by Ziad AbuZayyad
Jerusalem is a mixture of logic and emotions, dreams and realities, past and present, religion and politics, love and hatred. In short, Jerusalem is every¬thing.
Often, on a plane, leaving Jerusalem on business or vacation, I am gripped by a sudden urge for the day I will return. In fact, whenever I leave Jerusalem, I am pervaded by a strange sadness.
Jerusalem is my childhood and youth. Its cold, narrow, semi-dark lanes smell of history. The stones and earth tell of invasions they have witnessed and of arrogant rulers. All these have passed; all has sunk into dust; only the stones of Jerusalem endure strong, proud, and defiant.
Jerusalem for me represents the deep roots of Canaan and his son Ibrahim (Abraham), father of prophets to whom Muhammad attributed his lineage. It is the city of al-Isra' wal Mi’raj (the Prophet's nocturnal journey), the Mosque of Omar and the Dome of the Rock.
Jerusalem is my childhood spiced with the voice of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, mixed with the chimes of church bells; wax from melt¬ing candles dropping on my hands and clothes; the chanting of nuns and priests in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where I often found myself lost among the crowds.
Jerusalem was and still is the everlasting Islamic cultural heritage whereby Muslims and Christians of the city meet in a unique blend and twinning of identities.
Thus Jerusalem embodies the symbol of the national dignity as well as of the religious faith and attachment to the city of Muslim and Christian Arabs.
Jerusalem has been destroyed tens of times by those who claimed they loved it. Twenty-six times in recent history. Destructive love was its lot and affliction. Is it because Christ said: "This is your house; it shall be left unto you in ruins"? I hope not.
The time has come now for another kind of love — the love of sharing, tolerating and coexisting, the love which will preserve Jerusalem and glo¬rify rather than destroy.
Although Jewish building in Jerusalem is not the focus of this article, it is almost impossible to speak about the politics of Jerusalem without men¬tioning the Israeli efforts to Judaize the city. Since Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, continued efforts have been made to change the charac¬ter of the city by converting it into a Jewish one. Immediately after the war, the Muslim quarter, Waqf Abu Madyan, near the Wailing Wall, was razed to the ground, for the enlargement of the Wall's courtyard. New Jewish neighborhoods were hastily built around the city: French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Giv'at Hatahmoshet, Giv'at Hamivtar, Talpiyot Mizrah, Neveh Ya'acov, Gilo. Others are still in the planning stage or under construction, such as Reches Shu'fat, Har Homa, etc.
Israel has been engaged in an ongoing process to establish, by all means, a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. It is obvious that efforts, in the early years of the Occupation, were made under pressure of time to establish facts on the ground. Only this fact can explain the ugliness of these neighbor¬hoods. The historical and architectural character of the city were not respected. Even the Mandatory and Jordanian rules, which aimed at pre¬serving the city's image by limiting the number of stories in all buildings, were not observed and the city became an ugly mixture of odd new "car¬ton blocks" and beautiful traditional buildings.
The question arises: Can Israel achieve peace with its Arab neighbors while still keeping Jerusalem as its capital? Is a comprehensive peace in the Middle East possible as long as Israel insists on Jerusalem as the "eternal capital" of the Jews, and denies the rights, emotions and attachment of Muslims and Christians to it? Any attempt to ignore what Jerusalem sym¬bolizes for Muslims and Christians will inevitably contribute to lack of security and stability, not only in Jerusalem, but in the entire region.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while Jerusalem is the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No durable and stable peace in the Middle East can be achieved without a satisfactory settlement to the Palestinian problem, including Jerusalem, based upon international legitimacy, enabling the Palestinian people to practice their right to self-determination, including the right to establish their own state on their national soil, alongside Israel. Jerusalem remains the key to any peaceful settlement in the region.
The successive Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, including Resolution 252, call upon Israel to respect the status quo and refrain from efforts or actions to change the status of the city of Jerusalem in any man¬ner or form. Regrettably, Israel has never abided by any U.N. resolution, except those in its favor.
Article V of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) states: "Permanent sta¬tus negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period."
"As soon as possible" makes it more than possible to start immediate talks on Jerusalem, particularly in light of the Israeli settlement activities. These attempts to change the demographic nature of the city of Jerusalem by building Jewish neighborhoods in and around the Palestinian part of the city at the expense of its Palestinian population on their own confiscat¬ed lands. Such a policy, coupled by Israeli measures forcing the city's Palestinian inhabitants to leave it, aims at predetermining the outcome of the negotiations over Jerusalem, even before they have started.
From the Israeli point of view, the Palestinians of Jerusalem are foreign¬ers, living as permanent residents in the city. They are obliged to keep the city as the center of their economic life. They are not allowed to live out¬side the municipal boundaries of the city for more than seven years. Those who leave the city as a result of the housing crisis or are forced to live out¬side the municipal boundaries for any other reason, even if still within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, lose their Jerusalem identity cards and their right to live in the city. Furthermore, severe restrictions are imposed on Palestinian building activities to prevent the physical growth of Palestinian neighborhoods in the city. Many areas are classified "unzoned," "green" or "for public use." The purpose is to prevent any building by Palestinian owners in these areas, and to preserve them for future Jewish building. For example, Reches Shu'fat, originally zoned as a nature reserve, was recently released for the building of a new Jewish reli¬gious neighborhood on it.
These Israeli practices in Jerusalem constitute a major threat to the peace process on all its tracks, bilateral and multilateral, and endanger the possi¬bility of a positive conclusion to the process.
As a matter of fact, the recent confiscations of lands in Palestinian Jerusalem, occupied in 1967, represent an example of the short-sighted Israeli policy, which may in the end cause the collapse of all that has been achieved on the road to peace in the Middle East.
That is why the Israeli government's recent move to "freeze" its latest decision to confiscate land for housing purposes leaves the door open for other uses, such as roads, public use, etc. Thousands of dunums were con¬fiscated in the past but have not been exploited yet. Their use in the future, like the so-called Har Homa near Beit Sahour, to the south of Jerusalem, will refuel the situation and endanger the whole peace process.
Ceasing all acts of land-grabbing and construction on Palestinian con¬fiscated land, is a requisite for the achievement of any progress in the Middle East peace process. It is also of the utmost importance that Israel cancel the confiscation orders and abandon its discriminatory policy against the Palestinian Arabs until a negotiated settlement of the perma¬nent status of the city is worked out.
Israel as an occupying military power can, theoretically, dictate its posi¬tion by the use of force. It can impose a closure, confiscate land, build set¬tlements, but all these measures will center all the time on the perpetuity of the occupation, and its military power. No one can guarantee Israel con¬tinued military superiority or unending American aid in all its forms, or persistent weakness and division in the Arab world.
Converting Jerusalem from a city for all believers, Muslims, Christians and Jews, into a city for Jews alone, will transform the conflict from a national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians into a conflict between Jews, on the one hand, and Muslims and Christians on the other. Waging a holy war (Jihad) to liberate Islamic Jerusalem will neither be in Israel's interest nor of all those who are striving for stability and a durable peace in the Middle East. Jerusalem belongs to all believers: Jews, Christians and Muslims. Any settlement for the city must guarantee justice, equality and respect for all the followers of the three religions.
The time has come to face realities and take courageous steps to save the peace process before its total breakdown. Let logic and reason overcome fanaticism and political blindness.