I consider myself lucky to be able to drive by Jerusalem’s walls daily and admire their glory and beauty. I was born in Jerusalem, but was just a baby when the city was liberated and united. I often listen to my mother’s stories about life in Jerusalem prior to June 1967, when Jews could not enter the eastern half of the city.
Two weeks ago, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar (June 1), Jerusalem celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, which marks 44 years of a united Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of teens from all over the country marched in honor of the city in what is called “Rikud Dgalim,” The Dance of Flags. Not everyone views this event with celebration. On June 5, Palestinians marked the 44 years since the breakout of the Six Day War and the Arab defeat by commemorating Naksa Day, the annual day to remember the displacement that accompanied Israel’s victory.
“Ten measures of beauty descended on the world – nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.” (Talmud: Kiddushin 49B).
What makes this city such an attraction on one hand, and a bone of contention on the other?
Jerusalem is the holy city for all three major monotheistic religions, with a history that goes back to the fourth millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem was captured over forty times. Each conqueror destroyed parts of the city and stamped his legacy by adding new monuments and rebuilding the city.
In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the entire city its capital. Along with his predecessors, including the late Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated, “Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and will remain under Israeli sovereignty for eternity.” The international community does not recognize this claim. There are different legal and diplomatic positions on Jerusalem. Many UN member states formally adhere to the United Nations proposal that Jerusalem should have international status. The chief dispute revolves around Israel’s control of East Jerusalem, while broader agreement exists regarding the Israeli presence in West Jerusalem. The majority of UN member states and most international organizations do not recognize Israel’s control of East Jerusalem or its 1980 Jerusalem Law, which declared a “complete and united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As a result, foreign embassies are generally located in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem.
The United Nations recommends that Jerusalem be placed under a special international regime, a corpus separatum, but envisions the city eventually becoming the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian National Authority claims Jerusalem as Al Quds, the capital of a future Palestinian state. According to the Palestinian Authority, the whole city, and not just East Jerusalem, is subject to permanent status negotiations.
Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city in both population and area, with a population of 763,800. Jews make up 65 percent, and 35 percent are Arabs, with a tiny percentage other religions. Despite the ongoing disputes and times of tension, Jews and Arabs try to practice coexistence daily in all aspects of life.
About a third of the Hebrew University student population is Arab, and the proportion of Arab students rises every year. At the Givat Ram campus, almost half of students in some courses are Arab. These students are given full access to all facilities and have an active Arab Students Union. Arabic and Islamic Studies is one of the academic areas in which the Hebrew University excels.
Around 12 percent of the para medical jobs are occupied by Arabs (almost 30 percent of nurses are Arab). As residents of the city, Arab patients are welcome at all Jerusalem hospitals and obviously receive the same treatment by Arab and Jewish doctors, nurses, and pharmacists as any Jewish patient, in joined rooms.
There is still much to do to better connect these two nations and bridge all gaps, while maintaining each side’s pride and heritage. The key to real coexistence is mutual respect and recognition.
Our sages in the Talmud said, “There is no beauty greater than Jerusalem.” (Talmud: Kiddushin 49B). Jerusalem’s beauty should reflect its ability to accept and embrace all those who call it home, all those who share the love and admiration of this city’s glory and eternity.
Leah Garber, JCC Association Israel Office Director