& Final Essay
Avishai Margalit, "The Myth of Jerusalem" in Views in Review:
Politics and Culture in the State of the Jews (New York, 1998): 177-204
When I was a child Jerusalem was more like a large village than a city. As in a village, there were some village idiots walking about, trailed by groups of giggling children. I particularly remember one madwoman with a gaunt, ashen face, her eyes blazing with anger and fear, who was a relative of the great mathematician Abraham Halevi Frankel. She was called "Kesher Le'echad" (tie of unity) because she preached in a babble of languages for the creation of ties of unity among people. One late afternoon I came home from school and was utterly amazed to find Kesher Le'echad sitting in the kitchen with my mother, drinking tea and eating cake. The scene didn't seem real to me. Prophets don't have tea with cake. Suddenly she got up nervously, muttered something, stood at the door and said, "We must make peace in Jerusalem schnell, schnell" (quickly, quickly).
Another village idiot called himself King David. He wore a black beret and had a round childish face and blue eyes expressing great innocence. As the King of Israel, he would grant us, his followers, various sections of Jerusalem. One day he decided to appoint me ruler of Mount Zion. He put his hand on my head and was about to bless me with his strange ceremony of investiture. At my side stood an Arab boy named Faras, who worked for a Greek Orthodox priest in our neighborhood.
"What about me?" asked Faras.
"He's an Arab," said one of the children.
King David thought for a moment, reconsidered, put his hand on both our heads, and appointed the two of us, his Jewish and Arab vassals, joint rulers of Mount Zion.
Fine question is whether it is possible and necessary to make peace schnell, schnell in Jerusalem, with Jews and Arabs as full partners in the ownership and administration of the city, or whether this is a solution only for children and village idiots. Any seasoned bazaar merchant—indeed, any child—will tell you that "the problem of Jerusalem" must be "left for last." Negotiations between Jews and Arabs cannot begin with a discussion about Jerusalem because this would "blow everything up." The problems are so complex that anyone who suggests a solution shows he does not understand the problem.
But I intend to suggest a solution: "Jerusalem must be one city and the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine." In 1973, several months before the Yom Kippur War, three of us, native Jerusalemites, composed a platform for a small leftist party, with the slogan "One city, capital of two states." But this view has never been popular among either Jews or Arabs. All but a small number of the Jews in Israel advocate absolute and exclusive sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Mainstream Palestinians continue to demand an independent state, with sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian rule until 1967. How could the suggestion of one city with joint Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty be a solution that is even possible?
In the talks that opened in Madrid in October 1991, Jerusalem is not being discussed. What is being discussed is something that the Israelis call "autonomy" and the Palestinians an "interim phase." But the future of Jerusalem is germane even to a temporary arrangement under which Prime Minister Shamir would grant autonomy and President Bush would promise that future negotiations would go beyond autonomy. But what kind of autonomy? The Likud government offered the Palestinians "autonomy for persons." No one knows just what this means. It is quite clear, however, that it excludes control over land and water in the territories. Israel will maintain full control over both, and, therefore, Israel will decide when and where to establish new settlements. The Palestinians demand "autonomy over land." This implies, at the least, a freeze both on new settlements and on adding more settlers to existing ones. According to recent public opinion polls, a majority of Israelis are willing to freeze settlements (at least during the negotiations) as long as this does not apply to East Jerusalem. (In a poll of 80,000 people by Na'amat and Yediot Tikshoret 71 percent of Israeli citizens said that a freeze on settlements now will promote peace.)
If no distinction is made between the status of Jerusalem and that of the territories, then Shamir will have the option of breaking off negotiations at any moment, knowing that Israeli Jews will support him. He will claim that because of the Palestinians' claims to autonomy, Jews will not be able to purchase apartments in, for example, Ramat Eshkol, a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem that is located beyond the 1967 border. This will win him near-total support.
The problem of Jerusalem should therefore be separated from the problem of the rest of the territories. The best way to go about it is to consider Jerusalem one undivided city and to negotiate how sovereignty over it can be defined and shared. It is a solution in the sense that it would be a just settlement of the claims of both sides—and in the sense that if the two sides were somehow eventually able to accept it, then both of them would be able to make peace on the basis of it.
I begin with the solution, but what is the problem? The problem of Jerusalem is that it is the object of a harsh, cruel, nationalistic competition between the Jews of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. For both sides, victory in this competition means acquiring unchallenged sovereignty over the city.
What makes the problem of Jerusalem so complex is that the current nationalistic competition over the city takes place against the background of an ancient, blood-soaked religious competition among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. To understand the depth of the nationalistic conflict one must grasp the character of the religious one. And the religious competition for Jerusalem, like the nationalistic one, is not only symbolic and metaphysical. Meron Benvenisti, in his haunting book about Jerusalem cemeteries, writes that the Olympic Games slogan, "Higher, faster, stronger," may be appropriate to Jerusalem. Each side wants to build higher, faster, and more than its opponents. Since 1967, Jewish Jerusalem has been leading the competition, and the record of Teddy Kollek can by now be compared to the great Jerusalem builders—Solomon, Herod, Hadrian, Constantine, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Father Antonine (the Russian priest responsible for constructing Jerusalem's large Russian complex). And while the mosque minarets once rivaled in height the church steeples in the fight for the control of the Jerusalem horizon, today the clear winners are the towers of the Hilton and Sheraton hotels.
Jerusalem has always had more history than geography. King David's city, the real one, was less than twenty acres in size. It's no wonder that the first thing the King saw from his roof was Bathsheba taking a bath. In 1967 the Jerusalem municipality controlled about 10,000 acres, which grew to 27,000 acres after Israel annexed East Jerusalem. Now Ariel Sharon, as Housing Minister, wants to extend the territory of Jerusalem to include the satellite towns Maale Adumim and Betar in the occupied territories, and it is not clear that anyone can stop him.
No one can say just why Jerusalem is where it is. The location of ancient cities is generally explained by three conditions -- roads, water, and defense. But no important road runs through Jerusalem; it has very little water, and the ancient city, even though it was built on a ridge, was not situated in a strong defensive position on the hills. It is thought that Jerusalem was founded about four thousand years ago as a city of ritual worship by the Canaanites, a view strengthened by mention in the Bible of King Melchizedek of Salem, the priest of El Elyon, as having been there. When King David captured Jerusalem and established it as his capital perhaps he did so because it had no history of Israelite worship and could be used to establish a new sacred place. In contrast to Hebron and Beth-EI, moreover, it did not belong to the territory of any of the Israelite tribes and therefore could serve as a common ground for all of them. Jerusalem also has an extraterritorial status in Jewish law (although there is a controversy about this) and it belongs to all the Israelite tribes. King Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem and concentrated all the ritual worship there, thus setting Jerusalem at the center of the national and religious consciousness of the Jewish people for all generations to come. The annoying truth about King David and King Solomon in Jerusalem, however, is that although Jerusalem is the most excavated city in the world there is not as yet a clear archaeological trace of these two illustrious kings in it.
After Solomon's death in the tenth century B.C., the kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judea, with Jerusalem as the capital of the latter. In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and exiled many of its residents. Sixty years later, under the Persian patronage of King Cyrus, a group of Jews returned from Babylonia to rebuild the Temple and settle in Jerusalem. They built a small temple, a rather poor substitute for the magnificent one erected by Solomon. The period of Persian rule over the city ended in 333 B.C., when Jerusalem came under the rule of Alexander the Great. This marked the beginning of the city's Hellenistic period, during which the Hellenistic ruler Antiochus Epiphanes forbade Jews to worship in the Temple. In 165 B.C.. the Temple was ''purified'' by the Maccabees after a civil war against the Hellenist Jews.
In 63 B.C.,. Jerusalem entered a period of Roman rule—sometimes direct, sometimes indirect. It was during this period, shortly after Herod had rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem as one of the most impressive structures of antiquity, that Jesus was active in the city. In A.D. 66 a Judean revolt against Roman rule broke out, and in 70 the Temple was destroyed and burned by Titus. After the great Judean revolt of 132, the emperor Hadrian conquered the city and razed it, establishing in its place a pagan Roman city called Aelia Capitolina, which Jews were forbidden to enter. In the year 313 Christianity became the state religion in Rome, and Constantine's mother started to build the Holy Sepulcher in the center of Jerusalem, turning the city into a Byzantine Christian city.
In 638 Jerusalem was taken over by a new religion—Islam. The Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount. After five hundred years of exile, Jews were permitted to return and settle in Jerusalem. In 1099 Christians reconquered the city from the Muslims in the Crusade for the "liberation of the holy places." A Muslim counter-crusade in 1187—Saladin's jihad—returned the city to Muslim rule. Jerusalem flourished during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when it was ruled by the Mamelukes, the slave kings originally imported into the Middle East from Central Asia.
The Turks conquered Jerusalem in 1517, and its splendid city walls were built by Suleiman the Magnificent. The city remained under Turkish rule for four hundred years, until 1917, when the city was captured by General Allenby, and Jerusalem became part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The British left Palestine in 1948, and in the subsequent war between Jews and Arabs the city was divided in two: the eastern part, including the Old City, was annexed to Jordan, while the western part became the capital of the new state of Israel. In 1967 Israel conquered East Jerusalem and annexed it.
Even so sketchy a history shows that Jerusalem, with its changes of rulers and religion, does not belong exclusively to the heritage of any one religion or any one community in the city. To establish its claims, each religion and each nation competing for the city clings to a particular sequence of events in the city's history from the Bronze Age onward and sees it as a guide to their present-day activities, while the history of others becomes for them a black hole from which not even one ray of light can escape.
One principal concept which has both undergone historical transformation and caused divisiveness is that of holiness, which is accompanied by the idea that Jerusalem is a holy city. Different ideas of holiness have given the struggle over Jerusalem its flavor of absolutism—for example, the expression that Jerusalem is Israel's "eternal" capital. The recurrent pattern is a subtle one: each religion and each national ideology started out with deep ambivalence about the city's importance; the attitude of each toward Jerusalem became one of absolute commitment only as a result of rivalry and conflict with others. The religious competition for Jerusalem and, consequently, the nationalist competition as well were sustained by the idea that the city was a holy place for various religions, an idea that requires clarification.
One day, on a school outing, we went to see a model of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple, including a model of the Temple itself. This model is located next to a hotel appropriately named the Holyland Hotel. After looking at the model we went down the hill on which the hotel is perched to a valley in which there was an area of high-tension electrical poles surrounded by a high fence with pictures of skulls and crossbones warning against trespassing in the enclosure. Our teacher then explained that this electrical sanctuary works on the same principle as the Temple; it is the source of light and energy for the whole city, but anyone who dares to touch its parts is electrocuted and dies. (Our teacher had apparently been reading Rudolf Otto's Idea of the Holy.) The holy city is indeed a place fraught with ambivalence: on the one hand, it contains a divine presence that provides it with an abundance of goodness; on the other hand, the constant danger is that defilement will alienate the divinity and threaten the city with a curse. This ambivalence between goodness and curse, love and fear, and especially purity and defilement, produces the religious tension expressed in the idea of the Temple as a place that is at once blessed and dangerous.
Biblical Jerusalem and the Temple itself were divided into areas of greater and lesser holiness, the degree of holiness reflected in the taboos applying to each. The Temple Mount was holier than the rest of Jerusalem. No one who was ritually defiled could enter it—including persons suffering from venereal discharge, women who had recently given birth or were menstruating. The Temple court is yet holier, and heathens were forbidden to enter it. The outer hall of the Temple was holier still, forbidden to anyone not of the priestly caste. Finally, the Holy of Holies, the inner part of the Temple, could be entered only by the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (There has been much controversy surrounding this system of holiness. The Judean desert sect at Qumran believed that all of Jerusalem was as holy as the Temple Mount, and that it was forbidden, for example, to have sexual relations in the city. They therefore considered the priestly Jerusalem to be a defiled and dangerous city from which it was necessary to flee to the desert.)
The concept of holiness as the exclusion of the defiled had a historical significance: people who were alien were gradually included in the category of the defiled. The presence of an outsider in the city, especially near the Temple, was "anathema" in the literal sense of the word. The author of the Psalms (79:1) says, "O God, heathens have entered Your domain, defiled Your holy temple." The Crusaders who besieged the Muslim-ruled Jerusalem adopted this verse from the Psalms as their battle cry. But the view of the alien as someone who defiles is not only something from the distant past. The British consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, reported to his Foreign Minister in England in 1848, the year of "the springtime of the nations," that a person identified as a Jew had been found in the Latin chapel on Easter. The crowd had been about to lynch him, and only the intervention of the Turkish guards saved him, after a severe beating. Finn then remarked that this incident was similar to what had occurred to a British doctor who had been caught in the Muslims' Noble Sanctuary—he, too, had been severely beaten and rescued only with difficulty. The defiling aliens have not always been rescued, especially not in our century.
While the Temple still stood, the concept of the holy place, whether Jerusalem or the Temple, as the place free of defilement came into conflict with another concept of holiness—the concept of Jerusalem as the place of pilgrimage. The Bible commands Jews to make a pilgrimage on three holidays: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Hundreds of thousands of people used to come to Jerusalem on these occasions. Josephus Flavius writes about nearly three million pilgrims on one Passover. Even if we remove one zero, the number remains impressive. 'The vast Temple court in fact had enough room for three hundred thousand worshippers.
Among the pilgrims in the period before the Temple was destroyed were many who came from different foreign countries with different languages. Only thus can we understand the miracle of "speaking in tongues" which occurred on the famous Pentecost described in Acts 2. At any rate, the Temple priests accepted sacrifices as well as other presents from Gentiles, even though there were some sages— perhaps influenced by the Judean desert sect—who demanded that such sacrifices not be allowed. With such a large number of visitors, it was very difficult to make sure of everyone's purity.
Amos Elon, in his wonderful Jerusalem, City of Mirrors (1989), summarizes his description of the pilgrimages from all parts of the world by calling Jerusalem "a cosmopolitan city." But Jerusalem, as my friend the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser once put it, is at the same time the most international and the least cosmopolitan city in the world. People from many different nations have always lived in Jerusalem, and in this sense it has an international flavor; but to be cosmopolitan requires that a stranger's presence should not only be tolerable but natural and welcome, and in this sense Jerusalem is not cosmopolitan in the least but sectarian in the extreme—and with a large number of sects. These sects live side by side, not together. They are each shut up in their own quarters and courtyards, sometimes behind walls and locked gates.
Jerusalem as a holy city of pilgrimages is common to all three religions, but one sense of pilgrimage is mainly the heritage of Jews and Muslims—the sense of going to Jerusalem in order to be buried there in the belief that when the dead are resurrected those buried in Jerusalem will be resurrected first. This idea is conceived so literally that grave plots on the Mount of Olives (where Robert Maxwell was recently buried) that are nearer to the Golden Gate, through which the Messiah is expected to pass, are more expensive than those further away. The nearer one is to the gate, the closer one will be to the head of the line at the time of the resurrection. At any rate, Jerusalem is surrounded by a huge necropolis, and the dead can't be ignored in any vote about Jerusalem's future.
The war between Islam and Christianity at the time of the Crusades defined Jerusalem as a holy city whose conquerors could claim that their own religion was chosen by God. At first glance it seems as though the holiness of Jerusalem for Christianity is obvious. The Christian drama of part of Jesus' life and, above all, his death and resurrection, took place in Jerusalem. The "holy archaeology" of the Byzantines also guaranteed that every biblical event has a place in the city attached to it. In holy archaeology, there are no misses. One digs and one finds. Constantine's mother, Helena, found Golgotha and the holy cross and built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there.
However, during the Byzantine period Christians spoke more of holy places than of a holy city. The idea of the Holy Land, and to some degree of the holy city as well, came from the Crusaders. The difficulty for "learned" Christianity (as opposed to folk Christianity attached to holy relics) is the Pauline doctrine that sees the earthly Jerusalem as a Jewish Jerusalem, a Jerusalem bound to the Law ("the bondsmaid Hagar"), as opposed to the heavenly Jerusalem, a Jerusalem freed from the Law ("the lady Sarah"). This approach, based on Jesus' prophecy that no stone structure will remain whole in Jerusalem, as well as on the establishment of the Church in Rome, cast doubt on the status of Jerusalem, but the triumph of the Crusaders relieved Christianity of its ambivalence toward Jerusalem. Spirituality can be a matter of geography. When one is within reach of the earthly Jerusalem, its value rises; when one is far away from it, the heavenly Jerusalem gains more importance. The Crusaders saw themselves as vassals coming to liberate the domain of their Lord, Jesus; and with respect to Judaism, they presented themselves as the spiritual and therefore the true Israel—that is, as the legitimate heirs to Jerusalem.
Muslims, too, were ambivalent about Jerusalem's holiness, for they saw the city as a possible rival for the holy status of Mecca and Medina. According to the Koran the people who first became Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem; but the prophet tested his followers and demanded that they pray toward Mecca. The ideological basis of Jerusalem's holiness for Islam is found in the traditional interpretation of the account (in Sura 17) of the night journey of God's servant from the sanctified mosque to the mosque at what was called "the remote end." This interpretation identified God's servant with Muhammad, who went from the Kaaba in Mecca to Jerusalem. The Muslim tradition also sees Jerusalem as the place to which Muhammad went on his wondrous horse Burak. It seems that this interpretation is based on the Talmudic tale (Sanhedrin 98) about the horse ("Susie Burka") which the King of Persia offers for the Messiah to ride. That is, the night journey to the Temple Mount is the journey of the successor religion (Islam succeeding Judaism and Christianity), where Muhammad is the rider of the Messiah's horse, which is contrasted with the donkey of Jesus, the poor Messiah.
At any rate, Saladin's counter-crusade, his holy war, or jihad, to liberate Jerusalem, required a great deal of propaganda on behalf of Jerusalem. The old ambivalence was suppressed, and Saladin—not unlike Yitzhak Shamir—wrote to Richard Lion-Heart,, "Let the King not imagine that such a concession [handing over the city to the Crusaders] is possible." (Forty years after that letter was written the Muslim governor in fact handed the city over to the Crusaders.)
Jerusalem also served as a holy city for Islam in its claim to be the successor of Judaism and the rival of Christianity. Jerusalem was an important city for religious studies and contained large seminaries— it was a holy city in the sense that Qum is a holy city for the Shiites in Iran. Jerusalem was also a city that attracted many mystics, "holy men," apparently under the influence of the Christian monks who lived in and around it. They saw Jerusalem as a place for the purification of the soul and, above all, as the city of the resurrection.
This picture of the three religions wrestling over God's little acre in Jerusalem obscures the infighting that goes on within the various sects of each religion. Jerusalem is the scene of a huge Monopoly game played not only in church courtyards, monastery towers, and grave plots but also in the "holiest places," where a struggle goes on over each floor tile, each column, each window. A visitor in the nineteenth century observed that each Christian pilgrim sees the pilgrims from countries other than his own as heretics and scoundrels who have left the true God and betrayed the true church; Muslims and Jews were at least brought up in ignorance, while the rival contesting Christians are liars, since they were brought up on the true Bible. Anyone who has seen riots among the people wearing black robes in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as I once did, realizes that the situation has not improved since the nineteenth century. Once the mediator between monks and nuns was the sultan's representative; now it is Mayor Teddy Kollek. An old Arab proverb says that no people are more corrupt than the residents of holy cities; certainly no people are more fanatic.
The Turkish regime in Jerusalem must be credited with the construction of the city's magnificent walls, but during the Turkish period Jerusalem became a degenerate and dirty provincial town. When Napoleon fought the Turks in Palestine he besieged Acre—then an important naval city—and did not bother to go to Jerusalem. The desire to clean up the city seized many Protestant visitors in the nineteenth century, and Theodor Herzl, the visionary of Zionism, wrote in his diary, "If one day Jerusalem will be ours, then the first thing we must do is clean the city of its filth.'' Teddy Kollek, who was born in Vienna, Herzl's city, can be seen as the Jewish broom Herzl envisioned.
At the end of the Ottoman Turkish period—during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—a new, imperial competition for Jerusalem took place. Although it was ruled by a Turkish pasha who often acted arbitrarily toward its residents (the pasha Abdullah forced Christian women to wear only black and Jewish women to wear only red), the city nevertheless reverted to the political arrangement that had begun in the sixteenth century but became more important than ever when the Ottoman Empire was crumbling. Special privileges— "capitulations"—were granted to the residents who were citizens of the great powers, exempting them from the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire and placing them under the authority of the consuls of their own powers. Citizens with capitulations had a personal status comparable to diplomatic immunity today. The foreign consuls of Russia, France, England, Prussia, and Italy were, in effect, local governors. Jews who were citizens of any of these countries were granted capitulations when they came to Jerusalem, and, as a result, their numbers in the city began to increase. By the middle of the nineteenth century they had become a majority. At the same time the European powers competed with one another to build up the sites of the holy places as well as to construct hospitals and hostels for pilgrims. This was the first period in which there was an active, energetic Protestant presence in the city.
Although the Ottoman Empire contributed very little to the city's physical development, its political conceptions have had a far-reaching effect on the Middle East in general and particularly on today's Israel and Jerusalem.. The Ottomans conceived of society as composed of religious or ethnic communities rather than individuals. Among these communities, in the Ottoman view, there is one reigning community, and the government exists mainly for its sake; the other communities have the status of minorities. For the Israelis of today as well as the Ottomans of the past, it is very important to show, through acts of government, who is the ruling community and who is the government. If, for example, in present-day Israel Druses and Circassians, unlike Israeli Arabs, serve in the army, then they deserve more rights than Arabs, because they are loyal to the state. The government allows the minorities broad legal autonomy in matters of personal law: marriages are thought to take place within a community rather than between communities, and intermarriages have no legal status. In general the Israeli government, like the Ottomans in the past, does little to interfere in religious matters, which are very important to these smaller communities.
At the same time, members of minority communities are, in a serious sense, second-class citizens, and their status is derived from their communities' secondary, if not marginal, status. In most of the West the notion has taken hold that the state defines one's nationality and that, whatever religious or ethnic community a person might belong to, he is nevertheless, for example, an American or a Canadian citizen. That political conception is not accepted in the Middle East, including Israel. There the state belongs to the nation that makes up the ruling majority. What is so confusing about Israel is that on the one hand the rhetoric used by its leaders is the American-style rhetoric used in Western countries, while on the other hand the dominant Israeli views about rights of minorities, majorities, religion, state, and government are mainly Ottoman. The British Mandate, which replaced the Turkish regime after World War I, did not change the basic Ottoman conception.
The prevailing Israeli view concerning Jerusalem is still essentially Ottoman. Of the 504,000 residents of Jerusalem (1988 figures), 361,000 are Jews, part of the nation that rules Jerusalem. The rest of the residents—173,000—are non-Jews, and they are divided into communities, mainly according to their religion. The communities are tolerated, or not tolerated, according to the Israeli government's judgment of the degree of threat that they pose.
The national movement of the Jewish people—Zionism—displayed from the outset a deeply ambivalent attitude toward Jerusalem. On the one hand, the movement's name is derived from the word "Zion," which was originally the name of a fortress (and range of hills) in Jerusalem. From this it became an alternative name for Jerusalem as a whole and even for the whole Land of Israel. Zionism also took from the holy geography of Judaism the notion that Jerusalem is the highest of all places. Thus immigration to Israel is aliyah (literally, ascending), while emigration from it is yerida (literally, descending). The movement translated into political action the yearnings of generations of Jews for Jerusalem which were expressed in the prayers and customs mourning Jerusalem's destruction.
On the other hand, Zionism had ambitions to create a new Jewish society that would be wholly different from Jewish life in the Diaspora. But Jerusalem was the least appropriate place for the founding of such a new society. Not only was it full of aliens, but it was inhabited by the "old Jewish Yishuv," or settlement, whose members were in an even deeper state of exile than the Jews in the Diaspora which the Zionists had left. Most of the Jerusalem Jews were part of an ultra-Orthodox community of the sort that Zionists were rebelling against—a community that lived on donations and did not have the kind of productive life that the Zionist revolution aspired to. There was thus a tension between the desire to return to the nation's historic capital and the need for a tabula rasa, a clean slate. It is no wonder, then, that the Zionists preferred to build the new Hebrew city in the golden sands of Tel Aviv.
In Jerusalem itself a compromise solution was found between the tabula rasa and the historic homeland. The pioneers settled just outside the historic city and built a new Jerusalem there, including the first Jewish university—the Hebrew University. The Zionist leaders of Palestine continued to swear by the name of Jerusalem, but they did not live there and used it only for their official activities. Most of the immigrants to Israel, about 80 percent, settled along the Mediterranean coast, a region that had never been the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Even the Zionists' speeches about the land of our "forefathers" were not to be taken literally. The early pioneers, particularly the second President of the state of Israel, Itzhak Ben-Zvi, were still capable of considering the Arabs living in Palestine as descendants of the Jews who had lived there during the period of the Second Temple, beginning around the fifth century B.C.
This belief was not merely a romantic fantasy. The claim that a Palestinian Arab descended from the early Jews—say, one living in Anta, which is perhaps the Anatot where the prophet Jeremiah lived—is no less probable than that of, say, Menachem Begin or Golda Meir. In the popular and ahistoric version of Jewish history, the destruction of the Second Temple is linked with the exile from the land. But a considerable part, perhaps even a majority, of the Jewish people already lived in the Diaspora before the Temple was destroyed, and after it was destroyed the size of this Diaspora did not increase very greatly. Most of the Jews who survived the Romans' destruction of the country remained in Palestine. It is not particularly far-fetched to conjecture that they were the ancestors of those inhabitants who accepted Islam many generations later.
Israel's astounding victory in the Six-Day War created a sense of triumphalist history among the Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. History, after many centuries, seemed "on our side," and many nonbelievers saw the liberation of Jerusalem as a "sign from Heaven." This feeling brought to prominence fundamentalist Zionism, a branch of Zionism that is interested in the ancestral homeland but has very little interest in the creation of a new society. Zionism for fundamentalists has become extremely literal; its followers are no longer content to dwell next to the ancestral city but insist on dwelling within it; they insist on living in the Old City, in the very heart of the Arab quarter.
Zionist leaders of the Jewish community at the time of the British Mandate preferred to live in Tel Aviv rather than in Jerusalem; all but a few of their rival leaders in the Palestinian movement lived in Jerusalem. This fact, too, affects what is happening today. One recurring obstacle to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has been Israel's demand that the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to any peace conference should not include Arab representatives from East Jerusalem. The Shamir government claims that all of Jerusalem is part of the state of Israel and that allowing Palestinians from Jerusalem to take part will undermine the legitimacy of Israel's annexation of the eastern part of the city. Israel has long claimed that residents of East Jerusalem are Jordanian citizens tolerated by Israel; now it is not willing to accept them even in a Jordanian delegation to the conference.
Israel's argument against the participation of East Jerusalem representatives is a matter of principle, but it is also an attempt to prevent Faisal Husseini, the leader who represents the mainstream of the PLO on the West Bank, from taking part in talks. Husseini is the scion of a family whose members have been Arab leaders since the middle of the seventeenth century. His great-grandfather, Salim Effendi, was mayor of Jerusalem under the Turkish regime, while his grandfather, Musa Kazim, was its mayor under the British Mandate. While Musa Kazim was mayor, the members of the great Jerusalem families became the Arab spokesmen for all of Palestine.
These great Jerusalem families take pride in descending from the family of the Prophet, but in fact they became rich and politically strong mainly under the Turkish regime in the nineteenth century. Some of them acquired both their riches and their power from being tax collectors and officials throughout the Ottoman Empire. Husseini's grandfather was one of the first to state the Arab position against the Zionist settlement of Palestine, but he was willing to speak to the Zionists, and all the more so to the British. The radicals in the Husseini family were Kazim's cousin, the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Kazim's son—Faisal's father—Abd el-Kader el-Husseini. The Grand Mufti, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was mainly responsible for changing the Palestinian position from one that relied on the British for help in opposing the Jewish community to one relying on Hitler's Germany.
This turn toward Nazi Germany was a fateful political and moral mistake for the Palestinians, and Arafat's recent support for Saddam Hussein reminds one of it. But other nationalist movements turned to Hitler in the hope that he would secure them national independence . A faction of the Jewish underground, one of whose commanders was Yitzhak Shamir, tried, at the beginning of the war, to make a deal in which Jews would acquire a state, which would then support Germany. However, Shamir's underground group was on the fringe of the Jewish community, and the Nazis were not interested in it. The Mufti, on the other hand, was the dominant Palestinian leader, and the Nazis were very interested in making a deal with him.
Faisal Husseini's father, Abd el-Kader el-Husseini, was the greatly admired commander of the armed Palestinian Arabs, apparently the only leader capable of organizing their war effort in 1948. He was killed in a battle on the road to Jerusalem in April of that year, and his death was an important factor in the disintegration of the Palestinian military opposition. Faisal Husseini inherited his grandfather's politics—combining antagonism to Zionists with attempts to speak to the Americans (heirs to the British in the region) and to the Israelis. Other members of the great Jerusalem families lost some of their standing among the Palestinian public; and some of the Hebron families who moved to Jerusalem during the twentieth century have become more important to the economic life of the city. But Faisal Husseini, as the son of a national hero and the member of a family strongly identified with Jerusalem, is a symbol no less important in Shamir's eyes than in the eyes of the Palestinians. And Shamir, in addition to his fear of speaking to the Palestinians at all, does not want any Palestinian at the negotiating table who symbolizes Jerusalem.
Still, while Husseini was not at the negotiating table at the Madrid talks, he is a member of the PLO-sponsored committee advising the Palestinian negotiators, who respect him as a natural leader of Palestinians now under Israeli occupation. If they do discuss Jerusalem, what specifically will they be talking about?
One solution, which is little discussed, but is actually being carried out, is that of Ariel Sharon. He wants to push the Arabs out of Jerusalem by taking over buildings and land, mainly in the Muslim quarter (where Sharon himself has moved) and in the area near the Mount of Olives. Such a policy has paradoxically become easier to put into effect since the Intifada. After the misfortune that befell the Palestinians when they abandoned their villages in 1948 and became refugees, they adopted a strategy of clinging to their land (sumud), which involved a considerable degree of collaboration with the Israeli government, a government that has often been willing to buy a degree of calm at the price of leaving things more or less as they are. The Intifada is partly a revolt against any sort of collaboration with the Israeli government. This leads to a weakening of the Palestinians' ability to hold on to their land, since they cannot, for example, get building permits or work permits and in general are less able to pull strings with Israeli authorities.
Another solution is Teddy Kollek's "Ottoman" solution, which Israel can be expected to put forward in any negotiations about Jerusalem, if they ever take place. All of Jerusalem would remain under absolute Israeli sovereignty. The municipality and the central government would guarantee to provide services to all parts of the city, Jewish and non-Jewish, without discriminating against the Arabs. Non-Jewish residents would be given broad autonomy in cultural and religious affairs, and perhaps even a special status in the places holy to Islam. Israel would guarantee that their life in the Arab parts of the city would go on undisturbed. Useful information and analysis on how this collaboration worked in Jerusalem can he found in Michael Romann and Alex Weingrod, Living Together Separately (Princeton, N. J., 1991). Of special interest is the account of how Arab headmen acted as mediators between the city 's Arab population and the political and municipal authorities.
As for Palestinians who follow the main political tendency represented by Husseini, they will demand a return to the 1967 borders, even in Jerusalem, with the parts of the city that were under Jordanian control on June 4, 1967, returned to Arab hands. This means that East Jerusalem would be under Palestinian sovereignty. Some Palestinians, of course, reject any division of sovereignty over Jerusalem, and some reject any division of sovereignty over Palestine as a whole, while a good many reject any negotiations with the Israelis. But among Palestinians who have a plausible claim to representing the majority, some seem willing to accept the idea of one city within which there is a divided sovereignty.
Finally, there is the solution that I am advocating—joint sovereignty over Jerusalem, with Jerusalem remaining one city that is the home of two capitals, that of Israel and that of Palestine. The apparent simplicity of this formulation clearly contains hidden dangers, but it seems to me workable. As far as I know, it has no precedent, however. There are cities with a special territorial status, such as the Vatican, and in modern history there have been free cities such as Danzig; but no city I know of has had joint sovereignty.
What sort of legal system would the city have? Let's say two robbers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, are caught breaking into a local bank in Jerusalem. Would they be brought before the same or different judges, and would the same law be applied to each of them? To whom could they bring their appeal and who could pardon them?
Such questions suggest that the solution of one city with divided
sovereignty is much simpler than the notion of one city with joint sovereignty.
Under divided sovereignty, if the bank robbery took place on the Israeli side
of the city then both suspects would be tried according to Israeli law;
if on the Palestinian side, they would both be tried under Palestinian law.
For municipal matters, on the other hand, there would be a joint city council
and the city's administrative laws would be those drawn up and accepted by this
council. Why not accept the simple solution of divided sovereignty over the
city rather than the complex solution of joint sovereignty?
Joint sovereignty is preferable, however, because it provides the strongest guarantee that the city will not once more be divided. In the case of divided sovereignty a conflict in the city is more likely to deteriorate into the city's physical separation into two parts, much as Berlin was divided. An agreement on joint sovereignty would explicitly exclude such redivision. It is well to remember, moreover, that in East Jerusalem—the part which was under Arab sovereignty until 1967—there are now 120,000 Jews, who will not accept Palestinian sovereignty and a Palestinian legal system. Even an Israeli government willing to freeze settlements and discourage further settlements on the West Bank would not force them out.
What of the inevitable conflict between different legal systems that would arise under joint sovereignty? A breach of contract between two people belonging to two different legal systems (say, British and French) poses the problem of who should try the case and according to which law. This is a relatively simple matter, and international contracts usually include paragraphs determining what should be done in such cases. The problems that might arise with respect to conflicts of law in a Jerusalem under joint sovereignty are obviously extremely complicated, but they do not seem to be beyond solution. For example, one should distinguish between the question of which court would try offenders in Jerusalem and the question of which legal system would be used for the trial. It is entirely possible that the same court with the same judges could try cases using different legal systems when appropriate.
Judges from the British House of Lords under the Empire served as the supreme court of appeals for the crimes committed, say, in Australia or Palestine. As such they were required to consider each case according to the laws prevailing in each of the countries of the Empire. The flexibility of the House of Lords depended on affinities among the legal systems prevailing throughout the Empire. In Jerusalem as well, the possibility of settling difficulties would depend in part on the affinities between the Israeli and the Palestinian legal systems.
The problem of the conflict of law might be eased if each resident were to be tried according to his or her personal status within the system he or she belongs to. The idea of personal status would continue with respect to marital law among Israel and its neighbors as an inheritance from the Turkish Empire. An Israeli Muslim would be tried in matters of marriage and divorce in a Muslim court according to Muslim law, while a religious Jew would be tried by a rabbinical court according to Jewish law. This idea of personal status could be adapted for the residents of Jerusalem, although I would hope that it would not be applied along the lines of the religious communities, as is now the case in Israel.
It is very likely that a solution of the sort I am suggesting would require, in the last analysis, granting Jerusalem special status, so that it would have its own laws, which would be agreed upon by the parliaments of the two states and would be part of the laws of each one of them. But far more difficult to solve than such legal problems are the political and psychological ones. How can you expect, I am asked, that after all the intense hatred, suspicion, and rivalry that has existed between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, they will be able to live within a political system that requires such complex cooperation? One step that might make this cooperation easier is the old idea of governing the city by boroughs. Each borough would be largely autonomous in determining its character and its leaders. This would protect the national and religious communities in the city. Such an arrangement could be important for the Christian communities and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities as well as for the Muslim Arabs. Thus the solution I suggest for Jerusalem is built upon legitimate separation no less than general cooperation under joint sovereignty.
The psychological problem is how to turn the burning hatred of today into "Platonic hatred"—that is, into an idea of hatred emptied of its emotion. The principle that should be kept in mind is that political steps must lead to psychological reconciliation, rather than vice versa. When, as a result of the Madrid conference, the stonethrowing youth of the Intifada felt there was some political hope, they approached Israeli soldiers and offered them olive branches of peace. If political negotiations had been delayed until such a gesture had been made, they might never have taken place.
The Jerusalem of today, under Israeli rule, is practically speaking a divided city. Since the Intifada began, the city has been divided by boundaries of fear. Jews simply do not enter some districts and Arabs are wary about entering others. Joint sovereignty might be able truly to unite Jerusalem for the first time. The removal of the boundaries of fear is a condition for the real unification of the city.
I am a Jerusalemite. I grew up in Jerusalem, and the city has
on me. Most Israelis have a strong symbolic bond to Jerusalem, but
very few have a concrete attachment to the place. Many Israelis, in fact,
cannot bear the "earthly Jerusalem, " which I love. They stay away from
the city. Indeed some parents will do their utmost not to allow their
children to go on a one-day school trip to Jerusalem if they can help
it. They see Jerusalem as a kind of Belfast. I have a symbolic bond to Jerusalem, too—that is, to the section of the city that has "symbolic and historic significance." But that part of Jerusalem constitutes less than 1 percent of the total municipal area. The Jews' symbolic bond to Jerusalem is constantly exploited to sanction Israel's unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank under the magical name ''Jerusalem " In Israeli rhetoric, Jerusalem has the divine attributes of being one, indivisible, and eternal. This is a cynical ploy to allow the city an ever-expanding universe. In 1993, for example— two years after I wrote my essay—Jerusalem grew from 108,000 to 123,000 dunams (4 dunams = l acre), and that was not the end.
What is on the minds of many Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere nowadays is not the conflict between Jews and Arabs over the city, but the fear that the ultra-Orthodox community will "take over'' Jerusalem. They already account for 57 percent of the city's nursery school children. Informed guesses—and secularist fears—suggest that the ultra-Orthodox community will double itself by the year 2010 and will reach 38 percent of the total Jewish population of Jerusalem (26 percent of the total general population). This fear, which is not free of anti-Semitic undertones, is genuine and strong and will cause many Jews to leave Jerusalem.
Most Jews tend to forget, however, that by the year 2010 the Arab community in Jerusalem will also have grown considerably. Estimates are that it will constitute 31 percent of the city's total population And the Arabs want a political solution to their plight, not merely a "municipal" solution. So I stick to my guns, and I continue to maintain that the best solution to the complexity of this promised-punished city is to make it one, the capital of two states. But this is a solution not easily agreed on. The initial publication of this essay prompted a response from the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, Teddy Kollek, who wrote as follows:
Avishai Margalit is a Jerusalemite I hold in high regard. I enjoyed reading his concise and elegant history of this city, which he so rightly says has "more history than geography. " However, I strongly disagree with his conclusions.
Before discussing that, however, I must comment that, in the age of television with its attendant erosion of historical memory, I am not comfortable if someone merely says "In 1967 Israel conquered East Jerusalem . . ." Twenty-five years later, I feel it is important to state that this was the result not of a war of Israel's choosing but of a war of aggression initiated by all our Arab neighbors that, had our enemies had their way, would have been a war of extermination. Let me add that though I am in favor of territorial compromise, I protest the assumption hidden behind much Arab argumentation that there need be no penalty for at-
tacking Israel repeatedly.
I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Margalit that Jerusalem must remain one undivided city, and I believe this is the true desire of virtually all Jerusalemites, no matter what their persuasion. Like Professor Margalit, I also feel that the currently touted Palestinian proposal for divided sovereignty is, despite the intention of most of its supporters, a recipe for redividing the city. I have thus argued since the idea of divided sovereignty was first put to me by the late President Sadat during his historic visit to Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, I find Margalit's proposal, joint sovereignty, to be no less dangerous. City government especially in a heterogenous city like Jerusalem, is a political system that must balance an endless array of competing claims, put forth by history and geography no less than by culture at every level, by progress, by the course of events in the world at large, and by the desires and actions of groups and individuals. Margalit's concept of joint sovereignty hatches an unworkable system, where even the smallest matters would require complex adjudication and where decision making and spontaneous acts of leadership could be interfered with endlessly. The examples, criminal and personal legal issues, which he frankly presents as being intricate and complex are still easier to regulate a priori than mundane and crucial municipal issues. Municipal government must be able to be flexible and responsive to a host of questions like town planning and provision of services, not to mention unexpected problems or issues imposed by national policy like taxation, customs, immigration, and the like.
Professor Margalit suggests returning to "the old idea of governing the city by boroughs." In fact, an evolution of this idea is already in place in eleven neighborhoods in Jerusalem, eight Jewish and three Arab. As budget and local willingness permit, I would be happy to see this program of neighborhood administration councils cover the whole city. The idea is to devolve a considerable amount of municipal power to smaller and more homogeneous units, to involve people in decision making for their immediate surroundings and to teach them that democracy is not just going to the polls every four or five years, but also the give-and-take of identifying and resolving problems and goals.
One point must be added to the summary of my "Ottoman solution" for Jerusalem's governance: Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem—though they are good taxpayers and were voting in increasing numbers in municipal elections until the last round (held February 1989, when the Intifada was a year old) and though many hold responsible jobs as municipal employees—have never been willing to serve on the City Council—that is, fully to join the political game. When, for the first time, before the last elections, a leading Palestinian announced his candidacy, the Arab response was the firebombing of his family's two cars, with no public condemnation of the violence by his community. He got the message and withdrew. It is my expectation that once there is an overall settlement, one that I believe must leave Jerusalem under Israel's sole sovereignty, the Palestinians here will realize that there is no longer any point in fighting for turf. Then, it is my hope, they will rise to the challenge I have offered them for twenty-floe years and organize themselves as an effective political lobby, electing representatives to fight for the rights of their constituents. The Palestinians would thus have a say in all matters that affect their lives as residents of Jerusalem. Democracy is a game that works well for the people who play.
It is no secret that If nd much to criticize in my government's policies in Jerusalem and elsewhere. And yet, all our faults are not to be compared to the viciousness of Arab internal terrorism, the terrorism they have directed against Jews and others, and the unabated aggression of the Arab states. Therefore, I reject and consider absolutely immoral the current tendency to give equal weight to Jewish and Arab political claims in Jerusalem and greater censure to bad behavior on the part of Jews. The world has no right to this leveling, just as biased criticism from without does not excuse us from honest evaluation of our own behavior.
Returnng to Professor Margalit, I don't know of any philosopher who is a mayor nor any mayor who is a philosopher. There are good reasons for that.
I replied to the mayor, as follows:
The mayor- of my city, in his response to my essay on
Jerusalem, ends with the punch line: "I don't know of any philosopher who
a mayor nor any mayor who is a philosopher. There are good reasons for that "
The philosopher Michel de Montaigne served very successfully in a position equivalent to mayor of Bordeaux from 1581 to 1585. There were good reasons then for appointing a philosopher as mayor: war, danger of plague, and a severe outbreak of religious fanaticism. When such things happen, conventional wisdom doesn't work something else must be tried. In 1714 another great philosopher, Montesquieu, was appointed to a position equivalent to deputy president of the Bordeaux City Council. Montesquieu ran on a platform declaring: "If I knew something that could serve my nation better but would ruin another, I would not propose it to my prince, for I am first a human being and only then a Frenchman. I'm sure Mr. Kollek would not disqualify this position just because it came from a philosopher and is therefore not "practical."
Perhaps all Mr. Kollek wanted to say in his punch line was that I wouldn't be a suitable mayor of Jerusalem. If so, he's right. Yet it would be equally right to say that I can't be compared with Montaigne or Montesquieu. So perhaps there's still a place for a good philosopher to be mayor of Jerusalem.
Mayor Kollek brings two arguments against my suggestion for joint Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem—one moral, one practical. The moral argument seems to be that Israeli Jews have the exclusive right to Jerusalem because the Arabs attacked Israel in 1967 and could have destroyed it, therefore, must pay for their aggression. Mr. Kollek adds that the Arabs' "political claims in Jerusalem" must be judged with respect to the fact that their terror is more despicable than anything Israel has done to them. The practical argument is that joint sovereignty simply won't work.
Mr. Kollek's moral principle is the punitive one that guided the authors of the Treaty of Versailles. A very high price in human lives was paid in our century for that principle. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Kollek has been an ardent supporter of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, whose actions led to the war. Yet this treaty was possible only because the Versailles principle was not applied and Egypt got all its territory back.
I fought in Jerusalem in that June of 1967, and I, too, was shelled by the Jordanian Legion. Yet I don't recall any Palestinians fighting us—only the Jordanian Army. The Palestinians were at most, cheerleaders. If Mr. Kollek must have someone pay the price of sovereignty, let him send the bill to King Hussein.
But Mr. Kollek can relax. The Palestinians have paid in very hard currency for that war. Who knows better than he that 150,000 Jews (the number is his own) have been settled on the other side of the Green Line, on Palestinian land. Mr. Kollek can also breathe easy about the balance of terror between us and the Palestinians. We are doing pretty well. We have, in fact, killed many times more of them than they have of us (or of themselves). And this is without counting the thousands of Palestinians sitting in our detention camps without trial, those whose houses have been blown up, those who have been exiled and those who are tortured while under arrest. In the balance of terror, the Palestinians are clearly on the lighter side of the scales. Indeed Mayor Kollek ought to be careful with the principle that terror should be paid for with sovereignty. He's liable to lose a lot of sovereignty over that principle.
Now for the practical argument. Mr. Kollek presents matters as if we are faced for the first time with three options, and he as an experienced mayor is telling us that only one of these options works. The options are: (1) full Israeli sovereignty, including coexistence with the Arab residents, who are supposed to accept our sovereignty; (2) divided sovereignty; (3) (my suggestion) joint sovereignty. There is, of course, a fourth option, which seems to have become one preferred by the Israeli government -- full Israeli sovereignty without any Arabs in the city.
Mr. Kollek forgets to mention that the only option that has been
tried so far is his own. It has been tried for more than twenty years, with
an enlightened mayor full of goodwill. And it has failed disastrously. The Arabs
have not made peace with the Israeli sovereignty that was declared immediately
after the 1967 war. And after twenty years of Mayor Kollek's regime, they rebelled.
Every Israeli government has supported Mr. Kollek including the Likud government
(which never, in a city with a clear
majority of Likud voters, ran a substantial rival against him for the mayoralty). Every mayor has complaints against the central government, including Mr. Kollek. But he has been given the opportunity to carry out his option, and it has failed. Not because Mr. Kollek isn't a good mayor—he's the best—but because his option doesn't work.
Mayor Kollek doesn't tell us exactly what would be hard about running a city under joint sovereignty. He just makes the general statement that running a city is a very difficult and complicated matter, involving "town planning and provision of services." I believe him. I also believe that if the Palestinians were prepared as part of a peace agreement, to accept exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the city, running the city would be much easier than under joint sovereignty. In fact, if the Palestinians would agree to leave the city altogether, it would be even easier to run.
But the question is whether the Palestinians will agree to accept Mr. Kollek's solution. Even though they are making every effort now to leave the discussion on Jerusalem for last, there is no sign that they would be willing to accept exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the entire city. All the signs suggest that they would not Mr. Kollek could argue that his own solution—Israeli sovereignty plus coexistence—has not yet been tried because Israel has not yet reached an agreement with the Arabs. If such an agreement is reached he expects the solution will succeed. I don't believe that his solution can be the basis for an agreement, but if the Arabs agree to Mr. Kollek's formula of their own free will, I can assure him that neither I nor my colleagues will insist on our own solution, even i we are convinced it is more just.
There are good reasons to be skeptical about my own option. Amos
Elon, in his book on Jerusalem says that it's hard to believe that Israelis
and Palestinians will be the first to put into effect the only reasonable solution
for the city—peace with the removal of rigid borders of sovereignty. But, in
contrast to Mr. Kollek's option, which we know for certain has been tried and
hasn't worked, at least my option hasn't yet been tried.