Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

It's been a few years since the international community has attempted to unilaterally impose its will on Judaism's holiest place, the city of Jerusalem. I'm not speaking of the Crusades, although I will. The last time was 62 years ago when the United Nations presented a plan to internationalize the city and the surrounding area. The Partition Plan - which included an internationalization scheme for Jerusalem (Corpus Separatum) and its environs - was criticized by all sides, and summarily rendered null and void by the ensuing attack against the nascent state of Israel by surrounding Arab states that had rejected the plan wholesale.

It is important to remember that the Partition Plan, a product of an appointed 11-member committee (UNSCOP) and the UN General Assembly, was a compilation of recommendations only, and did not represent binding international law. In the words of the UN’s first UNEF Commander, Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns, the United Nations has "almost no powers to oblige any nation to make peace. More explicitly, it lacks the power to impose terms of peace or a general settlement. The Security Council can recommend only; the limitations are set out in Chapter VI of the Charter." Unable to defend its plan, it was doomed to fail. In a secret report, American Consul General in Jerusalem, Robert Macatee, warned US President Truman that, "if the UN expects to be able to partition Palestine without forces to help maintain order and to enforce partition, its thinking is most unrealistic and its efforts will be in vain."

Nevertheless, the Zionists welcomed the endorsement of establishing separate states for Palestine's Jews and Arabs. To that end, Palestine’s Jews did just that, proclaiming statehood upon Britain’s departure from Palestine and enforcing, to the best of their ability, the borders recommended by the plan. They did so, despite the problematic nature of the borders; they were, after all, meant to be borders between Jewish Palestine and Arab Palestine, a state rendered stillborn by Jordan`s occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In a report to the UN Security Council, the Palestine Commission aptly described the problem: "Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein." (Report to UN, Feb 16, 1948)

By the end of the war, there was no Palestinian state, and Jordan held territories designated to the district of Jerusalem. The UN's brilliant rapporteur, Dr. Ralphe Bunche, was able to negotiate an Armistice, approved by the UN Security Council, between Israel and Jordan which ended the fighting. As such, it could be argued that the Armistice Lines between Israel and Jordan carry more weight than the internationalization plan. More importantly, the Armistice was never meant to be permanent – just the opposite – and it demanded final status be determined through negotiations of the warring parties; in fact, just such negotiations resulted in the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, signed on October 26, 1994. The treaty "guaranteed Jordan the restoration of its occupied land (approximately 380 square kilometers) and ...defined Jordan’s western borders clearly."

The EU has now declared its desire to see Jerusalem divided, ignoring historical realities and international law. In a statement on the Middle East (2985th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting, Brussels, 8 December 2009), the EU has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of two states based on "pre-1967 borders."

Of course, Jerusalem has been divided before; but the years between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied east Jerusalem and the Old City, were disastrous. Sniper attacks were common, Jewish Holy sites and synagogues were destroyed and Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, all violations of the Armistice Agreement and international law. No sensible person would voluntarily agree to repeat the debacle.

There are a number of salient factors which demand the EU's consideration:

1. There has never been a time in history when the Jewish people's unassailable link to Jerusalem has been questioned. Until the appearance of the Palestinians, that is. Critics of Israel, for myriad partisan reasons, now brush off Israel's claim to Jerusalem as nothing but a religious connection (which is also challenged or dismissed as anachronistic), no stronger or weaker than that of the Christians and Muslims who also maintain Holy places in the city. These critics wilfully ignore a 2,500 year historical attachment to Jerusalem, documented by both Jewish and non-Jewish residents, as well as countless visitors to the region. The Arabs, for example, who invaded Jerusalem in the 7th century, adopted the name Beit al-Maqdes [or, al-Quds ("the sanctuary")] for the city, from the Hebrew term for the Temple Mount, בֵּית הַמִקְדָּש Beit HaMikdash, ("House of the Sanctuary").

Centuries before the Arab conquest of the city, Christian documents attest to the mistreatment of the Jews, their desire to return, and Roman attempts to re-colonize the city with outsiders. Jerome, a Church father most famous for translating the Jewish Bible into Latin, wrote that, "It is forbidden for the treacherous citizens [Jews] to enter Jerusalem...they may enter only to lament there and they have to pay for the right to weep over the ruins of their state." (Jerome, 392 CE)

In a letter written nearly 1,000 years after the Roman expulsion, Rabbi Chisdai ibn Shaprut (c. 915 - c. 990 CE) of Andalusia described himself as, "Chisdai, the son of Yitzchak, the son of Ezra, from the descendants of the exiled of Jerusalem who now live in Spain...we have been waiting many years, while we have been transferred from one captivity to another, and from exile to another...we live in the Diaspora and there is no power in our hands."

Things got much worse before they got better. Christian Crusaders massacred thousands of Jewish and Muslim Jerusalemites during the 12th century, but the community rebounded in the next two centuries as large numbers of rabbis and Jewish pilgrims immigrated to the region. Beginning in the late 1300's, Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean lands settled in Jerusalem and other parts of the land.

In 1517, The Ottoman's defeated the ruling Mamelukes and Palestine became part of the Turkish Empire. The Sultan invited Jews fleeing the Spanish Catholic Inquisition to settle in the Turkish Empire, including several cities in Palestine. Although the Ottoman Turks were generally fair-minded toward Palestine's Jews, by the 17th century, as the Turks' dominance was in decline, local bands of Bedouin, Druze and Maronite Christians rebelled against their authority and fought amongst themselves. To assuage local tyrants, the Turks granted them some autonomy in exchange for their services as tax collectors. These local authorities cared little for the rights or wellbeing of the Jews. At the same time, Latin and Orthodox Christians were competing between themselves - and vying for Turkish recognition - for control of Christian Holy sites. The Jews, as in other places, were often caught in the middle of these feuds, and suffered as a result.

In 1658, English Christian minister Henry Jessie described the dire situation of Jerusalem's Jewish inhabitants:
"The state of the Jews at Jerusalem of late was such that they could not live and subsist there, without some yearly supply and contribution from their Brethren abroad, because the place doth yield them little or no trading, whereby to maintain themselves; but their love for the place prompts them to remain there, albeit in great poverty and want. And their brethren abroad among the nations have been willing to uphold them there at Jerusalem, that the place should not be left destitute of some considerable number of their Nation, to keep as it were possession or at least some footing in it, and to show their hopes, till a full restitution come."
[Quoted in "The Jews in Palestine in the eighteenth century: under the patronage of the Istanbul Committee of Officials for Palestine," Jacob Barnai, 1992, pg. 14]

Documents such as these testify to the enduring desire, but inability of returning in large numbers to the Holy Land. But, despite desperate living conditions, Jews did return to Jerusalem, in increasing numbers proportional to improved freedom of movement and prosperity after European emancipation, and advances in rail and sea transportation from Europe to the Near East. By the mid-1800's Jews again represented the majority of the population of the city despite all of the hardships they had to endure, a fact repeatedly confirmed in documents of the era.

2. Jerusalem has always been revered as a unique entity, distinct from the surrounding region, its special place in history always acknowledged. Even the Ottoman Turks, who otherwise deforested and despoiled Palestine, invested in improving Jerusalem. It's worth noting that the Turks also altered the size and shape of Jerusalem. In the year 1548, [the Turks] "caused the city to be enclosed within a new wall, changing the line of the old one. Thus the city has been contracted on the south, where is Mount Zion, and enlarged towards the north."

After taking the city from the Ottoman Turks in 1918, the British began almost immediate work on restoring Jerusalem to her former glory. Technically, British military occupation last only two years, from 1918 to 1920 after which time responsibility for the city reverted to Civil Administration, beginning on July 1, 1920.

Although Israel is often accused of altering Jerusalem's character, it was actually the British who saw to it that strict measures were "enforced for the preservation of the traditional building style of Jerusalem, offensive and unsuitable materials [were] prohibited or removed, and an effective control of new buildings and town planning sections [was] instituted." The British, through the Pro-Jerusalem Society, recommended a modernization plan and expanding the borders of the city, permitting new Jewish neighborhoods to be built. In recognition of the growing population of the city they examined proposals for what was termed, "the Jewish Garden Cities", plus "English, Greek, and Muslim building projects in...the south-western area of the city." While there's no argument that a number of Arab villages surrounded the city, most new Arab neighbourhoods were a direct result of Arab population growth due to Jewish and British investment in the city.

The British also proposed a massive program of conservation and restoration in the Old City, which was literally crumbling away due to negligence. In the end, the British, from both lack of will and insufficient funding, were prevented from fully implementing their plans for the city, but they successfully augured in a new era for Jerusalem and began a process of expansion and growth which continues today. More importantly, they recognized and promoted Jerusalem’s unique status designating, for the first time in over 700 years, Jerusalem the capital of the country.

The UN acknowledged this special status by recommending internationalization for the Jerusalem district. Although rejected, it’s clear from the plan that no part of the city was intended to be allocated to an Arab state, let alone be its capitol. And although the plan was never realized, it’s significant that the internationalization scheme was also never meant to be a permanent solution; the plan calls for a referendum after 10 years in which the citizens of the city - which has had a Jewish majority for at least 150 years - should decide their own fate. (Note: The UN’s plan to extend Jerusalem’s borders around Bethlehem was an obvious contrivance to give the district a Muslim majority, which it did by just 5,000 people).

In 1967, the city was reunited by Israeli forces forced to respond to Jordanian shelling of Jewish neighbourhoods in West Jerusalem. When the fighting stopped, Israel was in possession of the Old City, east Jerusalem and the West Bank. But again the UN confirmed that Jerusalem's status was unique. In the two significant resolutions approved after the war, UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, neither mentions Jerusalem. Arthur Goldberg, the US Ambassador who helped draft 242, made it clear at the time that the resolution "in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate....Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank." Nevertheless, the UN amended this position with UN Security Council Resolution 252 (adopted on May 21, 1968) which called on Israel to desist from all legislative and administrative measures, including land and property expropriation, which might change the legal status of Jerusalem. It's a tendentious, politically motivated resolution at best, which actually condones the 1948 division of Jerusalem by war - a contravention of the partition plan - and implies that Israel was the aggressor in 1967, even though it was Jordan which had attacked Jerusalem, despite pleas from Israel - transmitted through the UN - to stay out of the war.

3. The only time Jerusalem was ever divided was during the illegal Jordanian occupation (1948-1967) during which time Jews were forcibly expelled from the eastern and southern neighbourhoods, synagogues destroyed and Jewish cemeteries desecrated. The ancient Mount of Olives cemetery was particularly hard hit. "Workmen came during the day and pulled apart the stones and the tombstones and at night the army lorries came, loaded up the tombstones and drove off. The rest of the stones were taken by the merchants," recalled Khalil Ibn Sadar Khalil, son of Sadar Khalil, who had served on behalf of the Jordanian Government as caretaker of the cemetery.

When the Mount of Olives cemetery was recaptured by Israel in 1967, inspectors discovered open graves, human bones scattered around the area. Parts of the cemetery had been converted into parking lots, a filling station, a road, and even a latrine. In 1964, the Jordanians had even built a hotel, the Seven Arches Hotel (formerly the Intercontinental Hotel) on top of the cemetery, a blatant violation of Article VII of the 1949 Israel-Jordan General Armistice Agreement (GAA).

Newsreel footage from 1967 covers the cease fire, UN debates, and the reunification of Jerusalem.

4. Arab neighbourhoods incorporated into Jerusalem after 1967 included areas which had been Jewish or mixed neighbourhoods before the Jordanian annexation on April 4, 1950. In 1948, the Arab Legion captured approximately 2,000 sq. miles of Judea and Samaria west of the Jordan River, and the Old City of Jerusalem, whose 1,300 Jewish residents were expelled or taken to Jordan as prisoners. Jews living in east Jerusalem were forced to flee after sustained attacks by Arab gangs and troops from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

[Ben Atlas, on his blog, has curated a terrific collection
of Life Magazine photos of Palestine 1948.]

Sheik Jarrah is a case in point. Historically, this area included two Jewish sections known as Nahalat Shimon (founded in 1891) and Shimon HaTzadiq. The area is also home to the American Colony compound, St. George's Anglican Cathedral, and an ancient mosque named for one of Saladin’s troops. Significant to Jews is the 'Tomb of the Kings', which contains sarcophagi of various Jewish figures; in 1874 the site was purchased by a Jewish banking family, the Péreires, from an Arab real estate owner and given to the government of France on the condition that it maintain the site in respect of "the faithful of Israel.” [From ראובן קשאני (Reuben Kashani) ירושלים: אתרים היסטוריים במקורות ובמסורת הדורות pp 74-75 (1968)]

In 1948, Jewish residents of the neighbourhood endured repeated attacks by a Syrian-trained Arab Gang, known as Shabbab. Dozens of Jewish residents were killed or injured by snipers. Then, on April 13, 1948, 78 doctors and medical staff were killed and 20 wounded when a convoy of ambulances on route to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed (within 200 yards of a British army post which observed the attack but did not interfere) while passing through Sheik Jarrah. The onslaught, ostensibly in retaliation for Irgun's attack on Deir Yassein, was likely carried out by Shabbab and Arab Irregulars who contemptuously ignored a request (in a January 1948 Memorandum) by the Palestine Arab Medical Association to refrain from attacking hospitals, ambulances, and medical personnel. A small British unit, under the command of Major Jack Churchill, did offer to try to ferry out the beleaguered medical staff, but would not engage the Arabs. Nevertheless, one of his men was killed while trying to render assistance. The Jews refused the offer, believing the Haganah - which was being prevented from entering the area - would come to their rescue.

In response, on April 25, 1948, the Haganah’s Harel Brigade attacked Sheik Jarrah. They had succeeded in securing the neighbourhood until they came under heavy fire from British forces using tanks and artillery. The Haganah men were battered until they agreed to withdraw, although only on the condition that the neighbourhood remained neutral territory. The British agreed, but subsequently turned Sheik Jarrah over to Iraqi troops who had entered Palestine illegally (between November 1947 and May 1948 the British permitted 10,000 foreign invaders to enter Palestine). [Ben Dunkelman, amongst others, describes the attack in detail in his autobiography, "Duel Allegiance"]

Jordan’s well-trained army successfully conquered the Old City and a number of neighbourhoods in the eastern and southern parts of the city including Sheik Jarrah. During the unrecognized occupation, former Jewish homes were seized (under Jordan’s Enemy Property law) and in 1958 turned over to Arab families as part of an UNWRA relief project. According to the UNWRA agreement, new homes would be built on "formerly Jewish property leased by the Custodian of Enemy Property to the Ministry of Development, for the purpose of this project" [Agreement Between The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East for An Urban Housing Project at Sheikh Jarrah.]

In recent court battles over these properties, original Ottoman ownership papers have been dismissed by lawyers for Arab tenants as "forgeries." The dispute rages on. Unsurprisingly, as politicians debate, Um Kamel al-Kurd, an amiable Palestinian woman removed from her home of many years, recognizes Jerusalem's challenge: "We don't need donations of tents or clothing from the international community...all we need is our rights. No one can simply overthrow the rights of others.... We need all the three groups here - Jews, Christians and Muslims - to live in peace and equality together."

Whether it's the result of decades of paternalistic conservation of the Palestinians (i.e. racism) or an inability to accept Jewish nationalism (i.e. also racism), which, ironically, was heavily promoted by Christian Zionists in the 19th century, the European Union seems determined to deny Jerusalem’s citizens the inherent right to settle their own differences and decide their own futures.

And while a European aversion to further conflict is admirable, they would do well to remember that their sense of compromise and esprit de corps was not so easily achieved, manifesting only after centuries of relentless, bloody conflicts, most especially the horrors of the Second World War. But, Europe’s traumatization is not Jerusalem's; it cannot be imposed or transferred.

It is also ironic that the EU, which itself represents a union of European economics and politics, is pursuing the opposite strategy for the Middle East. The last thing Jerusalem needs is further division; social and cultural differences are challenge enough. The EU would be better advised to promote détente and cohesion in the fractured city, with Europe as a model. There are many options for Jerusalem, from declaring itself an autonomous district to multiple citizenships. Division is not a solution; it is a cop-out, and an arrogant one at that.

UPDATE: I've changed a photo which I had thought was of divided Jerusalem (Thanks Yaacov Lozowick for the eagle-eyes.) A groovy colour photo of Dr. Ralph Bunche has been inserted in its place. Also, added an important quote about Resolution 242 and info on Resolution 252.

Related Stories and links:

Mideast Press see EU statement as Palestinian gain Dec. 9, 2009

Europe Seeks to Divide Jerusalem by Dore Gold Dec. 10, 2009

New EU foreign policy chief plans ME visit, backs J'lem as shared capital Dec. 15, 2009

New EU foreign policy chief lambastes 'Israeli occupation' Dec. 17, 2009

Critical Currents: The European Connection By Naomi Chazan, December 27, 2009

1 comment:

Revnant Dream said...

Well said. Lots of good information.