Why is it that the dispute concerning Jerusalem seems to swing from “the eternal capital of Israel, one undivided city” to proposals to divide the city between East (Palestinian) and West (Israeli)? Why is it so rare to hear voices calling for a shared Jerusalem? A few years ago, when a Women’s Dialogue Group run by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, discussed their visions for Jerusalem, I was surprised by the language the women used. Not only did they not want to partition the city, but they used the terms ‘blasphemous’ and ‘sacrilegious’ to describe the idea of division. Since then, I have been looking for ways to further the idea of sharing our beautiful city.
Now, as Netanyahu heads to Washington to meet with President Obama and speak before the Congress, I wish he could hear this message from Jerusalem women. The rhetoric of ‘one united city’ is so far from the reality in which we live. Jews and Palestinians rarely meet in the course of our day to day lives. Even though I have Palestinian friends, I have to make special arrangements to see them – we never bump into each other by accident, never come across each other doing the shopping or picking up the kids from school. There is almost no casual interaction, and many people don’t even know people from the other side of the national divide.
I recently heard a fascinating talk by Dr. Oman Youssef, an architect and urban planner who is assistant professor at Al-Quds University. He suggested that Palestinians should become more active in their resistance to urban discrimination in Jerusalem. He voiced possibilities of forming a shadow municipality to provide the services that the official municipality fails to supply on an equal basis. He even mentioned the taboo possibility of Palestinians voting in future municipal elections (which to date they have boycotted because they don’t recognise Israeli sovereignty over their part of the city). As 30% of the population of Jerusalem, if Palestinians were to vote, the Jerusalem local council would function very differently.
As I consider ideas of how to share this city, I am struck by the different translations of the word ‘share’ in Hebrew. The most obvious translation is based on the term ‘divide’ – and so is closer to the idea of ‘sharing out’ than sharing. The other possible translation is based on the root for ‘participate’ or ‘partner.’ This is the idea we should be promoting for Jerusalem – not sharing it out, but sharing it, becoming mutual partners in developing the city, fostering collective decision-making and joint action and interaction. Anyone who would like to join me in raising a voice for a shared Jerusalem, is welcome to contact me to discuss possibilities.