Shared Jerusalem network and key contact persons
From Corinne Whitlatch
February 1, 2000

Churches for Middle East Peace is encouraged by the new discussion within the US Jewish community about sharing Jerusalem. The statement that over 300 rabbis signed concluded with this message, "All three faiths view Abraham as their seminal patriarch and prophet, and it is through achieving ‘the Peace of Jerusalem' that humankind may aspire to lasting reconciliation among these Abrahamic religions."

The following statement, signed by over 300 US rabbis, was organized by the Jewish Peace Lobby and released on January 19, 2000

Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem

 For 3000 years Jerusalem has been at the center of Jewish religious and
national consciousness. For more than a thousand years, Jerusalem was the
capital of the Jewish state, and the Temple on the Temple Mount was the
center of Jewish religious life. For almost two thousand years since then,
the return to Jerusalem was symbolic of the return of the Jewish people to
self-determination. Jerusalem was the constant object of Jewish prayer:
"Next Year In Jerusalem."  Today, Jerusalem is once again the capital of
Israel, and the rightfulness of the Jewish presence and Jewish sovereignty
in Jerusalem is unchallengeable.

 The question is whether Jerusalem should be under the exclusive sovereignty
of one nation. The question is whether the pursuit of both justice and
lasting peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the
Palestinian people. We believe that it does.  We call for a shared
Jerusalem, and, in support of this position we urge attention to the
following considerations:

 - Failure to resolve the Jerusalem question runs the risk of replacing the
more diffuse Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a Jerusalem-centered
conflict -- one that may prove even more dangerous and horrible than what we
have witnessed during the last several decades.

 - The "Jerusalem question" can be solved. Most Israelis do not view the
current municipal boundaries as sacrosanct. Substantial numbers would give
serious consideration to Palestinian sovereignty over parts of East
Jerusalem. Many would favor a redefined city that was smaller but more
thoroughly Jewish in its population. Both Palestinians and Israelis are open
to creative solutions for sidestepping the most difficult issues, such as
sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The 1996 discussions between Israeli and
Palestinian leaders (Yossi Beilin and Abu Mazen) demonstrated this. What is
needed is political leadership that is imaginative and committed to genuine
compromise.

 - Much of the area of present-day municipal Jerusalem can be removed from
controversy. The current boundaries of Jerusalem, as determined by the
Israeli government, bear little relationship to the Jerusalem that has been
the object of veneration by three religions over the centuries. Until the
middle of the nineteenth century Jerusalem was the "Old City," an area
constituting only 1% of the present city.

 - The area that is currently known as East Jerusalem is an arbitrary entity
that emerged only thirty years ago. Only 10% of it represents that Eastern
part of the city from which Israel was excluded access during the period of
Jordanian control. The other 90% was West Bank territory grafted onto the
city by the Israeli government several weeks after the cessation of the 1967 war.

 - Much of East Jerusalem is not an urban area at all. Rather, it is a
sprawling undeveloped space, within which still sit isolated Arab village
areas. These areas, as well as others where Palestinians live (outside of
the Old City) are of distinctly lesser importance to Israelis. Similarly,
the areas of Jewish residence (outside the Old City) are of distinctly
lesser importance to Palestinians. Thus, the potential exists for two
distinct municipal areas, Al-Quds and Yerushalayim that would overlap on the
Old City.

 - Palestinians, be they Muslims or Christians, have rights in regard to
Jerusalem that are worthy of respect. For almost the entire history of
Islam, with the exception of the Crusader era and certain periods of the
20th century, Jerusalem was under the rule of Muslims. It was towards
Jerusalem that Muslims first prayed, and it is from the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem that Mohammed is believed to have ascended to Heaven to receive
his final revelation. Thus, it is natural that Muslims would also view
Jerusalem as their city. And for Christians, Jerusalem is the Holy City
within the Holy Land, the central locus of the formative events of their
religious experience.

 - Today, there are some 180,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem,
making it the largest urban concentration in the West Bank. These
Palestinians, though eligible, have refused to become Israeli citizens; they
voted in the Palestinian elections for their Legislative Council, and if
there is a Palestinian state, it is likely that these Jerusalemites will
become citizens of that state. Approximately one out of every eight
Palestinians in the West Bank/East Jerusalem region falls into this
category.

  - The Old City, the area of greatest contention, has a population of
30,000; of its residents some 90% are Palestinians.

 These factors cannot and should not be ignored. They do not undermine the
significance of Jewish rights to Jerusalem, but they strongly justify
searching for an alternative to an exclusive Israeli sovereignty. Such an
alternative can be found, and when it is achieved, it will not only provide
for an Israeli-Palestinian accord on Jerusalem, it will lay the basis for a
wider Islamic recognition of Jewish and Israeli rights in Jerusalem. As
such, it will be the strongest basis for lasting peace. Indeed, for both
Islam and Christianity the importance of Jerusalem emerged not from their
rejection of the Jewish prophetic tradition, but from their efforts to
incorporate it. All three faiths view Abraham as their seminal patriarch and
prophet, and it is through achieving "the Peace of Jerusalem" that humankind
may aspire to lasting reconciliation among these Abrahamic religions.
 

Here is a news report from the New York Times; an email message will follow with the full text of the statement.
 

New York Times, January 20, 2000
"300 Rabbis in U.S. Group Say Jerusalem is Shareable"
By Neil MacFarquhar

A group of American rabbis, concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might collapse over the tangled issue of Jerusalem, called yesterday for the two sides to share the city.

"The question is whether Jerusalem should be under the exclusive sovereignty of one nation," read a statement signed by more than 300 rabbis from the group, calling itself the Jewish Peace Lobby.  "The question is whether the pursuit of both justice and peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the Palestinian people.  We believe that it does."

The petition was organized by Jerome Segal, a research scholar at the Center of International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, who founded the Peace Lobby a decade ago to push Israel toward negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization.  Now that the peace negotiations are edging toward the final, knotty differences, Mr. Segal says outside groups must force debate on the most sensitive issues.

"We know there has been no serious discussion inside Israel about any general compromise on Jerusalem," Mr. Segal said in a telephone interview. "Jerusalem is still kind of viewed as the third rail of Israeli politics, with the right claiming that the left will redivide Jerusalem and the left saying that is a lie."

The statement was issued yesterday in part because the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, is to meet with President Clinton in Washington today for talks about the peace negotiations.

The issue's sensitivity is evident in the number of rabbis who declined to sign.  Some 1,200 were initially approached; of the more than 800 who backed off, many said they could not envision a practical way of sharing the city.

Mr. Segal and the rabbis who signed say the subject is so emotional that nobody has ever analyzed the actual geography involved in detaching western Jerusalem from the eastern portion, where all 180,000 Palestinians live.

A survey devised by Mr. Segal with researchers from both sides found that neither Israelis nor Palestinians viewed the borders of the city as sacrosanct when it was broken down neighborhood by neighborhood.

"When you ask people what parts of the city are important," he said, "only the Mount of Olives and the Old City are really important to both peoples."

The Old City constitutes only 1 percent of the area of modern Jerusalem, the rabbis pointed out in their statement yesterday.  The area within its walls is important to Jews, Muslims and Christians because it contains the remnants of the last Jewish temple and the third holiest mosque in Islam, which Muslims once faced in prayer.  It also includes a church on the site where Christ is believed to have been crucified.

The rabbis said in their statement that sovereignty in this area could come through creative negotiations that would not have to apply to other lands.

They also suggested that the borders of Jerusalem – which have been expanded again and again practically since the day Israel captured the city in 1967 and reunited its eastern and western parts – might be reduced to create a more Jewish city.  By giving up control over the sprawling, mostly underdeveloped Arab areas, the rabbis say, Israel would remove from Israeli Jerusalem most Palestinians, who would most likely become citizens in a future Palestinian state, anyway.

Rabbis who signed the statement said that they felt it was a moral question and that peace was the most important goal of the Jewish people.

"The notion that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and only the Jews, if that precludes peace, is wrong," said Rabbi Burton Visotsky, a professor of rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. "I think in the end we will have to live with our neighbors and there is no way around it, and that includes Jerusalem."

The impracticality of sharing the city deterred many from signing the statement. Others opposed the idea of Americans' interfering in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over a city that each side views as its capital.

The position of most Jewish groups in the United States on the issue of Jerusalem hews closely to the official position of present and past Israeli governments, which is that it is their indivisible capital.

Mr. Arafat and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, have committed to Feb. 13 as a deadline to develop a framework for negotiating outstanding differences, including Jerusalem.  But those efforts have bogged down; a spokesman for Israel said no change should be expected on Jerusalem.                (End)