Commentary Magazine

On Jerusalem

To the Editor:

David Bar-Illan [“Next Year in (a Divided?) Jerusalem,” September 1994] attacks me and my views on the future of Jerusalem based on an article of mine that appeared the Washington Post. It is legitimate for Mr. Bar-Illan, the editor of the formerly great Jerusalem Post, to differ with me (even if he is wrong) and I will not write a diatribe about why I believe he is incorrect. I do, however, wish to correct one major flaw in his article in which he accuses me of lying.

In my article, I claimed that the municipality of Jerusalem has severely discriminated against its Arab population by investing next to nothing in development and services in Arab neighborhoods. In response, Mr. Bar-Illan quotes Teddy Kollek: Jerusalem has spent “no less money on the Arab part of the city than on the Jewish section.” He further mentions improvements in electricity, sewage, water, and, of course, the health clinic that was built in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood—“the largest, most modern clinic in the city,” according to Mr. Bar-Illan. Finally, Mr. Bar-Illan calls Teddy Kollek one of “Israel’s leading doves.”

Now, let us look at the real facts. In August, Amir Cheshin, the outgoing adviser to the mayor on Arab affairs, reminded the public of a “secret” report that had been buried by “leading-dove” Kollek. The report indicated that the municipality had systematically discriminated against the Arab parts of Jerusalem since 1967, offering them less than 10 percent of the budget in all areas, development as well as services.

The most blatant discrimination is in building rights and permits. After all the expropriation of privately-owned Arab lands in East Jerusalem, the Palestinians today still retain 35,000 dunams of vacant land. Despite this, there are some 21,000 homeless Arab families in the city. These people are not living in the streets of Jerusalem. They have doubled and tripled up with their families or they have left the city to find housing outside. They are not allowed to build homes on their own land. On other formerly Arab-owned land in Jerusalem, 27,000 dunams of which the city expropriated from their Arab owners, the municipality and the Israeli government have built more than 70,000 housing units for Jews only. Additionally, because the municipality has never bothered to develop a zoning plan for Arab neighborhoods (could this have been intentional?), almost all new Arab building is given demolition orders. Demolitions are carried out regularly by the municipality at a rate of more than 50 per year, adding an additional 50-plus families to the homeless list. These demolished homes were all built on privately-owned Arab land.

With regard to services, in 1990 the municipality defined the scope of its actions in East Jerusalem as the “assurance of a reasonable standard of service.” The municipality admitted that it could not provide equal services and did in fact maintain a lower standard of services in the East. In 1990, total government and municipal expenditure for the benefit of the Arab population was slightly more than $3 million. In the same year, the Palestinians in East Jerusalem paid $7.5 million in municipal taxes. Moreover, this figure does not take into account income and other taxes paid by Palestinians to the national government which constitutes some five times more than this sum.

The lack of equal services is quite apparent to anyone who walks through any of the eighteen Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Where are the public parks and play areas for children? Where are the sidewalks? Why isn’t there street lighting at night? Look at the condition of the roads. Walking through the streets of East Jerusalem feels strangely similar to walking through the streets of the Palestinian towns and villages of the West Bank. They all lack the same services.

While it is true that living standards have improved in the Arab sectors of Jerusalem since 1967, it is also true that they improved in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and many other countries of the region. The Palestinians enjoy a higher standard of living because Israelis, too, enjoy the benefits of economic development. The gap between the two societies, however, has continued to grow over the last fifteen years. With regard to improvements in sewage, one need only wander beyond the regular tourist routes to discover flowing raw sewage through villages and neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. . . .

Under the tutelage of that “leading dove,” Teddy Kollek, the city of Jerusalem systematically discriminated against its Arab population while at the same time deceiving the entire world that he was the best man for the job because of his “fairness” to the Arabs. This is the same man who is now busy traveling around the world receiving one peace prize after the other. It is true that Kollek built the health clinic in East Jerusalem. And it is true that it is one of the best in the city. This “pet” project has served Kollek’s interests thousands of times over. By building one good health clinic for Arabs, he has duped the entire world (with Mr. Bar-Illan serving as flag-waver) into thinking that there is equality between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem (or even that Arabs receive preferential treatment). The real truth is blatantly obvious to anyone who visits Arab neighborhoods in the city, though one must wander off the tourist path to do so. The real truth is that there has never been a greater annexationist in Israel than Kollek. He may wear the feathers of a dove, but he has served the cause of the most right-wing of Israeli parties—no wonder Mr. Bar-Illan likes him so much.

When the truth comes out, it is Mr. Bar-Illan who has lied. It is Mr. Bar-Illan who continues to lie to the public and to himself about the myths that Kollek and others have created. The time has come to break those myths. Palestinians will never have equality under Israeli rule. In fact, Palestinians have never even fought for such equality. They do not want to be under Israeli rule. The only way that peace will be achieved in Jerusalem is when we all recognize that Jerusalem today is a divided city. Peace can be achieved when those divisions are recognized by both sides so that, together, we can create real mechanisms for the sharing of Jerusalem. Most Palestinians and most Israelis will come to realize that by sharing Jerusalem we can live together. There will never be peace as long as one side rules the other against its will. And it is time for the mythmakers, such as David Bar-Illan, to wake up and face the true realities.

Gershon Baskin
Israeli/Palestine Center for Research and Information
Jerusalem, Israel



To the Editor:

David Bar-Illan laments that Jerusalem may possibly be divided again. I agree that an Arab foothold in that city would create another Danzig, and a rationale for a corridor that would split Israel. . . .

At this moment, Yitzhak Rabin is still vacillating. However, the two eminences grises of his administration, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, are preparing the ground for such a disaster. . . . Unfortunately, the Peres-Beilin position finds strong support in this country in the major Jewish political organizations that are enmeshed with the peace movement. These organizations would serve Israel better if they could focus in a different direction.

The United States embassy in Israel is still in Tel Aviv. The developments of the last year allow no excuse for not relocating it to Jerusalem. The establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Vatican neutralizes the issue of the internationalization of the city. Congressional approval of the decision to relocate the embassy is a foregone conclusion. . . . The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is fully consistent with international law, and now is the right time to do it.

Let us then concentrate our efforts on an appeal to President Clinton to leave Jerusalem an undivided city and show our commitment to that goal by moving the embassy.

Countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel and have not yet located their embassies in Jerusalem are waiting in the wings and will undoubtedly follow the U.S. example.

Samuel L. Tennenbaum
West Orange, New Jersey



To the Editor:

David Bar-Illan makes passing reference to an annual half-hour meditation permitted Jews on the Temple Mount. . . . The actual situation is much worse. In fact, no open expression of Jewish worship is allowed there. Jews who can be visibly identified as Jews, i.e., knitted skullcaps, tzizit fringes, etc., are prevented from entering the compound. The Israeli police have standing orders to stop either individual or group prayers, despite the existence of the 1967 law on the Protection of the Holy Places which specifically guarantees the right of free access and free worship to all religions. And according to those same orders, any group of more than seven Jews is banned. . . .

Israel’s Supreme Court judges, sitting as the High Court for Justice, have consistently refused to countermand this policy and, at best, limit the presence of Jews solely to tourist visits. And recently, in a spirit of ecumenicalism, Christians who have attempted to kneel and commune with the special spirituality of the site have also been removed. . . .

Yisrael Medad
Public Council for the Temple Mount
Jerusalem, Israel



To the Editor:

The serious (and frightening) questions David Bar-Illan raises about the future of Jerusalem bring to mind an episode which was an “early-warning” experience for me. Twenty-one years ago I accompanied Joseph P. Sternstein, then-president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), to an informal meeting with leaders of a national non-Zionist organization. After we had discussed a number of current issues, and as the meeting was about to end, I posed this question: in the event that Israel and the Arab nations reach peaceful solutions to their disputes and the only remaining issue is the status of Jerusalem, would you compromise on Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel—for the “sake of peace”? There was no angry outburst; there was no shaking of heads in disbelief at the question itself. There was only dead silence.

If faced with the same question today, how would Jews respond? If Mr. Bar-Illan’s assessment of the position of the present Israeli government is correct, the reaction of some twenty years ago may very well represent what many are prepared to do today.

Whether on the Left or Right, most of us still believe that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the sovereign state of Israel. David Bar-Illan has sounded the alarm. Will we listen, will we act, and will we do it now?

Paul Flacks
New York City



David Bar-Illan writes:

Behind Gershon Baskin’s vulgar invective, which recalls the late Communist Knesset member Toufik Ziad’s shouts of “liar, liar” whenever he ran out of arguments, there is one valid point. Tourists do not see the real Arab Jerusalem. Nor do television viewers. Tour groups, like reporters, prefer to see the “politically-correct” Jerusalem, where evidence of “oppression” can be found. What they do not notice is that the largest and most opulent private homes in the entire country, let alone in Jerusalem, belong to Arab Jerusalemites. Their houses are virtually all new, built since the Israeli “occupation.”

Of course, there are also a few slum-like areas in Jerusalem. But what Mr. Baskin sees as symptoms of oppression and discrimination are nothing more than pockets of poverty which exist in every city. His selective vision recalls the way the Soviets used to describe American cities: New York was mostly East Harlem; Park Avenue and Broadway were ignored.

Mr. Baskin does not refute the basic facts of my article, nor can he: Jerusalem’s Arab population, rapidly depleted under Jordanian rule, has since 1967 grown at a slightly faster rate than the Jewish population. By all possible criteria, living standards have improved dramatically. When Jerusalem was reunited, the gap between conditions in the formerly Jordanian-ruled part and the Israeli part was one of two centuries. A typical example: only 10 percent of the population in the Jordanian sector had running water. The rest were dependent on public wells. Now virtually every home has running water and electricity.

The Arabs in Jerusalem have benefited not only from such health clinics as the one Teddy Kollek built in Sheikh Jarah—an incomparable establishment which treats 1,000 patients a day—but from new schools; community centers like the Spofford Center and Beit David, one of the best in the country; a central Arab library; and sports and other youth facilities.

That construction has not caught up with demand is all too true. The Palestinian Arabs, who obviously do not read Mr. Baskin, flock to “oppressed” Jerusalem in numbers larger than the city can readily absorb. They build without waiting for licenses, and the vast majority of their illegally-built homes are never demolished (which is something the right-wing parties bitterly complain about).

To get an idea of how trustworthy Mr. Baskin’s information is, one need go no farther than his statement that there are 21,000 homeless Arab families in Jerusalem. That is at least 100,000 people, or two-thirds of the total Arab population. Mr. Baskin does admit that they are nowhere to be seen, a disappearing trick many cities in America would undoubtedly like to learn. The reason, says Mr. Baskin, is that they have doubled and tripled up with their families or left the city. But the population movement has been in the other direction, and the doubling and tripling has to do with the rather attractive, if old-fashioned, Arab custom of having an extended family live under one roof. What Mr. Baskin does not mention is that the roof can cover a twenty-room villa.

But perhaps the most remarkable facet of Mr. Baskin’s letter is his unbridled attack on Teddy Kollek, who is indeed one of Israel’s leading doves. No one has bent over backward to placate the Arabs more assiduously than Kollek. To appreciate his dedication to the cause of equality and amity one must realize that he got Jerusalem Arabs to leap over centuries with virtually no cooperation from the Arabs themselves.

In a recent letter about this problem, he wrote:

Jerusalem is made up of many minorities, including 40 different Christian denominations, Jews from over 100 ethnic backgrounds, including immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Many of them have complaints about the authorities and the municipality. The main difference between these groups and the Arab minority is that the Arabs never agreed to participate in council elections. We invited the Arab leaders to participate, and we suggested that before every city-council meeting they could rise and proclaim their nonrecognition of Israel’s control of all of Jerusalem and of course they could keep their Jordanian citizenship. But the Arabs of East Jerusalem refused to participate in municipal administration and therefore made it very difficult for themselves. We had to rely on our own analysis of the situation in Arab quarters. Despite the great handicap, a great deal of progress was made.

What Kollek is reluctant to state is that there is good reason for this lack of cooperation. By working with the municipal government, Arabs risk the fate of “collaborators.”

As my article noted, Mr. Baskin is not alone in advocating the redivision of Jerusalem. But it is instructive to realize that he, and presumably like-minded members of the government, are not thinking only of Jerusalem. “Palestinians do not want to be under Israeli rule,” he says. But surely he knows that Israeli Arabs from Knesset MK’s to Arafat adviser Ahmed Tibi to teachers in Nazareth consider themselves Palestinians. They reject the term “Israeli Arabs.” They are “Palestinians who happen to be Israeli citizens.” Should these 750,000 Palestinians, too, be “liberated” from Israeli rule?

I should like to thank Samuel L. Tennenbaum, Yisrael Medad, and Paul Flacks for their kind words. I am particularly grateful to Mr. Medad for expanding on the fact that Jews are prohibited from worshipping on Judaism’s holiest site, and for mentioning what I learned only after I wrote my article: that Christians, too, are forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount.

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