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This Year In Jerusalem - Voices of the Conflict
Its PeopleLand & DeedsOutside the Walls
Part I | Part II | Part III
Third of three parts
Compiled by Ken George based on the
radio documentary by Michael Goldfarb

Suicide bombing
Covered body lies on ground after a suicide bombing, Jerusalem. (AP)

Listen to Part III
Part III
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In Jerusalem this year, people's radios have brought a steady stream of bad news: a Jewish woman bewailing the death of her soldier sister at a bus stop; the screaming of an Israeli Arab woman assaulting the soldier who shot her child.

The level of tension in the city is profound. It's not just the current threat of violence, it's the astonishing pace of physical change in the city's landscape transforming neighborhoods overnight. Tranquility is no longer a molecule in the air people breathe. So the city is losing its Israeli population. Most of those who leave are secular and middle-class - the professional classes. They are being replaced by Ultra-Orthodox Jews and poor immigrants from Russia.

People look for calm where they can find it. Nathan Englander drove me to his secret place: an abandoned Arab village called Lifta. Englander is a one-man demographic: born in America into a strict orthodox community, he gave up Jewish religious practices and moved to Jerusalem to write. His first collection of stories, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" was widely praised in the U.S.

Nathan Englander Photo
Nathan Englander.

To get to Lifta, we took the Begin road, a highway that runs around Jerusalem and connects the new neighborhoods. Englander pulled off the highway at a poorly marked turn and stopped the car - below us the remains of a textbook Mediterranean village were visible. In steep terraced steps, white houses in little plots of land were nestled into a horseshoe-shaped valley. "It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, it's a true Garden of Eden, it is all fruit trees down there and you can actually hear what you don't hear in Israel and that is the sound of running water," said Englander.

We started walking down the hill. The sky above was black with clouds threatening yet more rain. Periodically shafts of light sliced out between the clouds and raced across the valley.

We poked into one or two houses and saw signs of human habitation. In the warmer weather Lifta is a haven for hippies, squatters, and Palestinians who work in Jerusalem and don't have proper papers.

Down the hill we came to a pool fed by a fresh spring. It was in what would have been the village's central plaza. With a fresh coat of whitewash, Lifta could have been a film set for a biblical epic about the shepherd boy named David or the young carpenter called Jesus. On the hilltops around us were the fortress-like new towns. But down here in Lifta, it was genuinely peaceful. Unfortunately, the weather didn't really allow for lingering. So we started back up the hill, Nathan free-associating his way through his feelings about the city where he has come to live. "I call it the city of the preconceived notion. Everyone has their absolutist view of this place and what it has to be .. people are really threatened by a different viewpoint...I am just a guy living in Jerusalem because I like the city and there's gotta be room for that too."


This year in Jerusalem the peace process is crumbling, but in think tanks on both sides of the city people are still planning for the future.

Israel Kimche Photo
Israel Kimche. (Av Harris)
From helping design the expansion of the city post-1967, Israel Kimche's team at the Jerusalem Institute has gone on to provide the demographic and cartographic data as well as the scenarios for the city's future used by Israeli negotiators during the talks at Camp David. According to Kimche - a Jerusalem native - "the whole area should be functioning as one metropolitan area." To illustrate his point, he pulled out a map of Jerusalem and its environs. Like a Rorschach blot, one could see various things in it. The first image is of a 1950's style representation of an atom with Jerusalem as the nucleus and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as electrons hooked up to the city by new roads and tunnels. But the map could also be seen as an anatomical drawing of the whole region. From the West Bank towns of Hebron in the South to Ramallah in the north, the Jerusalem conurbation has a spine of Palestinian neighborhoods with Jewish West Jerusalem and Jewish settlements to the east where the lungs would be. The heart, of course, is the Old City. It seems indivisible - but preserving the region is not Kimche's task at the moment. "I am working now on various alternatives - one of the alternatives is separation," he says before pulling out a map showing a Jerusalem divided between Israeli and a Palestinian control. On the map a main road runs through the heart of the city. It has around 40 red slashes in it. If the city were to be divided, this road would cross from one side's area of control to the other's many times. Each red slash on Kimche's map represented a crossing point. The planner told me that there would be a military check point at each one. "I am a Jerusalemite born, I wouldn't like to continue living in this kind of a city." he says.

Jerusalem Map
Map showing the locations of the Holy Sites within the Old City. (AP)
For planners in Arab East Jerusalem, the idea of dividing the city is equally abhorrent. "Jerusalem is a unique city ... and this city should not be divided again," says Rami Nasrallah of the International Peace and Cooperation Center. "We need to plan the city in a way that it will function as one urban unit and we should do it together," he says. Nasrallah came to these conclusions via an interesting route. Also a native Jerusalemite, during the time of the first Intifada back in the late 1980's, he was an undergraduate at the Palestinian Al Quds University. Then, the Israeli government closed Palestinian universities because they were considered hotbeds of radical activity. Nasrallah applied to college in America. The Israeli government said he was free to go but he would not be allowed to come back. So he perfected his Hebrew, stayed home and went to Hebrew University where he studied under Israel Kimche.

To Nasrallah the future of the city is clear.

Romi Nasrallah and Michael Goldfarb
Romi Nasrallah shares his vision for a future Jerusalem with Michael Goldfarb. (Av Harris)
"We have to develop the human capital, we have to develop the engines of the economy of Jerusalem and there is a potential here to develop Jerusalem as a world city," he says. Nasrallah has published a pamphlet describing his vision for the city in the year 2020. It is a city with both its main populations at peace. But that kind of peace seems a very distant hope. Even Judit Keshet, keeping lonely watch at the Israeli checkpoint, acknowledges as much, "I think what is really lacking .. is even a basic element of good will .. both sides I think, feel they have more to gain through conflict at this moment than by negotiation."


The best place to feel at peace in Jerusalem is to find a rooftop in the Old City and listen to the sounds of prayer from the many different houses of worship that trace their beginnings to Abraham's decision to revere One God and One God only. On a Sunday, rhythmic chanting from the Coptic Church shares the air with the Muezzin reading from the Holy Koran and a triumphant ringing of bells.

Two domes representing two monotheistic religions: Foreground: The Church of the Holy Seplechre; Background: The Dome of the Rock. (Av Harris)

In the Holy Sepulchre, the liturgy of the Orthodox Church shares space with the liturgy of the Catholic Church. And softest of all, from down at the Wailing Wall, comes the chaotic sound of Jews praying. You can easily forget the history of conflict between these faiths when sitting on a rooftop listening to this sanctified dissonance.

But this year in Jerusalem there is another kind of dissonance. I came away from the place with a terrible din going on inside my head. It's the noise when you're having an argument with yourself and you can hear your own voice and you're imagining the voice of the person you're arguing with and your can't hear anything anyone else might be saying to you - even when the other side wants almost exactly what you do - a Jerusalem united and just, as it was when Solomon first built the Temple.

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