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Jerusalem: A centre of conflict or a base for convergence?

16 May, 2007

By Jihad Abu Zneid


JERUSALEM - One of the oldest and most deep-rooted cities on earth: This is a statement one could use to describe my beautiful city, Jerusalem -- a city I have carried in the details of my face, the intonations of my voice and the sound of my footsteps, ever since the day when I discovered the colour of the sky, uttered my first letters and found my way out of the house, through the labyrinth of its charming alleys. Jerusalem, the city that is five thousand years older than me, and the city that makes me feel I am an heir to this great history that has been a centre of conflict and controversy.

After the late Palestinian president returned from the second round of Camp David negotiations in 2000, the conflict escalated and Jerusalem became fuel for a larger struggle that started taking form. The national struggle over sovereignty and the state deepened and extended to the holy places in a manner that bypassed human presence, dignity and belonging to this city, and deleted this city's belonging to humanity as a whole. Israel and its leaders started viewing sovereignty over Jerusalem's Holy Shrine as a matter that could not be given up. Palestinians considered this an attempt to replace the religious reality prevailing for over 1400 years. Fuelling the conflict and turning it into a religious feud threatens to neutralize Jerusalem's symbolic central position.

Never has Jerusalem been like any other city on Earth. It is the only city where brothers and cousins are enemies who decided to shun their blood relations behind the gates of death. They resorted to stones, turning them into tools of destruction, instead of tools for building a better future. It is the only city on earth that is holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. This is why, and for a long time, it has been a centre of struggle among the followers of the three heavenly religions, in a continuous attempt to control it and prevent others from being there. After the war of 1967, the Zionist movement succeeded in consolidating its hold over Jerusalem and systematically sought to erase the Islamic and Christian aspects of its character and to change it into a completely Jewish city through various methods.

Such is the city where I learned my first letters, took my first steps and developed my incessant yearning. It is also the city of my continued pain, which stems from the occupation forces making life difficult for Palestinians within the historic walls of Jerusalem and elsewhere.

I want the city to belong to everyone. I want it free and without chains. I want it for all languages, for all peoples. I want it full of the land's love for water, a land that loves and seeks justice, a land that does not discriminate against me because of my colour, shape or address. I want it without the barriers of fear.

Such is Jerusalem, the land I love, the land I dream will one day will nurture faith, love and peace among humankind. Jerusalem, is described by a Palestinian writer as: "The closest point to heaven and the deepest point on Earth. The land where injustice cannot persist, because God has selected it as a centre for His religions and a symbol of His punishment, by burying tyranny within it".

The question is: How do we enhance Jerusalem as a source of harmonious vision, a cooperative and constructive one for the benefit of the Palestinian and Israeli nations, the benefit of Arab and Muslim nations, the Christian world and humanity as a whole? Observing the following principles is key:

1. The road to peace starts from Jerusalem, the city of God on Earth, and the city of worship for all heavenly religions.

2. Jerusalem may be the capital of one united state where all people live equally, so it can be the capital of the land of God, the land of peace and a centre for spreading the vision of true peace on Earth. If this is not possible, then Jerusalem may be a united capital for two states, representing political division between Arabs and Jews on one hand, and preparing for an open future by providing open access to the city for all human beings.

3. Let us delineate borders between the two capitals that are open without an actual separation. The open city permits movement of people, materials and values between the two capitals. Check points may be established to deal with security issues in a manner that does not affect the principle of open borders.

4. The open city status is a basic element to enhance and strengthen the international status of Jerusalem. Religious, cultural, economic and social functions, connected to this status shall represent the impetus to advance the city as an international capital for humanity, in addition to being a political capital for two states.

5. The Old City should not be divided, being a piece of mosaic that belongs to all humans. The highest levels of cooperation should be achieved between the two parties to enhance the city's status and international role. Let us eliminate religious strife and struggle for domination, identity and character of the city. Let us view this city in a comprehensive manner as the common "trade mark" for the two parties and the world as a whole, which, in essence, is the targeted party and the beneficiary in this struggle.

6. Let us work at enhancing the international and regional presence of culture, religions, research institutes, universities and other academic institutions that concentrate on conflict studies and peace throughout the world.

7. Let us build common values between the two nations through enhancing the concepts of peace culture, mutual understanding and dialogue among peoples.

Lovers of peace, leaders of the world, you who love humanity, makers of social justice and human values: Make peace in the land of peace.

End.

Reader Comments:

For Palestinians - Reflektion Matters

Why do some people have the power to remember, while others are asked to forget? That question is especially poignant at this time of year, as we move from Holocaust Remembrance day in early spring to Monday's anniversary of Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948.

In the months surrounding that date, Jewish forces expelled, or intimidated into flight, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians. A living, breathing, society that had existed in Palestine for centuries was smashed and fragmented, and a new society built on its ruins.

Few Palestinian families lack a personal narrative of loss from that period -- an uncle killed, or a branch of the family that fled north while the others fled east, never to be reunited, or homes, offices, orchards and other property seized. Ever since, Palestinians worldwide have commemorated May 15 as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day.

No ethical person would admonish Jews to "forget the Holocaust." Indeed, recent decades have witnessed victims of that terrible era not only remembering, but also regaining paintings and financial assets seized by the Nazis -- and justifiably so.

Other victims of mass wrongs -- interned Japanese Americans, enslaved African Americans, and Armenians subjected to a genocide that may have later convinced Hitler of the feasibility of mass killings -- receive at least respectful consideration of their cases, even while responses to their claims have differed.

Yet in dialogues with Israelis, and some Americans, Palestinians are repeatedly admonished to "forget the past," that looking back is "not constructive" and "doesn't get us closer to a solution." Ironically, Palestinians live the consequences of the past every day -- whether as exiles from their homeland, or as members of an oppressed minority within Israel, or as subjects of a brutal and violent military occupation.

In the West we are amply reminded of the suffering of Jewish people in World War II. Our newspaper featured several stories on local survivors of the Nazi holocaust around Holocaust Remembrance Day (an Israeli national holiday that is widely observed in the United States). My daughter has read at least one book on the Nazi holocaust every year since middle school. Last year, in ninth grade English literature alone, she read three. But we seldom confront the impact of Israel's policies on Palestinians.

It is the "security of the Jewish people" that has rationalized Israel's takeover of Palestinian lands, both in the past in Israel, and more recently in the occupied West Bank. There, most Palestinian children negotiate one of the 500 Israeli checkpoints and other barriers to movement just to reach school each day. Meanwhile, Israel's program of colonization of the West Bank grinds ahead relentlessly, implanting ever more Israeli settlers who must be "protected" from those Palestinians not reconciled to the theft of their homes and fields.

The primacy of Jewish security over rights of Palestinians -- to property, education, health care, a chance to make a living, and, also to security -- is seldom challenged.

Unfortunately, remembering the Nazi Holocaust -- something morally incumbent on all of us -- has seemingly become entangled with, and even an instrument of, the amnesia some would force on Palestinians. Israel is enveloped in an aura of ethical propriety that makes it unseemly, even "anti-Semitic" to question its denial of Palestinian rights.

As Israeli journalist Amira Hass recently observed: "Turning the Holocaust into a political asset serves Israel primarily in its fight against the Palestinians. When the Holocaust is on one side of the scale, along with the guilty (and rightly so) conscience of the West, the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland in 1948 is minimized and blurred."

What this demonstrates is that memory is not just an idle capacity. Rather, who can remember, and who can be made to forget, is, fundamentally, an expression of power.

Equally importantly, however, memory can provide a blueprint for the future -- a vision of a solution to seek, or an outcome to avoid. My Palestinian father grew up in Jerusalem before Israel was founded and the Palestinians expelled, when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peace and mutual respect. Recalling that past provides a vision for an alternative future -- one involving equal rights and tolerance, rather than the domination of one ethno-religious group over others.



Shokat Saleem, Georgia - 16 May, 2007

Mirror mirror on the Wall?

Unfortunately the zionists see only their own image in the mirror of Holocaust.They ignore the Gypsies and Others
who suffered the same fate.
Now they impose the same on the Palestinians and cry aloud wolf.

Khalid Rahim, Canada - 17 May, 2007

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