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The Deadlocked City

1.

Ariel Sharon knew what he was doing on September 28, 2000. In hot pursuit of the Israeli premiership, he marched onto Jerusalem’s most contentious piece of real estate, the magnificent plateau, paved with pink and gray polished stone, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Other than during the Friday prayers, the site often seems nearly empty. On this particular day, Sharon arrived guarded by almost a thousand armed policemen and soldiers.

He later claimed that his sole purpose had been to test “the freedom of access and of worship” on the Mount. His real motive was to win over the support of the extreme right and thus foil Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to political power. He would attain his aim, though, only with some support from Yasser Arafat. At this time, Arafat also needed to improve his image as a hard-liner. Palestinians had been increasingly dissatisfied with him. They were demoralized by the abstractions of a “peace process” that never brought them any benefits but only increased their daily sufferings and humiliations. Israel, under Ehud Barak, continued to plant more settlers in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem than it had under Benjamin Netanyahu. It was as though during the recent peace talks in Northern Ireland the British government had continued to ship more Protestants from Scotland to Northern Ireland and settled them on land expropriated from Catholics in Londonderry. To protest Sharon’s provocation and improve his own declining image, Arafat either launched a bloody Palestinian uprising or did nothing to prevent it: the worst outburst of violence by Palestinians in a hundred-year conflict that is now more intractable than ever before.

Ehud Barak, the then prime minister, also thought he knew what he was doing in permitting Sharon’s expedition to this most sensitive Muslim shrine. Only a few days earlier, Arafat had been Barak’s guest at a small dinner at Barak’s private house. (In retrospect the setting seems hard to believe.) On this occasion, Arafat made a last-minute appeal to Barak to block Sharon’s visit, just as similar political demonstrations on the Mount had been prohibited before. Barak turned him down. He, too, was badly slipping in the polls. His coalition had broken apart. He wanted Sharon to replace Netanyahu as the Likud candidate. Polls indicated that he had an outside chance to beat Sharon but not Netanyahu.

Barak is a highly intelligent but politically maladroit former general whose hobby is taking complicated watches apart and putting them together again; he is both the most decorated soldier in the Israeli army and an accomplished pianist. He should have known that on Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif, the wars of religion continue under a different name. In Jerusalem, hatred has often been another form of prayer and never more so than when the knives are pulled and the bombs are thrown. The religious hatred called odium theologicum has long been an instrument for gaining power and property, whether in local politics or in real estate speculation. Myths of divine promise alternate with myths of Blood and Soil. “History” and “religion” are relentlessly and superstitiously evoked and nowhere more so than on the Haram, or Temple Mount, where Sharon staged his political coup.

Peace-making was never easy before and is now going to be infinitely more difficult. With Pavlovian regularity, unspeakable outrages against civilians now lead to murderous punitive raids that only provoke worse outrages. Even if the recent American-sponsored cease-fire should last, the end is nowhere in sight. So many futile “cease-fires” have preceded it. Is Arafat able to restrain the tiger he’s been riding for almost a year? Can Sharon really be counted on to accommodate Arafat, whom he has been calling “our bin Laden”? There have been hundreds of dead so far and thousands of wounded, most of them Palestinians.

2.

The tenth-century Arab geographer Muqaddasi—the name implies that he was a native of Jerusalem—wrote that the city was “a golden basin filled with scorpions.” The holy places are mostly inside the walled Old City, within a stone’s throw from one another. In some cases, they form part of the same architectural complex.

For Orthodox Jews, the holiness of Jerusalem, however, extends far beyond the ancient walled city. According to Orthodox doctrine, everything seen from a high tower forms part of the sacred territory. After 1948, all synagogues that fell under Jordanian rule were destroyed. Nevertheless, not religious but political considerations were responsible for the new municipal borders of Jerusalem after the annexation of the former Jordanian sector following the 1967 war. Those borders now surround ninety-four square miles, much of it of former Jordanian land.1 The new borders were intended, as Bernard Wasserstein shows in his excellent book, to include as many Israelis and as few Palestinians as possible. And yet, since the Palestinian population grows much faster, it has long been increasingly doubtful whether the Israeli majority can be maintained, even if, as is likely, the municipal area is further enlarged to include the new Israeli satellite towns built after 1967 on Palestinian land.

In view of this likelihood, there has always been a certain crackpot quality to the nationalist rhetoric in Israel on the subject of Jerusalem. When the current mayor, Ehud Olmert, a member of the Likud, was recently asked by a reporter why municipal services in the Arab part of Jerusalem were so bad, he replied angrily that there was no Arab Jerusalem. There was only a “Jewish Jerusalem.” Sharon calls Jerusalem “Israel’s Capital, united for all eternity.” The late prime minister Menachem Begin, who, after dramatically resigning in the wake of the disastrous Lebanese war, spent his last years alone in a shuttered room suffering deep depression, was one of the first to use this slogan. He did so in an ecstatic, ringing voice as though intoning an incantation.

In the early 1980s, to avoid being outflanked on the Jerusalem issue by even more extreme nationalists, Begin decided to support a second annexation law—which redundantly declared that all of Jerusalem was indeed annexed to Israel—and put it through the Knesset. The Labor Party spokesmen said that the bill was unnecessary and even warned that it might cause damage; but then the Labor members of the Knesset voted for it. Yitzhak Rabin stayed away from the vote and argued with Shimon Peres over Labor’s support for the law. To this day, Peres is a hawk on Jerusalem. The only result of the second annexation law was that the few foreign embassies located in West Jerusalem moved to Tel Aviv in protest. The UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel for its annexation—fourteen votes to zero. The United States abstained.

I remember asking Begin at the time whether, in his view, “eternity” could be legislated. “In this case it can and must be,” he snapped back. We were sitting at a window table in the Knesset dining room. Begin pointed down the hill toward the Jerusalem Museum. “For proof that we are right you must go there. The remnants of our ancient glory are on view there. We are reviving it in our own days.” I asked him if he agreed with the conventional wisdom that held that Jerusalem must be left to the end of the negotiations or there would never be an Arab–Israeli settlement. Begin looked up and said sharply: “Jerusalem will never be a subject for negotiation!”

3.

A rational solution to the problems posed by two irreconcilable nationalisms in Jerusalem would have been to internationalize the entire city. This, in fact, was recommended by the original UN partition resolution of 1947. Israel accepted it; all the Arab countries did not. The Arab nations launched a war against the new state in 1947 and after the Jews defeated them, the new state of Israel changed its mind about Jerusalem, favoring a secret agreement with Jordan to divide the city between them. Golda Meir and King Abdallah agreed about this even before the guns fell silent. Neither gave a thought to the Palestinians. Jordan promised Israelis free access to the Wailing Wall but did not keep its word. Minefields and high walls topped by barbed wire divided the Israeli and Jordanian parts of Jerusalem.

In theory, internationalization remains an attractive solution if only because it seems so reasonable. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are ever likely to agree to it. They would not even agree to the internationalization of the Old City, where most of the holy places are. By now, generations of Palestinians and Israelis have been forcefully and dogmatically instructed by their political and religious leaders that the Old City is exclusively theirs.

The early Zionists were wiser than their children and grandchildren. Like most European nationalists of the liberal school they were opposed to religious authority. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, never bothered to have his only son circumcised. He advocated the internationalization of Jerusalem. For the capital of his proposed secular Judenstaat (a “state for Jews” as distinct from what later came to be called a Jewish state) he preferred Haifa, overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Jerusalem, he felt, was redolent with fanaticism and superstition, the musty deposit of “two thousand years of inhumanity and intolerance…. The amiable dreamer of Nazareth has only contributed to increasing the hatred.”

Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, shared Herzl’s feelings. An eminently rational man, Weizmann disliked Jerusalem. He was revolted by rabbis imposing themselves on politics and by politicians playing with religious fires. When the first Palestine partition plan was mooted in 1937, he suggested that only some of the modern parts of Jerusalem, inhabited mostly by Jews, be included in the proposed Jewish state. As for the Old City, “I would not take [it even] as a gift.” Too many “complications and difficulties” were associated with it.

Even as he wrote these words in a letter—preserved in the Weizmann Archives—brown-shirted members of Betar, a right-wing paramilitary Jewish youth movement, were clashing with Arab fundamentalists in Jerusalem not far from the Wailing Wall. They were fostering lethal Arab fears—at the time still based only on pure myth—that the Zionists were planning to tear down the mosques on the Haram and rebuild the Jewish Temple there. Freud referred to these clashes in a letter to Einstein. He was unable to muster sympathy, he wrote, “for the misguided piety that makes a national religion out of a piece of the wall of Herod, and so challenges the feelings of the local natives.” The early Betar extremists (forerunners of Begin’s Likud) were decried at the time as fascists by most Palestinian Jews. As far as we know, no one, not even Betar, contemplated at this time the possibility that the Jewish state they were fighting for would one day claim sovereign rights over the Haram, a site which for the past fourteen centuries had been the third-holiest place in Islam.

The idea of rebuilding the Temple on its ancient site lay dormant until the 1967 war. It suddenly surfaced after the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. Israeli paratroopers hoisted the national flag over the sacred rock—now enclosed in a great mosque—on which many layers of meaning had accumulated from the days of Abraham to Mohammed, who is said to have ascended to heaven from it. Then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan quickly spotted the flag and ordered that it be removed. He ordered the troops to evacuate the sacred enclosure and hand it back to its Muslim attendants. That same day, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, Shlomo Goren, an officer with the rank of major general, gave a first inkling of the difficulties of enforcing Dayan’s wise order in the future. Much like Sharon thirty-three years later, Goren strode onto the Haram accompanied by singing acolytes and blowing a ritual shofar. He was reprimanded. The Arabs were then too cowed to do anything. According to another major general, Uzi Narkiss, the officer commanding the Israeli troops, the following conversation, which is quoted by Wasserstein, took place that day between him and Goren:

Goren: Uzi, this is the time to put a hundred kilograms of explosives under the Mosque of Omar—and that’s it, we’ll get rid of it once and for all.
Narkiss: Rabbi, stop it!
Goren: You’ll enter the history books by virtue of this deed.
Narkiss: I have already recorded my name in the pages of the history of Jerusalem.

Dr. Zerah Warhaftig, the Israeli minister of religious affairs, whom I interviewed two weeks later, told me that legally speaking the Temple Mount had been Jewish property since the days of King David, who had “paid the full price for it (fifty silver shekels) to Araunah the Jebusite.” But he was a patient man, he added with a smile, ready to hold off from actually taking possession until the coming of the Messiah.

We are fortunate, the minister told me, that the Talmud forbids Jews to enter the Temple Mount since their ritual uncleanliness can be overcome only with the ashes of a red cow, a rare species, now extinct. This saved Israel from unnecessary troubles with the Arabs. Others had less wisdom than this old-fashioned, Orthodox, but dovish politician, who was known for his moderation. Scuffles between the Muslim guards and both secular and religious Israelis started soon after. In August 1967, on the day commemorating the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70, Major General Goren reentered the Mount with a Torah scroll, an ark, and a pulpit. He set up a provisional synagogue between the Dome and the mosque of al-Aqsa and held a prayer service. The Israeli police failed to stop him, although some tried to do so. Other policemen were later said to have joined in the prayer service.

Not long after, Major General Goren resigned from the army and was appointed chief rabbi of Israel. In Israel, where Orthodox Judaism is the state religion, this is a government post. Goren immediately ordered the removal of signs placed by Dr. Warhaftig at the entrance to the Temple Mount warning Jews that Talmudic law forbade them to enter the precinct. Goren’s appointment endowed the High Rabbinate with a political militancy it had lacked until then.2 As chief rabbi, Goren contested Warhaftig’s view that the Temple Mount was out of bounds for Orthodox Jews, arguing that large parts of the Haram were not “as sacred” to the Muslims as they were to the Jews and should be made available for building a synagogue. In a particularly provocative statement he claimed the Muslims themselves attested to this by taking their shoes off only inside the two mosques but not on the surrounding platform.

Starting in the late 1960s, clashes and fistfights between Palestinians and Israelis became more frequent around the Temple Mount. Young followers of Meir Kahane wearing T-shirts saying “The People of Israel Lives” painted Stars of David on the outside walls of mosques and yelled obscenities through the narrow lanes leading to the Haram. In the Old City an institute was set up devoted to rebuilding the Temple; it included a training center for priests who would eventually perform animal sacrifices on the Temple Mount. The venture was richly funded by American Christian fundamentalists, American Jewish donors, and secretly, on at least one occasion, by the Israeli government.

The Arab municipality of the former Jordanian sector was dismantled and the Palestinian mayor was expelled to Jordan. His former counselors refused to join the Israeli municipal council under Mayor Teddy Kollek. Adjacent to the Wailing Wall, the residents of an entire Muslim quarter were expelled overnight without compensation. With Kollek’s wholehearted approval, their houses were razed to make way for a vast plaza. One reporter, Herbert Pundik of the Hebrew daily Davar, told the mayor he thought it outrageous to turn the relatively intimate place where prayers had been offered for hundreds of years into “a vast, noisy Piazza del Popolo” where nationalist Israeli rallies were soon to be held and army recruits sworn in. Kollek disagreed. “It was the best thing we did,” he said. In a vein characteristic of the new mood he added: “The old place had a galut [diaspora] character; it was a place for wailing. This made sense in the past. It isn’t what we want to do in the future.”

Two years after the 1967 war, a deranged Australian fundamentalist Christian successfully set fire to al-Aqsa mosque, proclaiming that the removal of the mosque would bring about the millennium. The fire caused extensive damage and destroyed precious twelfth-century works of art. In the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem protesters took to the streets. In 1982, an equally deranged American, a “born-again” Jew named Alan Harry Goodman, wearing an Israeli uniform and armed with an M-16 automatic rifle, shot his way into the Dome of the Rock. He was a volunteer serving in the Israeli army, which had issued him his gun. His aim, he announced, was to “liberate” the Mount and become king of the Jews. Riots over this bloody deed spread to faraway Muslim countries in Asia and Africa and lasted intermittently for several weeks. Jewish fundamentalists eager to assert Israel’s historical “sovereign rights” continued to seek access to the Temple Mount. The higher courts upheld government efforts to keep them out.

They were not always successful. The cause of the transgressors was taken up by Likud and other secular politicians farther to the right. Protected by parliamentary immunity, they were able to organize political demonstrations on the Mount with impunity. Several underground conspiracies to force the issue by a spectacular act of destruction were successfully uncovered by the police. Some conspirators were caught red-handed, or on the very eve of an attempt to blow up the Temple Mount. Others merely tried to force their way in and lay the “cornerstone” of the new Temple. Some tried to renew the ancient practice of animal sacrifices. The courts gave the conspirators lenient prison sentences for hoarding explosives and related offenses. Some of them were prominent figures in the new settlements across the old demarcation line. The most flagrant received life sentences which, however, were quickly commuted. Prominent Likud politicians, including the former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, successfully petitioned the president to commute sentences; the worst among them were given amnesty by President Chaim Herzog—a member of the Labor Party—and set free.

4.

The annexation of the former Jordanian sector of Jerusalem was never recognized by the United States or any other country, though US protests softened over the years, grew rare, and successive US presidents went through the ritual of promising during their election campaigns to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. In Israel itself, after the victory in a war named for the “six days” of creation, popular support for the annexation was nearly unanimous. Politically active Israelis, notoriously divided on most other issues, never seemed more united than on this one. The annexation was widely described as a moral and historical right, Israel’s “manifest destiny.” The Arabs and the rest of the world, it was said, would just have to learn to live with it. Only two men in the governing national coalition cabinet dissented, Salman Aranne, a Labor minister of education, and the dovish National-Religious minister of interior, Moshe Shapiro. Both voted in the cabinet against ordering the army to occupy the Jordanian sector in response to the sporadic shelling. Both did so out of fear that occupation would cause endless conflict and difficulty in the future. But they kept their votes secret; they became publicly known only after they died.

The annexation of East Jerusalem was one of the most popular acts of the Israeli government. In June 1967, Gershom Schocken, the editor-in-chief of the independent, liberal newspaper Ha’aretz, scolded the government for not formally annexing East Jerusalem sooner. (Today the same paper favors withdrawal from most of the West Bank and from much of East Jerusalem and advocates giving the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount.) In the summer of 1967 not only Schocken, who was both publisher and editor, but also most of his staff were overcome by the euphoria of a victory that was stunning, unexpected, and seemingly complete. I remember a meeting of the editorial board, perhaps a week after the cease-fire. Schocken loudly vented his impatience at the government’s delays and hesitation. “Cowards! What on earth are they waiting for!” he said. Jordanian Jerusalem and its hinterland must be annexed immediately. Tomorrow could be too late.

The most junior among the assembled senior editors ventured an opinion that the Palestinians could not be forced to become Israelis against their will. They had the same right of national self-determination as the Jews. Another staff member, an aging survivor of the Weimar Republic and a specialist on constitutional law, observed that the planned annexation ran counter to the laws of war and international conventions Israel had signed. Both were shouted down by their colleagues. Opinion was similar in all the other dailies except the Communist Kol Ha’am, a low-circulation paper with no public following except perhaps—for nationalistic rather than Marxist reasons—among Israel’s Arab community.

With very few exceptions, the literary establishment—led by the Nobel Prize winner in literature, S.Y. Agnon, and nearly all the best-known novelists, poets, and playwrights—lent their full support to the extremist manifesto, issued by the new Greater Israel Movement, calling for the immediate annexation not only of Arab Jerusalem but of all occupied territories, including the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the entire West Bank. An exception was the young novelist Amos Oz. After walking through the narrow lanes of the Old City of Jerusalem he told an interviewer that he felt he was in a “foreign city” (Ir z’ara). Only three prominent members of the academic community spoke up at this stage against all annexations. The biophysicist Yeshayahu Leibowitz—an Orthodox Jew—ridiculed the cult of the Wailing Wall as pagan stone-worship. He believed that the planned annexations would turn Israel into a “police state.” He was followed by the historians Yehoshua Arieli and Yehoshua Talmon. Talmon said that the experience of the French in Algeria should serve as a warning that Israelis might become as brutalized and corrupted as many of the pieds noirs, who tried to rule over an alien people against its will.

Their fears soon came painfully true. In the years that followed, Jerusalem was “united” only in theory. Between Palestinians and Jews there was little if any social intercourse, no intermarriage, no economic cooperation to speak of, except, perhaps, in the underworld or between the Israeli security services and their paid collaborators and spies. That there were so many Palestinians informing on one another made some Israelis despise and belittle the Palestinians even more.

The city continued to have two downtown areas, two business centers, two public transport systems, two electric grids, and two systems of social welfare. It was not a “mosaic,” as Kollek often called it; mosaics have a certain harmony of design; here the division reflected only discrimination and a deepening chasm. There was an enormous disparity between the public funds allocated respectively to the Israeli and Palestinian quarters. Israel recognized pre-1948 Jewish property rights across the old demarcation line, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank; but it refused to recognize the rights of Palestinians to property they owned on the Israeli side of the city before 1948.

Despite repeated warnings that unfair treatment of Palestinian Jerusa-lemites in providing education, housing, sanitation, and other social ser-vices might lead to disaster, the discrimination against them continued, and continues to this day. Kollek often complained about this, but in distributing the taxes he collected in both parts of the city, he himself was as unfair to the Palestinians as the national government. Kollek was considered a “liberal,” but his liberalism was often only a successful public relations ploy aimed at soliciting money abroad for his Jerusalem Foundation. The foundation sponsored some projects for Palestinians, but it was on the whole as discriminatory as the municipality. Palestinians were denied building permits; if they stayed abroad for more than a year or two, their resident permits were arbitrarily canceled. For political as well as for moral reasons Dryden’s lines in Absalom and Achitophel, a parody of English radical Protestants under the Glorious Revolution, became more and more apt:

But when the chosen people grew more strong,
The rightful cause at length became the wrong.

If it were not for Israel’s overpowering military force, the city would have fallen apart. Despite this imbalance, the Palestinian neighborhoods were, in effect, governed by Arafat from Beirut or Tunis until 1994; and since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 they have been governed by the authority’s various security organs. Professor Wasserstein describes well the melancholy failure of the formidable Israeli state to realize in time the limits of its power. He lists the ups and the downs and the many “solutions” for joint government of the city, some of them absolute pipe dreams, that were concocted over the years by well-meaning think tanks and by academics peddling their cures in pleasant locations in Europe and America. A lot of good will on both sides went into these efforts. It was in vain. Among the solutions listed by Wasserstein were outlandish proposals to agree on “functional,” as distinguished from political, sovereignty as well as “residual,” “sliding,” “shared,” “vertical,” or “horizontal” sovereignty, on one occasion even “sovereignty vested in God.”

Some of these solutions might be workable on the Dutch–Belgian border but scarcely among people at the savage climax of a hundred-year war. In Jerusalem alone, over 200,000 Israelis have been planted over the years across the old demarcation line on land confiscated from their Palestinian owners and their removal is considered inconceivable by most Israelis. (200,000 more were settled elsewhere in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.) Barak’s unprecedented generosity at Camp David, when it came to Jerusalem, did not go beyond offering the Palestinians sovereignty over only a few isolated Palestinian enclaves cut off from the Palestinian state and from one another by the new Israeli neighborhoods near the Temple Mount. Barak offered the Palestinians sovereignty over their mosques on the Temple Mount but not over the ground on which they stood; and, allegedly with US support, he demanded a place on the Haram for Jewish prayer services.

For the little he had offered, he was bitterly attacked by Sharon and was even criticized by Peres. Sharon himself owns an Arab house in the heart of the Muslim quarter of the Old City, though he rarely stays there. Throughout the annexed areas beyond the old demarcation line Jews and Palestinians now live in a patchwork of enclaves, and enclaves within enclaves, from which it is hard to imagine them being extricated in order to redivide the city. The oddest proposal I have seen is that the Palestinians should establish their capital in the nearby village of Abu-Dis, rename it, if they so wish, Jerusalem or al-Quds, and live happily ever after. The sad fact is that the city can no longer be partitioned effectively, while only a handful of idealists on both sides are ready to “share” it or be content with “custody” over religious sites in a city whose sovereignty would be left fuzzy.

Wasserstein shows how, despite all restrictive measures against Palestinians from a demographic point of view, the great effort to “Israelize” the city, the “united” city, is failing. He writes clearly and dispassionately on a theme that has been more cliché-ridden than most and long monopolized by propagandists and hucksters. He rightly assumes that even if the Jordanians had not opened hostilities in June 1967, Israel would probably have been unable to resist the temptation to take East Jerusalem. His book is the most sober and in many ways the fairest description I know of official positions and popular sentiments on both sides between 1967 and 1999.

5.

I found life in Jerusalem sad during those years. Violence was rampant. After each outrage, municipal workers in cars marked JERUSALEM CITY OF PEACE in three languages rushed to the scene with rags and brooms to wash the blood from the flagstones and make the place normal again for the tourists. There were also hopeful moments: in 1990 some 30,000 Israelis and Palestinians joined hands in a long human chain around the walls of the Old City, floating balloons and chanting WE WANT PEACE. But these occasions were rare and far apart; and even the human chain ended badly when the police tried to break up a group of Palestinian youths chanting, as the Israeli police put it, “nationalistic slogans.” Those were still illegal at the time. Some thirty people were wounded and one woman lost an eye.

In the Old City the prevailing tension was nearly always palpable. There was a feeling, sometimes, of being inside a claustrophobic fortress. It seemed ludicrous that this strife-ridden place should ever have become the proverbial city of peace. Much of the Old City was as the Crusaders and the Turks had left it. The Crusaders believed they would be here forever and built impressive walls. The Israelis have also erected enormous structures inside and outside the walls, but they were built more quickly and flimsily and they are considerably less beautiful. Some of the first major Israeli construction projects in East Jerusalem, the new high-rise buildings and the rebuilt university on Mount Scopus, were designed hastily under the influence of the then fashionable brutalist style in architecture. One often wondered at so many ugly buildings being built, so many eyesores and environmental disasters in the name of undying “love” for Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.

The new university on Mount Scopus is especially disastrous. Tourists often mistake it for a fortress or military installation, with its narrow windows at odd angles like slits cut in the walls to accommodate machine guns. The new buildings have effectively killed campus life. The enormous, cavernous spaces are windy and often deserted. Few professors use their oddly shaped offices. Most rush back to West Jerusalem as soon as their courses are over. Although the university was built on a hill with one of the most magnificent urban views on earth, many of its windows look out on other walls.

If Israel had not annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and planted 200,000 settlers there, it could have had peace with Jordan in the early 1970s. It chose not to. Ever since, Israel has been unable to resolve the painful paradox of steadily increasing military power and steadily decreasing national security. The reasons for this continuing paradox are political: the attempt by one people to rule another against its wish. These reasons will not go away, although in the wake of the horrible terrorist outrages in New York and Washington, the US may be willing to intervene more firmly than in the past.

The sadness of life in Jerusalem during those years was compounded by the scarcity of real human intercourse with the other side. Both sides were cursed by near-absolute self-righteousness. Both swore they were the victims—never the cause of any harm themselves. Among Israelis there was only very rarely a shadow of guilt over the fact that their astounding material, social, and international success had come at the price of rendering millions of Palestinians homeless. If it were not for European anti-Semitism, Israel would probably not have come into being. The Palestinians were not responsible for the collapse of civilization in Europe under the Nazis but in the end they were punished for it. Moral myopia in Israel was facilitated by the fact that Arab states maltreated the Palestinian refugees, exploiting them for their own purposes; and, except in Jordan, they were kept stateless down to the third generation.

The power balance between Israelis and Palestinians was always so overwhelmingly in favor of the Israelis that any potential empathy among Palestinians for the people that vanquished them hardly ever emerged. If it did, it was eventually crushed when missiles from the latest-model jet planes, tanks, and helicopter gunships hit Palestinians, indiscriminately, in frequent, grossly excessive punitive raids for outrages committed by Palestinians in Israeli towns.

Nor have I ever found anyone in the Palestinian camp who was seriously concerned by the fact that the PLO was, as far as I know, the only national liberation movement in history willing to extend its ruthlessness anywhere in the world, to innocent citizens of third countries and to participants in the Olympic games. Palestinians on one occasion blew up a Swiss passenger plane in mid-flight, and they hijacked or blew up other foreign planes, killing Austrians, Americans, Germans, Frenchmen, Turks, and Spaniards. Nor, more recently, have we heard Arafat or any Palestinian human rights group criticize the brainwashing of impressionable teenagers by “holy men” who convince them that they would be revered as martyrs and entertained by beautiful women in paradise if they only blew themselves up in a discothèque full of other young people or in a crowded fast-food restaurant ten minutes from the Haram.

The political deadlock runs parallel to the mutual lack of human empathy. For all its newly found dovishness, an editorial cartoon in the liberal Ha’aretz recently depicted the current Intifada as the infestation of a human body by a pack of vicious vermin. I saw only one letter to the editor protesting this cartoon. It came from one Klement Messerschmidt, a German resident in Jerusalem. He protested the utter dehumanization of the Palestinians implied in the drawing, which was reminiscent of Nazi cartoons. “Has no one on Ha’aretz felt uncomfortable with the use of this loaded metaphor?” The only reaction that seems appropriate now is despair.

—September 19, 2001

  1. 1

    Paris, on 105 square kilometers, accommodates approximately 2.1 million inhabitants, compared to some 600,000 currently in Jerusalem (68 percent Israelis, 32 percent Palestinians).

  2. 2

    Last year, the current chief rabbi caused an international incident by thanking the Pope in his presence for recognizing greater Jerusalem, including the Palestinian parts, as Israel’s national capital “united for all eternity,” something the Pope had been very careful not to do.

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