Small World

Jewish World Review August 18 , 2000 / 17 Menachem-Av, 5760

Sharing but not dividing

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- IT'S BECOME TRENDY to call for a "sharing" of Jerusalem by Israelis and Palestinians.

It's the post-Camp David mantra: "A shared Jerusalem is the key to peace."

Unfortunately, what the pundits are talking about is not so much a sharing as it is a blueprint for redividing the city. The logic is that the Holy City is sacred to three great faiths. Politically and historically, say the equalizers, it is as vital to Palestinians and all Muslims as it is to Israelis and all Jews. This phony equalization is as unfair as it is historically incorrect.

It may not be trendy, but let me say it: The Jewish state of Israel has a far greater right and claim to Jerusalem than do the Palestinians or any other people or faith.

Look at the facts. Jerusalem has been the symbolic and core site of Jewish faith for more than 3,000 years. It is Jerusalem where Jewish kings reigned, where Judaism had its most glorious moments, where the first and second temples stood. It is in the direction of Jerusalem that Jews face when they pray.

It was the tragic loss of Jerusalem that Jews mourned for 2,000 years, and it is Zion — a synonym for Jerusalem — that gave its name to the liberation movement that led to Israel's rebirth: Zionism.

I have no doubt that Jerusalem has deep meaning to Muslims, just as it does to Christians. But that does not equal the force of Judaism's historic ties. And much Islamic and Palestinian attachment began, I'm afraid, the day the Jewish state captured the Old City from the Arab Legion that illegally occupied it from 1948 to 1967.

The equalizers like to remind us that Jerusalem is "the third-holiest city in Islam" (after Mecca and Medina), yet it is not even mentioned by name in the Koran. It has never been an Arab capital, nor did the Palestinians push to declare it their capital during the 19 years when Arabs controlled it.

Instead, Arab Jerusalem was a provincial backwater, a slovenly city where children played amid open sewers, where health care depended in large measure on foreign missionaries, where religious sites were neglected or desecrated and which Jews from anywhere were forbidden from entering.

All that changed when Israel reunited the city. Jerusalem blossomed for the benefit of all its people and became a jewel city where all faiths (including Muslims from countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations) have unfettered access to holy sites.

Yes, there are problems. Palestinians frequently complain the municipality favors Jewish neighborhoods. But interestingly, with growing talk of Yasser Arafat taking over, there's a dramatic rise in Muslim and Christian Palestinians asking for Israeli citizenship.

At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat a peace deal that included continued Islamic control of Muslim holy sites, Palestinian boroughlike autonomy in some predominantly Arab neighborhoods and full Palestinian sovereignty in other areas of Greater Jerusalem. There the Palestinians could establish their capital.

It was a giant step for the Israelis; Arafat turned it down and took off on a tour to garner support for his negativism.

The word is that with the exception of such paragons of progressive thinking as the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iran, many heads of state have quietly signaled him to rethink the Israeli offer. Let's hope he does it so that Jerusalem can be truly shared, not redivided.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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