Recently I was invited to two conferences about the future of Jerusalem during the same week. Since I have lived in Jerusalem now for more than half my life, and I am enamored with this city, with all its complexity and contradictions, I was interested in learning about the potential for Jews and Palestinians to share this city substantively and sensitively, now and in the years ahead.
On one day, a group called “Palestinian Peace NGO’s” (yes , for you non-believers, there is actually such a thing and it is funded by the European Union) met at the Notre Dame Cultural Center in “East Jerusalem “and talked to themselves, largely repeating worn-out irrelevant slogans and cliches that they know very well will not be accepted by the overwhelming majority of Israelis — a great exercise in monologue!
Two days later, there was an all-day conference in West Jerusalem in which a group of Israeli Jews did exactly the same thing, only on the other side of town. In the morning, all the speakers told the audience how bad things are in East Jerusalem –which most of the audience already knew and most people in Israel prefer to deny or ignore. In the afternoon some experts told us about various possible scenarios for dividing Jerusalem, most of which cannot possibly work for all kinds of practical logistical reasons. Unfortunately, I left the second conference pretty depressed.
One of the things that struck me is that most of the Jewish speakers I heard talked about “dividing” Jerusalem, rather than “sharing” it. I was very surprised. It seems to me that re-dividing the city is the least desirable and least practical option, which would take us backwards several decades .
Rather, I believe that Jerusalem –which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians–and which is central to the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians– must be shared, with equitable solutions found for all of its citizens, regardless of religious or national affiliations.
Moreover, I was distressed by the lack of dialogue among Palestinians and Jews who all belong to organizations which are supposedly committed to peace. Parallel monologues, in which each side repeats mostly old and worn out slogans, will gets us nowhere. What is needed , instead, is genuine dialogue—which would include divergent points of view and creative thinking–that will shed some light on how to actually overcome some of the major obstacles we face in Jerusalem and offer some real hope for the future.
Why is there such lack of genuine dialogue?
One reason is the ongoing political stalemate in the so-called “Peace Process” for the past few years , since the failure of the negotiations of “Camp David Two” in the summer of 2000, which led to the outbreak of the disastrous (for both sides) second intifada a month later, in September 2000.
Another reason is the growing skepticism that the current peace negotiations will get nowhere and are likely to end any day now. I , for one, certainly hope that this skepticism is overstated (mostly by the negative media) and I believe that we should give Secretary of State Kerry a fair chance, and wish him well, since his success is our success, for Jews and Palestinians alike.
This kind of mutual monologue will get us nowhere in the long run. Ultimately we Jews and Palestinians will have to figure out how to live together in Jerusalem as well as in the whole of Israel/Palestine. Both sides will have to come down from the high ideological trees which they have climbed upon, and figure out how to share the land, including Jerusalem.
So we might as well start the dialogue now, instead of monologuing on separate sides of the city. We might just discover that genuine dialogue can actually lead to trust between the divergent parties, which might help us find meaningful and creative ways to learn to live together in the same city, which is destined to be a city of peace.