dollars for the building of residential neighborhoods in most of the eastern part of the city - while also seeking to loosen the hold of Palestinians on these areas and cutting off the Palestinian neighborhoods from the Palestinian population centers surrounding the city.

But, notes Amirav, "not only did the construction fail to secure the territorial objective, it also undermined the demographic objective by increasing the proportion of Arabs in the city." The Jewish neighborhoods, he says, occupy only a third of the area of occupied East Jerusalem while the Arab neighborhoods have greatly expanded in the other two-thirds and are home to a majority of more than 240,000 East Jerusalem Palestinian residents.

In addition, the Jewish territorial drive set off an Arab counter-reaction with a wave of illegal construction. People needed houses so they built them. The Israeli authorities lost control. During the 1980s and 1990s, about 20,000 housing units were built without permits; that is, without the approval of building plans and without proper attention to infrastructure needs such as water, electricity, sewerage and roads. East Jerusalem was turned into a "Wild West."

The failed policy, says Amirav, has "inflicted severe urban damage, having drained all the vibrancy from the city center, eliminated the capital's close-knit atmosphere and completely stymied economic growth due to the allocation of vast resources for - unmet - political aims."

Making the City Jewish

The second goal has been demographic: to increase the Jewish majority in the city to 80-90%.

Amirav notes that had Israel been content with annexing East Jerusalem in 1967, Jews would today be a majority of some 82% in a united city. But the annexation of wide areas of the West Bank, including 28 Palestinian villages, pushed up the number of Palestinian residents.

"Ironically," he points out, "it was the government's construction of the 'outer ring' neighborhoods in the 1970s that created employment opportunities for the city's Arabs. Israel's relatively liberal policy granted them more advanced health services and numerous social benefits from the National Insurance Institute. Jerusalem therefore became a magnet for the Arab population from the West Bank…." The ratio of Palestinians in Jerusalem's population rose to 34%, and the Jewish majority fell to 66%.

Additionally, the coming of Likud to power in 1977 led to a clash in national objectives: creating settlements on the West Bank, as against increasing the Jewish majority in Jerusalem. As a result, some 120,000 Jews abandoned Jerusalem during the 1980s and 1990s and moved to the new settlements such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Betar Illit, Giv'at Ze'ev and Efrat.

Two Populations

The third objective has been political: "Israelization" of, equality for, and co-existence with the city's Arabs.

The initial policy was clear: The newly acquired Palestinian residents were to be an inseparable part of the unified city. They would, it was expected, integrate into the life of the city as Israeli Arabs had integrated into the state after 1948. Thus the government decided to allocate special resources for this and also enacted liberal legislation regarding the Palestinians' status and rights.

But it all went sour because, notes Amirav, the intentions were not implemented and "it wasn't long before the resources that were needed to improve the level of services and infrastructure in East Jerusalem were being directed solely to strengthening and increasing the Jewish majority.

The Israelization policy that touted "equality" for Jerusalem's Arabs was soon displaced by a new policy that imposed numerous hardships on them, with the aim of spurring them to leave Jerusalem and thereby reduce their percentage of the city's population.

Housing has been a glaring expression of this: Amirav records that about 30,000 requests for building permits were submitted by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem from 1967 to 2001; only about 3,100 (10%) were approved - and these few were first subjected to a "bureaucratic run-around lasting several years on average."

The "Israelization" policy was supplanted by "Palestinization." Amirav explains that "the Palestinians in Jerusalem identified with the struggle for national liberation. They no longer sought equal rights or services or benefits. They sought to separate from Israel and to establish their capital in East Jerusalem!"

Meanwhile, any hopes for coexistence have been undermined by Palestinian suicide-bombings during the second intifada.

Seeking Recognition

The fourth and, perhaps, most important objective has been diplomatic: to secure international recognition for Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, this diplomatic effort was partly successful: 24 countries recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and set up their embassies there - although, significantly, the United States and major European nations refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty in [West] Jerusalem, let alone accept it as the capital of Israel.

Israel's annexation of Islamic and Christian holy sites in 1967 and its 1980 Basic Law declaring that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel," aroused international anger: 22 countries moved their embassies out of the city, finally followed later in 2006 by the remaining two, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

"Forty years of diplomatic effort on this front have brought Israel nothing but disappointment and failure," says Amirav. Creating "facts on the ground" has not secured international acceptance.

The Holy City

The fifth objective has been in the religious sphere: to separate the issue of the holy places from the Israeli-Arab conflict.

This, says Amirav, has always been the most sensitive and difficult matter to resolve: the holy places are the focus of religious belief for many millions of people and the reason why Jerusalem has been a city of strife throughout the centuries.

He argues that Israel had a chance in 1967 to resolve the issue in accord with the international community and the Muslim world. It could have done so by imposing its sovereignty solely upon the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall and allowing the internationalization of the Christian and Muslim holy sites. But this was rejected by the cabinet in the "euphoric and self-assured atmosphere of the time."

"A most striking illustration," says Amirav, "of Israel's failure to separate the Temple Mount issue from the Israeli-Arab conflict is the significant weight given this issue in the 2000 Camp David summit talks. In essence, contrary to Israel's original policy goal, the holy places became the real core issue of the conflict."

Jerusalem and Zionism

Of course, Jerusalem has, over the centuries, been central to Jewish existence. Throughout exile, the holy city was always the focus of yearning and prayer. It was "the heart of the Jewish people," as David Ben-Gurion put it. Hence, the awe and emotion elicited by the conquest of the Old City in 1967. But the political story has been different and Amirav points out that from the 1880s, when the first Zionist pioneers arrived in Palestine, until 1949, when western Jerusalem, without the Old City, was declared the capital, the city ranked low in Zionist priorities. The crucial goal was to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Zionist policymakers did not view Jerusalem as the political capital or economic center of the future state, but rather as a spiritual and intellectual center for the Jewish people.

Amirav notes: "Jerusalem's marginality was evident in four ways: its lack of political centrality in the Zionist movement in Palestine; the disdain expressed for it in the movement's culture and literature; the relatively meager resources allocated to the city and to settlement efforts there; and the acceptance of the likelihood that it would fall outside the framework of the future Jewish state.

In that light, the fervent declarations of Jerusalem as the "eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people" are of relatively recent origin, post-1967. And they relate to a city whose boundaries were considerably extended in 1967 in a man-made political decision, which not only had nothing to do with holiness, but which contradicted logic and sensible urban planning.

Camp David and the Future

What to do? In 2000, at the time of Camp David II when Amirav was advisor to Barak on Jerusalem, he put together a team of 14 eminent scholars to consider possible policies: "The team's conclusion, that the city had to be divided, was unequivocal. This need derived, to a great extent, from the fact that in the 33 years of its rule in East Jerusalem, Israel had not attained any of its national goals in the city, on any level."

The consensus was that a division of the city was vital: that Israel must part with the Arab neighborhoods.

The expectation was that a division of Jerusalem would strengthen the city economically and provide an opportunity to refocus on urban development and functioning, which since 1967 had been completely scuttled due to the political constraints. Another consensus was that there was an unbridgeable contradiction between a city united under Israeli sovereignty and peace with the Palestinians, let alone the entire Muslim world.

In the years since then, the city's problems have deepened and the contradictions and the strife have sharpened. Pointing the way forward, Amirav urges Israelis to re-think, to liberate their thinking from decades-long stagnation: "Perhaps we should strive to accept Jerusalem as it is - a multicultural, multi-faith and bi-national city - and overcome our fear of these terms which so frightened us up to now? … Perhaps a political outline that aspires to a 'division of Jerusalem' will achieve for us, the Israelis, more than the anachronistic political outline of the 'unification of Jerusalem' will ever achieve?"

Vital questions. But will Israelis face them? Or will the mistakes and blunderings by leaders continue unchecked, dooming Jerusalem and its peoples to evermore damage?


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