CMEP Bulletin: Jerusalem in Depth
A special Churches for Middle East Peace bulletin
Less than a week after the Palestinians commemorated 64 years of dispossession as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israelis took to the streets for an occasion with similar duality. On Sunday May 20, they celebrated the day in 1967 when the Israeli army won control over East Jerusalem. The annual event causes tension since Palestinian residents of the city do not see Jerusalem Day as an occasion to celebrate.
Jerusalem is one of the most contested cities in the world. There are holy sites for Christianity, Judaism and Islam in East Jerusalem that complicate matters significantly. Israelis took over the Arab quarters in 1967 during the Six-Day War and annexed East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas weeks later. Israel’s reclamation of the Western Wall, the most sacred site in Judaism is a source of national and religious pride for Jews around the world and every year millions journey to the site to pray.
In 1980, the Knesset officially passed legislation to make the city the “complete and united” capital of the Jewish nation. The international community does not accept the legitimacy of the annexation, believing that control of the city should be determined through negotiations. As result, all 87 foreign embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv. Palestinians maintain that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state and they protest the ongoing Israeli expansion into previously Arab neighborhoods that puts that goal in jeopardy.
On this year’s Jerusalem Day, 30,000 Israelis marched through the streets to assert control of East Jerusalem. Following a recommendation from Israeli authorities, Arabs in the area shuttered their shops and most remained indoors to avoid escalating the situation. Groups of Orthodox Jewish youth chanted inciting slogans such as “death to Arabs” and struck the closed shop doors. The provocation is an annual problem. Time’s Global Spin blog reports that Israeli police wanted to stop the demonstrators from marching in the Arab quarter this year but they eventually bowed to tradition. In the end police say they arrested ten Jewish Israelis for shouting racist slurs and attacking Arabs and five Arabs for throwing objects and attacking the demonstrators.
The day before the Jerusalem holiday, former Israeli prime minister and mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert caused a stir in the media when he told the Hebrew paper Maariv that he believes that a peace agreement cannot come without “inevitable political concessions” including partitioning Jerusalem. During the 2007 and 2008 peace negotiations, Olmert offered to divide the city with the Palestinians and told the paper he “was within touching distance of a peace agreement. The Palestinians have never rejected [his] proposals.” The peace talks faltered when Olmert faced accusations of corruption and resigned.