A few days ago Israelis celebrated “Jerusalem Day” which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 war. By now many have seen this disturbing video of religio-nationlist Jews marching in the Arab part of Jerusalem. They chant slogans such as “Muhammad is Dead” and “Death to Arabs.” Their behavior brings to mind a quote by Nietzsche who famously said, “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Have a look:
To be clear, these hooligans are extremist and do not represent the bulk of Israeli society. Having said that, the status of Jerusalem in the future Palestinian state is clearly a powerful, emotive and divisive issue. Jerusalem is a place of central importance to Jews and the possibility of once again losing access to the city is unnerving to many. PM Netanyahu, going against the negotiated positions of previous Israeli governments, has repeatedly stated that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state. Netanyahu reiterated this position most recently in his speech to the US Congress:
As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found.
The Israeli government has also backed up the PM’s words with deeds: stepping up efforts to Judiaze the Eastern part of city – a process under way since 1967 – by means of forced evictions and settlement constructions. In response, a solidarity movement , which has been called the birth of the new Israeli left, has made East Jerusalem (particularly the contested neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah) its symbolic and physical address: holding weekly demonstrations for equality and justice.
For its part, the Palestinian leadership has been adamant that East Jerusalem will become the capital of the future Palestinian state. Though documents exposed by Al Jazeera, the so-called “Palestinian papers”, have shown a Palestinian leadership willing to cede their claims on the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and agreeing to divide jurisdiction within the old city (with Israeli authority over the Jewish Quarter and part of the Armenian Quarter). Yet, with the recent union with Hamas, it is doubtful whether the Palestinians will be able to be as flexible. That said, Khaled Meshaal, head of the political bureau of Hamas, has agreed to the East/West division in the past.
To further complicate the picture, a January 2011 poll carried out by American Pechter Middle East Polls for the Council on Foreign Relations in conjunction with the head of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, Dr. Nabil Kukali, has shown that in the event of a two state solution, 35% of Palestinians, currently residents of East Jerusalem, would prefer Israeli citizenship under Israeli rule. By contrast, 30% would prefer Palestinian citizenship, and 35% did not answer. In the case whereby East Jerusalem becomes part of Palestine, 40% said they would rather relocate into Israel proper than live in a Palestinian state.
A Biblical Tale
The debate over Jerusalem (or the land in general) reminds me of the story of King Solomon. Since this is Shavout, the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, I guess its only natural I have the bible on my mind.
As is told, when two prostitutes came to the king (who presided in Jerusalem) with conflicting claims over ownership of a baby, he adjudicated with a stratagem: “Cut the live child in two”, he said, “and give half to one and half to the other.” Realizing what is at stake, the real mother came forth and pleaded with the king to give the child to the other woman, “only don’t kill the baby.” The other woman said, “Cut it in two.” Hearing this, the king immediately returned the child to its rightful mother.
Now it’s easy to see how this story can enliven the imagination and provide a model of support for the youth in the video above (or even those who believe in a democratic one state solution). If the baby is a symbol for the land, then the true owner/lover of the land will not compromise by dividing it into parts. On some kind of mystical level, the land must be indivisible and whole. One people, one land / two people, one land. Either way, one land it must remain.
But there is another reading of the story that could be helpful: real and unconditional love sometimes means letting go of something that is of ultimate concern. For the child to survive, the mother had to let go of her claims to him. Likewise, for the land and its people to live in peace, we must let go of uncompromising visions of what Palestine and Israel ought to be – not let go of a vision of Palestine or Israel per say, just the one that is keeping us from realizing peace.
Israelis and Palestinians are attached to myths (e.g. undivided Jerusalem, right of return) that given the reality on the ground make it impossible to resolve the conflict. A new schema is in order, one that is based on genuine compromise and fairness, not on the unreasonable and exclusive claims of religion and history.
Returning to Shavuot, in the Jewish tradition the Torah is often compared to milk, as King Solomon wrote, “Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue.” (Song of Songs 4:11). This is said to be one of the reasons that Jews eat a lot of sweet dairy on Shavuot. So I would like to to end with an usual negotiating strategy that involves dairy.
Growing up in Argentina, my Wife Gabriela and her sister Paola cherished ice-cream day. On that day they got to eat as much ice-cream as they could. Only there was a catch. Gabriela’s mother employed the “Ice Cream Rule”: one scoops, the other chooses. In other words, one sibling would decide how much ice-cream would go into each bowl, while the other had the right to first pick. That way, if one of the sibling had distributed the ice-cream unevenly, the other benefited. It was an ingenious system designed for fairness and equality.
Perhaps next time the leaders of the region discuss what to do with Jerusalem they can do it over some evenly distributed ice cream.