This past summer, Michael Totten analyzed the prospects for dividing Jerusalem between Israel and a Palestinian state. He gave a history of Jerusalem since 1948 and explained the difficulties of dividing the city, especially the Old City. Palestinian negotiators want East Jerusalem as their capital, but Totten’s article suggests that the issue is quite complex. Here are some paragraphs that help explain this, but take a look at the whole thing if this is a subject that interests you:
Before 1948, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority. But in May of that year, the British Mandate in Palestine expired, Israel declared its independence, and the new country was promptly invaded by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. The war lasted until the following year, when Israel signed separate armistice agreements with each of the aggressors. The Jordanian-Israeli armistice line, drawn where each army happened to be standing at the time of the cease-fire, slashed right through the center of Jerusalem, with the Jordanians controlling the eastern, northern, and southern sectors (what today is generally called “East Jerusalem”) and the Israelis controlling western Jerusalem and an enclave in the east on Mount Scopus. The line became known as the Green Line. Neither Israel nor Jordan ever declared it a border; each side hoped that it was temporary and that Jerusalem’s final status would be decided later, either by negotiation or by conquest.
Israel’s toehold in western Jerusalem was surrounded on three sides and connected to the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land just a few miles wide. Jordanian soldiers held the high ground overlooking that corridor and the rest of the city, and despite the armistice, they frequently fired artillery shells, mortars, and sniper rounds at Jewish civilians on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Jews caught on the Jordanian side were even less fortunate; those who weren’t expelled were killed or taken to prison camps, and their property was confiscated or destroyed. The Jordanians ravaged Jewish cultural and holy sites in East Jerusalem—bulldozing an enormous 2,000-year-old cemetery on the Mount of Olives, razing the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and reducing synagogues to rubble. Abdullah el Tell, a Jordanian commander and later the military governor of the Old City, even boasted about it. “For the first time in 1,000 years, not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter,” he said. “Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.”
Jordan, Egypt, and Syria launched their second war of annihilation in 1967. This time, the Israelis defeated all three armies in six days and pushed the 1949 armistice lines outward, taking the Golan Heights from Syria; the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt; and the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, from Jordan. Egypt and Jordan later relinquished their claims to Gaza and the West Bank, and Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. Israel never formally annexed those territories because adding millions of Palestinian Arabs to its population would threaten its Jewish majority over the long term.
But East Jerusalem was another story. Israel did annex that—partly because Israelis yearned to reunite their capital but also because they had vowed never again to let a hostile army surround them on high ground. And one of the first things the government did was to build Jewish neighborhoods in empty areas formerly used by the Jordanian army. (Some of the new neighborhoods, in fact, were in places that had been Jewish before the Jordanians destroyed them after 1948.) Today, about 200,000 Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem, in neighborhoods like French Hill, Ramat Shlomo, and Gilo, on what was once the Jordanian side of the Green Line. Residents can look down the dizzying heights into the heart of the city from hilltops once occupied by snipers and artillery crews.
“Annexing East Jerusalem was a dramatic event,” says Orly Noy of the Ir Amim organization, an Israeli center-left, human rights nonprofit. “That meant that, at least according to Israel, all of Jerusalem became a part of the sovereign state of Israel.” She unfolds a map of Jerusalem that her organization has produced. It shows the Green Line and another line, this one blue, which marks the edge of Jerusalem since annexation. The blue line, dividing Jerusalem from the West Bank, is what Israel now considers its national border.
The Green Line is invisible in Jerusalem. You’d have no idea where it was just by looking. “After annexation, it became a national task to erase the Green Line,” Noy says. “We didn’t want anything to remind us that the city was ever divided.” The blue line on Ir Amim’s map, though, can’t be missed. During the Second Intifada, in the 2000s, the Israeli government built an imposing concrete wall along the border to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank out of Israel. “Most of us don’t expect a real peace any time soon,” says Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick, author of the books Hitler’s Bureaucrats and Right to Exist. “So we suspect that the reality of that barrier after several decades will become the border.”
Totten believes that divided Hebron could foreshadow Jerusalem’s future, as he expresses in the article (see here for more detail), quoting Lozowick’s warning that Hebron is what happens when there’s a dividing line but no commitment to peace, a lesson that needs to be learned with respect to Jerusalem: “The myriads of observers, pundits, politicians, dreamers, visionaries and true believers who all know for a certainty that dividing Jerusalem is the key to peace in the Middle East, need urgently to visit Hebron.” Totten concludes his article with these reflections:
The same overoptimistic attitude, in fact, characterizes the entire Middle Eastern peace process, in which a number of major players, including the most experienced diplomats, have convinced themselves that they know what the future holds. “Many people still say, ‘We all know what the final settlement is going to look like, so we just need to get the two sides together and work it out,’ ” Israeli political analyst Jonathan Spyer tells me. “To that I say: ‘No, you don’t know what the final status is going to look like. The final status you have in mind is what you came up with by negotiating with yourself.’ ”
It has been years since I’ve managed to find an optimist who lives in the region and believes that the conflict will end soon. Hillel Cohen sums up this grim realism when I ask him what he expects for Jerusalem 50 years from now. “Some war,” he says, shrugging. “Some peace. Some negotiations. The usual stuff.”
Filed under: Israel and the Palestinians | Tagged: Hebron, Israel, Jerusalem, Jonathan Spyer, Michael Totten, Palestinians, peace process, Yaacov Lozowick | Leave a Comment »