As Intifada Goes On, Hopes for United Jerusalem Fade

Times Staff Writer

The tenuous reputation of Jerusalem as a united city, much less a city of peace, has all but evaporated during the 15-month Arab uprising, and in its place, two distinct cities are arising, born of fear and rejection and with differing views of themselves and their futures.

The split in the city, which politicians habitually call Israel's "united, eternal capital," is a daily fact of life for most of its citizens as Arabs and Jews try to avoid each other. Invisible lines separate neighborhoods into islands where outsiders tread with caution:

-- A Jewish history professor in Jerusalem plans circuitous routes to his university in order to avoid Arab neighborhoods along the way. He carries a pistol when he travels.

-- An Arab waiter dubs himself Rafi, a common Hebrew nickname, to gain protection from cold stares and abusive language.

-- Another Arab, a gardener who travels into Jewish neighborhoods by bus, hides his traditional checkered headdress in a bag so his ethnic background cannot immediately be determined.

-- A Jewish mother takes care always to enter the Old City through Zion Gate on her way to prayers at the sacred Western Wall, because along that way there is less chance of meeting hostile Arabs--or so she thought until hearing about the fatal stabbing of a young, off-duty soldier there on a recent Sabbath afternoon.

"At most, Jerusalem can be said to hold together only as a mosaic. And even that is crumbling," said Michael Roman, an Israeli author and researcher on the city. "Everybody is conscious of borders. The divisions between the neighborhoods are clear-cut."

On Tuesday, when municipal elections are held, these divisions will be ratified, experts say. Arab voters, never very enthusiastic participants in the election process, are expected to stay at home en masse. Their message: Jerusalem is part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and thus is part of the intifada, as the uprising is called in Arabic.

"Participation in the elections would imply that we accept unilateral annexation," said Hanna Siniora, a Palestine Liberation Organization supporter and editor of the Arabic-language Al Fajr newspaper.

As if to press the point further, the election boycott may loosen the grip on City Hall of Teddy Kollek, mayor for 24 years and perhaps Israel's leading booster of a united Jerusalem.

Kollek, who is personally popular, will be reelected easily, but his One Jerusalem Party holds only a two-seat majority on the 31-member city council and may lose it without the Arab turnout. Thus, he may be forced to deal with a hostile majority less interested in tolerance.

Whether Kollek fully succeeds at the polls or not, observers say, the basic cleaving of the city will remain.

Can Feel the Tension

"The city is united solely in a physical sense," said longtime resident Ibrahim Dakkak, who heads the Arab Thought Forum, a think tank in Arab East Jerusalem. "You can feel the tension just traveling from one neighborhood to another. Only the sewerage flows freely from place to place, and a city is not just a system of sewers."

The open split in the city has revived a question that has haunted Jerusalem for centuries, through rule by natives and invaders alike: Whose city is this, anyway?

On the Israeli side, the answer once seemed clear. The annexation of Jerusalem--which had been divided between Israel and Jordan--after Israel's triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War was considered a millennial event for Jews, who make up three-fourths of the city's 450,000 residents.

Despite Jewish dominance and the military power to back it up, certainty that Jerusalem is all Israel's has been shaken from time to time--and since the intifada began, Jewish residents have suffered almost a continual crisis of confidence.

Recently, Israeli insecurity boiled over. On Feb. 18 an off-duty Israeli soldier, Shlomo Cohen, was fatally stabbed by Arabs while he was on his way to pray at the Western Wall, according to witnesses. Zion Gate, the site of the murder, is a prime entry into the ancient stone enclave, a place where Jews frequently pass on their way to and from prayer.

Cohen's murder was the talk of Jewish neighborhoods and the subject of hours of phone-in radio shows. The tragedy seemed to call into question a fundamental Israeli view of the capital, and perhaps of the country as well, that here is a place Jews can move without fear.

'Haven't Really Adjusted'

Days after the stabbing, Nahum Rabinovitch, a local rabbi visiting the scene of the crime, commented on the irony of Jewish fear in a city claimed by Jews. "Perhaps we haven't really adjusted to thinking of ourselves as owners in our own home," he said.

The rabbi suggested that the answer is subjugation or expulsion of Arabs.

"We want peace, but whoever isn't comfortable living in a Jewish city must draw the appropriate conclusions," he declared.

Candidate Kollek visited the scene of the stabbing and defiantly announced: "An increased Jewish presence in all parts of the city will make clear to the assassins our determination in the struggle for a united capital of Israel."

"An event like this stabbing is more important than any election, any peace conference," said David Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi and philosopher. "It threatens the very reason for Jews coming here: to be able to be Jewish publicly, without hiding behind walls, indoors."

Reclaiming Property

Nonetheless, some Jews are making moves to permanently penetrate Arab districts. In the Old City, groups of young Orthodox Bible students are reclaiming scattered Jewish property in the Muslim Quarter to make the point that Jews can live anywhere in the Holy Land.

"Where is it written that we can't live among the Arabs?" asked Ezekiel Frankel, a young resident of a yeshiva established within the Muslim Quarter.

Frankel dismissed criticism that Jewish moves into Arab neighborhoods make the Old City a flash point for tensions. The Jewish repopulation there, he said, is a step toward fulfillment of the desire to re-establish the historic temple on its original site, the Temple Mount, where a complex of sites holy to Islam now stands.

"We see that this is the future. If we have to pay a price of being surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, it is worth paying," Frankel said.

Different Concerns

On the Arab side of Jerusalem, the concerns and outlooks are different, however. It is rare that Arabs would feel threatened by a hidden knife in a Jewish neighborhood; instead, it is harassment--sometimes overt, sometimes subtle--that discourages them from moving too freely on the Jewish side of town.

"When anything untoward happens, it is the Arabs who are rounded up," said Albert Aghazarian, an Armenian Christian and longtime resident of the Old City.

Despite such drawbacks, Arabs are compelled to travel to Jewish districts by the weight of dependence: either they have business there, or they must go to some government office or another to get needed papers and permits.

Still, many Arabs have cut back on visits. "I remember it was kind of a thrill to go to the west side at first because there were more movies, more places to eat, more bookstores--and all with an exotic Western flavor," Dakkak recalled. "Now, it is no longer a novelty, and people just stay where they are. And let's face it: With the intifada, and all the shutdowns and strikes, there is less business to do."

Like their Jewish neighbors, Arabs think of Jerusalem as their own.

'Spiritual Suburbs'

"Jerusalem is why we are here. The other cities in the Holy Land are just spiritual suburbs of Jerusalem," said Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian nationalist aligned with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Nusseibeh pointed out that Arab Christians and Muslims alike view some form of possession of Jerusalem as important. "For us, there is a sense of this city as a place where man can reach out to heaven," said Nusseibeh, who is Muslim.

Arabs like Nusseibeh are beginning to ponder ways in which at least part of Jerusalem might be restored to their domination--as capital of a Palestinian state. In a sense, the de facto division caused by the intifada has led them to think that a formal partition can somehow be accomplished.

"It is not important so much who rules all of Jerusalem as who rules us," Nusseibeh said. "The city can be shared by the two peoples who live here, Palestinians and Israelis."

"We already live in two cities," declared Faisal Husseini, who has been publicly identified as a top PLO representative in Jerusalem. "All that remains is to find a formula that ratifies it."

In their dreams, the Arabs insist they do not want the city mutilated by a barbed-wire border running through it, as it was when it was divided between Israel and Jordan before 1967. Instead, they see a physically united city making room for two capitals of two different nations.

"I don't think anyone wants to see a Berlin Wall built through the city," Dakkak said.

But Israeli officials and the vast majority of citizens reject such musings out of hand.

Even Kollek's legendary tolerance falls far short of letting an Arab flag fly over a part of the city.

"We (Jews) for 3,000 years have believed that this is our capital, and we have acted accordingly. We prayed for it three times a day, and we have never given up the idea. Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab state. Not everything they (the Palestinians) want can they get," Kollek said.

Although Kollek's good works--from planting flowers to modernizing entrances to the Old City--are considered praiseworthy, critics say that the mayor has failed to recognize the basic problem, and hence the futility of his efforts.

Gloomy Chronicler

"He was the screen that kept all sides from staring into the flame," said Meron Benvenisti, a former aide to Kollek and a gloomy chronicler of the city's fate. "Kollek tries to reduce Jerusalem to a problem of services, as if giving Arabs the chance to collect their own garbage is enough. The problem is, the Arabs are not seeking good government, they're seeking self-government."

Kollek denies that his dream is dead; instead, he argues, it is merely facing hard times. "Extremism is growing on all sides, and this makes things difficult," he said in a recent interview. "I never had the idea that the populations here could mix--but at least we might live in reasonable neighborliness."

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