JERUSALEM: A CENTER OF CONFLICT OR A CASE FOR CONVERGENCE?
Jihad Abu Zneid*
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews: http://www.commongroundnews.org>www.commongroundnews.org), May 10, 2007, Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to publish.
One of the oldest and most deep-rooted cities on earth: This is a statement one could use to describe my beautiful city, Jerusalem — a city I have carried in the details of my face, the intonations of my voice and the sound of my footsteps, ever since the day when I discovered the colour of the sky, uttered my first letters and found my way out of the house, through the labyrinth of its charming alleys. Jerusalem, the city that is five thousand years older than me, and the city that makes me feel I am an heir to this great history that has been a centre of conflict and controversy.
After the late Palestinian president returned from the second round of Camp David negotiations in 2000, the conflict escalated and Jerusalem became fuel for a larger struggle that started taking form. The national struggle over sovereignty and the state deepened and extended to the holy places in a manner that bypassed human presence, dignity and belonging to this city, and deleted this city’s belonging to humanity as a whole. Israel and its leaders started viewing sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Holy Shrine as a matter that could not be given up. Palestinians considered this an attempt to replace the religious reality prevailing for over 1400 years. Fuelling the conflict and turning it into a religious feud threatens to neutralize Jerusalem’s symbolic central position.
Never has Jerusalem been like any other city on Earth. It is the only city where brothers and cousins are enemies who decided to shun their blood relations behind the gates of death. They resorted to stones, turning them into tools of destruction, instead of tools for building a better future. It is the only city on earth that is holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. This is why, and for a long time, it has been a centre of struggle among the followers of the three heavenly religions, in a continuous attempt to control it and prevent others from being there. After the war of 1967, the Zionist movement succeeded in consolidating its hold over Jerusalem and systematically sought to erase the Islamic and Christian aspects of its character and to change it into a completely Jewish city through various methods.
Such is the city where I learned my first letters, took my first steps and developed my incessant yearning. It is also the city of my continued pain, which stems from the occupation forces making life difficult for Palestinians within the historic walls of Jerusalem and elsewhere.
I want the city to belong to everyone. I want it free and without chains. I want it for all languages, for all peoples. I want it full of the land’s love for water, a land that loves and seeks justice, a land that does not discriminate against me because of my color, shape or address. I want it without the barriers of fear.
Such is Jerusalem, the land I love, the land I dream will one day will nurture faith, love and peace among humankind. Jerusalem, is described by a Palestinian writer as: “The closest point to heaven and the deepest point on Earth. The land where injustice cannot persist, because God has selected it as a centre for His religions and a symbol of His punishment, by burying tyranny within it”.
The question is: How do we enhance Jerusalem as a source of harmonious vision, a cooperative and constructive one for the benefit of the Palestinian and Israeli nations, the benefit of Arab and Muslim nations, the Christian world and humanity as a whole? Observing the following principles is key:
1. The road to peace starts from Jerusalem, the city of God on Earth, and the city of worship for all heavenly religions.
2. Jerusalem may be the capital of one united state where all people live equally, so it can be the capital of the land of God, the land of peace and a centre for spreading the vision of true peace on Earth. If this is not possible, then Jerusalem may be a united capital for two states, representing political division between Arabs and Jews on one hand, and preparing for an open future by providing open access to the city for all human beings.
3. Let us delineate borders between the two capitals that are open without an actual separation. The open city permits movement of people, materials and values between the two capitals. Check points may be established to deal with security issues in a manner that does not affect the principle of open borders.
4. The open city status is a basic element to enhance and strengthen the international status of Jerusalem. Religious, cultural, economic and social functions, connected to this status shall represent the impetus to advance the city as an international capital for humanity, in addition to being a political capital for two states.
5. The Old City should not be divided, being a piece of mosaic that belongs to all humans. The highest levels of cooperation should be achieved between the two parties to enhance the city’s status and international role. Let us eliminate religious strife and struggle for domination, identity and character of the city. Let us view this city in a comprehensive manner as the common “trade mark” for the two parties and the world as a whole, which, in essence, is the targeted party and the beneficiary in this struggle.
6. Let us work at enhancing the international and regional presence of culture, religions, research institutes, universities and other academic institutions that concentrate on conflict studies and peace throughout the world.
7. Let us build common values between the two nations through enhancing the concepts of peace culture, mutual understanding and dialogue among peoples.
Lovers of peace, leaders of the world, you who love humanity, makers of social justice and human values: Make peace in the land of peace.
*Jihad Abu Zneid serves as a representative from Jerusalem on the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and is founder and head of the Administrative Committee of the Women’s Centre of the Shu’fat Refugee Camp (WCSRC) in metropolitan Jerusalem.