Learning to Share Jerusalem
“Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”
This is the rallying cry of the vast majority of the American Jewish establishment, never proclaimed more loudly than during negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As much as love of Jerusalem is a bedrock Jewish value, I fear that this uncompromising position stands in the way of a far more fundamental Jewish and humanistic imperative: to always seek peace. The obstinate rhetoric used by some in the Jewish community and too many Washington policy makers around Jerusalem stands in the way of a two-state solution, and a chance at a just and lasting peace.
An eternal, undivided Jerusalem has been, for years, the official position of Israel in negotiations. The Palestinians, in turn, take the position that the eastern parts of Al Quds, the Arabic name for the city, must be the capital of the future state of Palestine. In a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experts generally agree that the city will be shared, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Al Quds as the capital of Palestine. Anyone who advocates for a two-state solution must recognize the political necessity of sharing Jerusalem.
Happily, in Israel this position is neither new nor out of the mainstream. Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, former Prime Ministers from mainstream political parties, spoke about the necessity of dividing Jerusalem and negotiated with the assumption that Jerusalem would be shared in some capacity with a new Palestinian state. The vast majority of American Jews (and Americans in general) share this position. A poll commissioned by J Street in 2012 showed that 72 percent of American Jews support sharing Jerusalem as part of a final peace agreement.
However, despite the positions of Israeli leaders that they claim to respect, and the views of the vast majority of their constituents that they claim to represent, the American Jewish establishment continues to cling stubbornly to the position that Jerusalem will never be shared.
At the fourth annual J Street National Conference, I heard Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the right wing Likud party and confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, speak about the need to share Jerusalem as part of a broader, negotiated agreement. If a member of the Likud can talk about, and endorse, these historic compromises, why can’t we?
It is time that the silent majority, manifested in the over nine hundred students of every religion, race, and creed who attended that conference, speak out about the compromises necessary for a real peace. Secretary Kerry has worked tirelessly to re-start negotiations and has challenged us to be part of a “Great Constituency for Peace.” It is time for us accept his challenge.
I am not blind to the difficult nature of this compromise. Like so many other members of the Jewish community, there is always a part of me that lives in Jerusalem. During my semester abroad in Israel, I spent hours wandering the streets of the Old City. Spending Yom Kippur within the confines of the city was perhaps the most powerfully spiritual experience of my life. It was incredibly moving to pray in the midst of the place at the center of so many of my religion’s rituals.
This sense of attachment is precisely why I am compelled to recognize the dreams of another people to house its capital within Jerusalem. During those hours I spent wandering through Jerusalem I often paused to consider the melodic beauty of the Muslim call to prayer. I saw and met Palestinians whose attachment to Jerusalem, both religious and political, fundamentally mirrored my own. Theirs was not an alien claim, but rather a variant of my own connection to the ineffable yet palpable sense of holiness that pervades Jerusalem.
Sharing Jerusalem may be difficult, but it is possible and necessary. In many ways, the city is already divided between the primarily Jewish neighborhoods of West Jerusalem and the primarily Palestinian ones of the East. The fault lines are widened further by the unseen walls between Jews and Palestinians, walls made of distrust and animosity. A 2013 poll even found that almost three quarters of Jewish Israelis view Jerusalem as a city that is already divided.
Political boundaries are not the ultimate determining factors of Jerusalem’s wholeness. Jerusalem will be made whole when all who wish to worship there, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, can freely access their holy sites. It will be made whole when peace, the very root of the city’s name, reigns between governments and people throughout the city. The only way that Jerusalem can truly be whole is if the city is shared between Israel and the future state of Palestine.
There is a choice before us. We can insist on continuing to control the predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem out of fidelity to a slogan of an “undivided Jerusalem,” or we can make an honest effort to achieve peace in our lifetime. Every value, Jewish and universal, that I hold dear compels me to choose the latter. And I will work to challenge the leaders of our community to do the same.
Blinderman is a member of the class of 2014.