Do We Divide The Holiest Holy City?
was born in Nablus in 1943 and is the author of The Palestinian Hero in the Folkloric Tale. Editor for 20 years of the daily newspaper, Al-Fajr (“The Dawn”), he later directed the Palestine National Authority’s Ministry of Culture. He lives in Ramallah.
I don’t accept that Israel says it is a Jewish state. There are one million Arabs, Christians and Muslims who are Israeli citizens. It is a state for all its citizens. You cannot say America is a Christian state. In Palestine, we cannot say Palestine is the state of Muslims; we have more than 100,000 Christians. In Nablus, we have Samaritans—a small sect that broke off from Judaism 2,700 years ago.
Israel should be a state where all Jews can come, but there are a million Arab Israelis, Muslims and Christians. Are they not Israeli, too? It’s very dangerous because, this way, you can just say, “Transfer all the Arabs.” Israeli Arabs have been there for thousands of years but they are not Jews. At the same time, for 60 years, they are Israelis.
For Jerusalem, I dream of having one city for two nations—the Arab-Palestinian and the Israeli. We can study other countries for models. In Belgium, there are two or three different nations or peoples and also in Switzerland, Canada, even America. Even here in Palestine, we will one day live together.
If we want Jerusalem as one city, we would have to return to the old dream: one state, not just one city, for the different religions—Jews, Christians, Muslims, non-religious. One state, democratic, choose any name. But this dream cannot be now. I think maybe one in 10,000 people would accept it.
So there have to be two states—a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. And Jerusalem has to be divided into two capitals as it was before 1967. It’s difficult, I know, for us and for the Israelis. Still, after 60 years of war, of bloodshed, of disaster, maybe there is a hope. Maybe.
If we accept that there is a democratic Palestinian state beside a democratic, peaceful Israeli state, we can find a solution. We have to use our imaginations, be creative. I don’t think there can be one municipal unit for Jerusalem but I hate walls. Maybe the Palestinian Arabs have to pay their taxes to their municipality and their government and the Israelis have to pay to theirs.
But the problem is not only Jerusalem. The bigger problem is the settlements. The settlements are a new Israel created and established in the West Bank. This is a different Israel, an ideological Israel. The settlers believe this land has been given them by God thousands of years ago. This is crazy thinking. By this thinking England will not be England; America would be given back. By this thinking, Palestinians could go back 6,000 years to before Abraham!
As for the holy places, we should find a creative solution that will be accepted by Muslims, Jews and Christians. Jerusalem is not a commercial city or an industrial city. No factories, no farms, no big markets are in Jerusalem. It is a holy city and these holy places are contained within one kilometer—how would we divide the holy wall of the Jews from the mosque, Al Aqsa, from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher?
That place can make very, very good money for the two nations because of religious tourism. Millions of Muslims will come; millions of Christians—Arab Christians and European Christians and American Christians—will come; millions of Jews will come. And they will shop, they will sleep there and they will spend money.
This is the real oil of Israel and Palestine. If there is peace.
is the author of a novel and 10 books of nonfiction, including the 1989 Jerusalem: City of Mirrors. Born in Vienna in 1926, he has lived in Jerusalem since 1972. He now divides his time between Jerusalem and Tuscany.
Practically speaking, Jerusalem’s always been a city with two nationalities, Arab and Israeli. They are not mixed. They have lived in isolation, not at all glorious, in different quarters for many years. It’s gotten worse since I moved there, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become much more violent.
The city does not necessarily have to be divided physically as it was prior to 1967, but one can imagine a situation where two administrations with good relations administer a joint city with a Palestinian capital in the eastern part and an Israeli capital in the western part. It will take a degree of sophistication and mutual tolerance, but technical governance problems could be addressed. There are already cities that are jointly run—for example, cities along the French-German border that have grown together over the years.