Do We Divide The Holiest Holy City?
What should Jerusalem’s future be? How can the Old City and the much larger new one around it be shared? Should Jerusalem be divided or unified? To whom should it belong? To foster dialogue, Moment asked writers and journalists—Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, both secular and religious—for their visions of the future of the world’s holiest metropolis. Their answers, often at odds but sometimes surprisingly alike, evoke Oz’s “different versions of Heaven.”—Mandy Katz
is the author of 12 novels, including the 2007 A Pigeon and a Boy. Born in 1948 in the Nahalal agricultural collective in Israel’s Jezreel Valley, his mother’s home, he was raised in his father’s city of Jerusalem. He writes for Yediot Aharonot and divides his time between Jerusalem and a village near Nahalal.
Herman Melville said Jerusalem is surrounded by cemeteries, and the dead are the strongest guild of this town. He’s right—Jerusalem is run by dead people. You feel the town doesn’t have any interest in the future. We have politicians, we have scholars, we have writers, but historic figures determine our politics: Salah al-Din, David, Jesus Christ—these are the people who run the city.
When I compare Jerusalem to the other two great cities of the Mediterranean, Athens and Rome, I am jealous because they handle their history with ease. When you stroll the Parthenon and the Foro Romano, you don’t have the same dangers, the same feeling of fanaticism you have around the holy places of Jerusalem. The Holy Basin is like a nuclear reactor that we cannot control. It keeps radiating all the time. We call Jerusalem the eternal city of peace, but this is a great lie.
Until 1967, there was a wall of concrete and barbed wire cutting Jerusalem north to south, soldiers on both sides. When I was 7, my father used to take us on a political walk along this wall every second Saturday. He would tell me that I would have to be a soldier when I grew up and redeem the other part of Jerusalem. We used to go to the Monastery of Notre Dame de France where, if you stood in a certain corner of the roof, you could see part of the Wailing Wail. He wrote a poem about it: “The roof of Notre Dame for me is like Mount Nebo. I see the holy places which I cannot reach.”
He was a non-religious person, mind you, and this was the way he was thinking. For him, having grown up in Jerusalem in pre-Israel times, it was a very different experience. I’m much less connected to Jerusalem than he was.
When a Palestinian state is established, we should allow Palestinians to have Jerusalem as its symbolic capital, to have their parliament in Jerusalem. But dividing Jerusalem physically with a wall, as it used to be in my childhood, is impossible now—impossible socially, politically and economically.
It would be a good solution for Jerusalem if some international entity would take care of the holy places and make them accessible to all visitors. This is when the vision of Isaiah will come, of Jerusalem as a beacon for all peoples. But this won’t happen; none of the three religions would agree to such a proposition.
Jerusalem is a Jewish invention. If the Temple had been in another city, Jesus would never have come, and the Islamic presence is much later than that. But now we have three religions in Jerusalem and the Jewish people should be pioneers again: We should be first in telling the world and ourselves and the other religions that this town should start to behave. Some responsible grownup from another religion or from a non-religious side should take over, because all three religions somehow lose their morality here. They become quarrelsome, possessive, jealous, obsessive. It’s time for these holy places to become a place to visit, not a place to fight for.
I once met the Dalai Lama for breakfast here in Jerusalem—him and the late poet Yehuda Amichai—and we were talking about Jerusalem as a place of conflict. I unofficially invited him to become the mayor of Jerusalem and take care of the holy places for us. He just smiled. I guess he had other worries on his shoulders.
is a professor of anthropology at Al Quds University and a painter who writes for This Week in Palestine. He was born in 1953 in the Herod’s Gate neighborhood just north of the Old City walls, which his great-grandfather, the mufti of Jerusalem, first settled in 1750. He lives in Shofat, Jerusalem’s first Arab suburb built after 1948.
I live a Jerusalem ideal. I have alien residency in Jerusalem, which allows me many elements of free movement, and I have my Jordanian passport, which protects my cultural identity. Like all alien residents, I am a beneficiary of the Israeli medical system, social security and social services. But, unlike Israeli citizens, I can move freely to Jericho and throughout the West Bank.
I have adjusted to the suburban lifestyle. The Old City for me is a place to pray, to take walks and write poetry. But if I want to go to a restaurant, I go to West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. When you live with the highway at your door, your territory expands.
Still, we remain a people under occupation. It’s very irritating: My mother’s clan, the Nusseibeh family, has carried the keys to the Holy Sepulcher church since the 7th century. My father’s family were the first converts to Islam in Palestine. And then, overnight, I’m an “alien resident” through just one war? It’s absurd after all this history to be reduced to foreign guests in our homeland.