Jul 20 2000

More than creative solutions

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

In the midst of hard negotiations about peace in the Middle East, an important factor is often ignored. The human factor.

For example, take the issue of Jerusalem. Negotiators are debating a host of creative ideas on the future of Jerusalem to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis, but little attention is being given to the human tragedy that might result if 200,000 Palestinian suddenly find themselves cut off from their families, their jobs, and their homes.

Thirty-three years of Israeli occupation have made a number of changes to Jerusalem’s landscape, but the one change that Israel has failed to make is to cut off Palestinians in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. 

Even though a military closure has been imposed on East Jerusalem, Palestinians have found a host of innovative ways to circumvent this closure.

A visit to Ramallah or Bethlehem will reveal that half the cars in these cities have Jerusalem license plates, even though the people driving these cars are not Jerusalem residents. Ford vans, driven by 18-year-old Jerusalemites, have replaced the public transportation system that Israel severed when it placed the closure on Jerusalem.

But these solutions have existed while Jerusalem and its surrounding areas are under the control of the Israelis. If a Palestinian state is established without East Jerusalem, the typical travel of a Palestinian to and from Jerusalem will become much more difficult.

It is hard to conceive that we will be crossing an international border to attend a wedding at St. James Church in the old city, eat at Jaafa’s sweets, see a play at the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem, or have a cup of coffee in the American Colony’s courtyard.

The strong ties that 200,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem have with the rest of the Palestinian territories are conspicuous in the Old City of Jerusalem which, contrary to the claims of Israeli negotiators, is more than an important place of worship for Moslems. The leaked reports that Barak offered a safe passage to the Aqsa Mosque ignore the rights of Palestinian and Arab Christians to visit the Christian holy places. They also ignore the rights of all Palestinians (Jerusalemites and non-Jerusalemites) to visit relatives and friends, and to do errands and meet their daily needs.

Israel can’t expect to gain in negotiations what it failed to accomplish in over 33 years of attempts to make Jerusalem more Jewish, at the expense of the non-Jewish Palestinians.

Israel forced Israeli residency on Palestinians, gave them few services, and now it wants to get rid of the Palestinians and keep the land.

For years, Palestinians have expressed support for the notion of keeping Jerusalem an undivided city as capital of two states. But if this generous Palestinian position will mean cutting off 10% of the Palestinian population from their co-nationalists, then a humane division of Jerusalem is a million times more acceptable than an inhumane and artificial unity.

The importance of Jerusalem can’t be restricted to the issue of access to one Islamic site in the Old City.

There is an  Arabic saying that highlights the human factor. El bashar able al hajar: “Humans before stones.” While stones have a high symbolic value, the living stones will always be the key to the future and to the prosperity of any city.

While creative solutions are definitely needed to solve a complicated issue like Jerusalem, a solution that will withstand the test of time and human dignity is what Palestinians and Israelis should be trying to find.

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