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Jerusalem: A city of tension and unity

By Nadav Shragai

May 20, 2015

Israel marks 48 years (Jerusalem regained from Jordan in the Six Day War of June 6-12, 1967) since the reunification of Jerusalem, and there is no going back. Despite the incidents of terrorism and violence depicted in the media, Jews and Arabs live and work together in cooperation and unity.

This intermingling, to which I have devoted a chapter in my new book, is first and foremost the result of Jerusalem’s demography. After 19 years of division and 48 years of Israeli unity, Jerusalem Day — which we mark today — is a good opportunity to reveal a number that might surprise many people: Most Jewish and even more Arab residents of Jerusalem have never even experienced the city when it was divided. Some 71 percent of the city’s Jews and 84 percent of its Arabs were born into the reality of one united city.

“Intermingling” is a new term being used in research into the Jewish-Arab conflict in Jerusalem, coined by yours truly a few years ago. Intermingling involves many types of normalcy and cooperation between Jews and Arabs in united Jerusalem — something the media does not tend to cover. It expresses the wisdom of the masses who for years have been telling their leaders that, alongside the violence and terrorism, there are also unity and cooperation that often overcome politics and differences.

This fact has ramifications. The city is united through common infrastructure, which it would be difficult and in many cases impossible, to split apart. Services are provided, at different levels, to all parts of the city: from streets to shared water, electrical, sewerage, and telephone systems. In Jerusalem’s hospitals, Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work night and day to serve both populations.

Many of the Egged bus drivers, as well as passengers, are Arabs. The Arab population has integrated into the city’s pharmacology and trade sectors. Shopping centers, supermarkets, chain stores, and leisure spots are bustling with Jewish and Arab customers and employees.

A reality of “intermingling” exists in the playgrounds on the border between east and west Jerusalem, too. Arabs visit the Jerusalem Zoo and Ein Yael, and their children attend summer camps at those sites. More Jerusalem Arabs are asking for Israeli identity cards today than in the past, are signing up for Israeli high school matriculation exams, and are volunteering to perform national service and earn academic degrees in Israel.

(In other words, their Arab leaders are stupid but the Arab residents and oftimes citizens of Israel, by choice, are not)

Fewer Jews visit east Jerusalem, but intermingling exists there, too. In recent years, all quarters of the Old City have been crowded with tourists and Jews, and inside the walls there is cooperation in the trade and tourism sectors.

Intermingling like this is a thorn in the side of Palestinian terrorist operatives, who this past year have initiated a second “mini-Intifada” — which we got another taste of on Thursday — and tried unsuccessfully to pull a large Palestinian population into the circle of hatred. It’s not surprising that the attempted attacks on the city’s light rail continue unabated, because the train has become both a symbol of and litmus test for coexistence in the city.

Anyone who talks to the residents of east Jerusalem, rather than the leaders who presume to speak for them, quickly discovers that many of them prefer to remain under Israeli sovereignty rather than becoming part of the Palestinian Authority.

As documented residents, they enjoy a host of financial benefits they would not find under the PA. Many are also unwilling to forgo the advantages of Israeli democracy. In-depth surveys conducted among the population of east Jerusalem in recent years show that most east Jerusalem Arabs would choose Israel over the PA. This is what the polls showed, despite the fact that Israel had made little investment in municipal services and infrastructure in the Arab neighborhoods, and many Jerusalem Arabs feel closer to Israeli Arabs than they do to Arabs in the West Bank.

In contrast to the question of “united or divided,” it’s easier to spot and document the more than a few scraps of normalcy and cooperation on one hand, and separation and alienation on the other. The fact that they exist simultaneously does not invalidate either one. The picture of cooperation and normalization that is not infrequently blotted out by the media was created by a reality of living next door to each other for almost 50 years. This is a new situation. Going back (for any number of reasons) is no longer possible.

Nadav Shragai is an Israeli author and journalist. He worked as a reporter for Israeli newspaper Haaretz starting in 1983 and retired in 2009. Today he continues to write as an author and academic, publishing a number of books on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In 1995 his book Temple of Dispute about the Temple Mount was published by Keter Publishing House.

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