Jerusalem: City of diversity or a monopoly?
Seventy years after the events known as the Nakba, the current US administration’s attempts to unilaterally enforce the status of Jerusalem are a reminder that the legacy of this catastrophe are still with us. Over the course of these tragic 1948 events, during which 700,000 Palestinian civilians fled — terrorized by notorious massacres perpetrated by Zionist paramilitaries in Deir Yassin and elsewhere — one of the worst-affected areas was Jerusalem. The 1947 UN partition plan put Jerusalem at the heart of the fledgling Palestinian state. However, Zionist forces eventually captured the west side of the city, before later overrunning the remainder during the 1967 war.
The UN initially envisaged a shared, internationalized status for Jerusalem. This vision was unanimously upheld in the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242 (the first of a succession of such resolutions), which regarded East Jerusalem as occupied territory and demanded the withdrawal of Israeli forces. This international position on Jerusalem has remained remarkably consistent, right through to the recent Security Council vote on Jerusalem’s status, during which the US position was opposed 14-to-one. A subsequent UN General Assembly vote found the US in a lonely position alongside a handful of statelets like Guatemala, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, despite threats by Ambassador Nikki Haley, who asserted that the US position was simply a “recognition of the obvious.”
Do Washington and Tel Aviv assume that their botched attempt to impose Jerusalem’s annexation upon the world will cause Palestinians, Muslims and various denominations of Christians to miraculously forget their sacred attachment to this city?
We thus have two diametrically opposed visions. One in which Jerusalem is a shared capital, open to all faiths, which is the position of leading Palestinians, moderate Israelis and the international community. The opposing position seeks to unilaterally impose a monolithic blueprint, squeezing out other residents, faiths and communities.
Do Washington and Tel Aviv assume that their botched attempt to impose Jerusalem’s annexation upon the world will cause Palestinians, Muslims and various denominations of Christians to miraculously forget their sacred attachment to this city? Seventy years of dispossession only made Palestinians more attached to Jerusalem. They may not feel so differently 1,000 years from now.
The unilateralists have made strife and conflict inevitable. Instead of being a shared city of faith and peace, they have condemned Jerusalem to being a city of eternal unholy disputes. In his justification for the Jerusalem decision, Donald Trump tried to claim that the declaration made peace talks more straightforward by removing the most controversial issue. Instead he has rendered peace talks irrelevant, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s government adds insult to injury through parallel efforts to illegally annex additional Palestinian lands. If accepting a Palestinian state without Jerusalem at its center is like buying a car whose engine has been removed, just imagine purchasing that same vehicle after most of the bodywork had also been sold for scrap.
Netanyahu can flood the city with illegal settlements and displace its rightful inhabitants, but Jerusalem retains inestimable symbolic importance, including for billions around the world who will never actually set foot on this hallowed ground. My own visit many years ago made a deep impression upon me — it is a unique and awe-inspiring city whose millennia of history hang heavily in the air.
As always, when I mention Israel, this article will be attacked by an army of barely-literate hacks claiming that Arabs hate Israelis and want to throw them all into the sea. Wrong. While Israel’s right wing has labored energetically to richly deserve the hatred of its neighbors, Arab leaders have long been explicitly committed to a just and shared peace. It is just as obviously false to claim that Jerusalem is eternally Jewish as it is to claim that the city is exclusively Arab.
Jerusalem’s contentious history arises from the fact that Arabs and Hebrews are Semitic peoples, sharing closely-related languages and enjoying millennia of coexistence. “Arab” doesn’t denote a homogeneous gene-pool, but rather encompasses a range of ancient peoples — Phoenicians, Akkadians, Egyptians, Aramaeans, Berbers, Philistines, Canaanites and others — that were absorbed within an inherently diverse Arabic-speaking civilization.
Jewish communities were for centuries an integral part of this Arab world. Some day in the future, there will be a time when Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs can live alongside each other once more, but only when there is mutual recognition of each other’s heritage and rights. The unilateralists can never win. They only perpetuate the conflict indefinitely, preventing their fellow Israelis from enjoying the benefits of peace. Just because they are temporarily able to impose their claims upon Jerusalem today doesn’t mean they can indefinitely suspend international justice, or prevent Palestinians from reasserting their legitimate rights when the playing field is less one-sided.
We can thank the US’s grandiose plans for an embassy in Jerusalem for reminding us that the Nakba is not past history: It is still with us in the necessity of resisting injustice, the ongoing theft of land, and a thousand legal fictions for dispossessing Palestinians of their birthright inch by inch. This includes attempts to seal off East Jerusalem from the surrounding occupied territories through a forest of checkpoints, while constructing provocative and illegitimate settlements that often prove highly popular with Arab-hating fanatics, who enjoy burning down olive groves and attacking Palestinian children.
As long as fundamentalists seek a monolithic vision for Jerusalem, their agenda will ultimately be shattered upon the unyielding rocks of reality. We can only hope that Trump’s successor will enjoy a more nuanced understanding of these momentous issues, along with a greater sense of the responsibility for upholding international justice that accompanies the powers of his office.
Jerusalem has never been and never will be reducible to a single agenda, faith or ethnicity. This sacred city’s long history has been punctuated by terrible bouts of bloodshed, as various powers — whether Persian, Roman, Crusader or Ottoman — temporarily sought to impose exclusive control. Its people only enjoyed peace under enlightened and tolerant rulers who respected the rights of all faiths and communities. Israel and America would ignore this lesson at their peril.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.