When I was born, a Palestinian family lived where my house now stands. My Jerusalem neighborhood, Kiryat Yovel, was built during the 1950’s on the lands of the Palestinian village Beit Mazmil. The residents of Beit Mazmil were driven from their homes during fighting in this part of Jerusalem during the war of ’48. Sometimes when I am weeding my garden, I wonder who was working this same ground until 70 years ago. Where are the residents of Beit Mazmil? Where did they go, and where are their children and grandchildren living today?
The Arab neighboring states rejected the UN Partition Agreement of ’47 and attacked us, and we fought to establish our country. For most of the world, the borders established at the end of the ’48 war are not in dispute. In 1967, we fought another war, and sovereignty over the lands we conquered during that war is disputed to this day.
Seven U.S. presidents understood that non-interference in the delineation of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods was the best policy: Jerusalem’s borders and status would be determined as part of the comprehensive peace agreement, an agreement that has eluded us until now. All the presidents knew that the ’67 cease-fire lines would be the basis for any negotiation, and they wisely avoided creating facts that would jeopardize whatever agreement could be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. Then here comes Donald Trump, promising the “Deal of the Century,” and weeks before his plan is revealed, he declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Netanyahu is celebrating, and even the cowardly “moderate” parties are pounding him on the back. In the speech he gave last night Trump declared, “We are not taking a position on any final-status issues….” Of course he has taken a position on final-status issues! Otherwise, would he not have mentioned the Palestinians’ claim on East Jerusalem? What did he expect the Palestinians’ response to be? Who needed this?
Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since the State of Israel was declared. One third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinian, and they live in East Jerusalem. These Palestinians long for the day when, together with peace, East Jerusalem will become the capital of their new country, Palestine. One does not have to be an expert in systems-theory to understand that, in such an explosive situation, no one-sided “victory” can lead towards quiet. Ariel Sharon one-sidedly withdrew the settlers from Gaza, ignoring Palestinian offers to negotiate the terms of this withdrawal. This one-sided withdrawal, leaving control of Gaza’s borders in Israeli hands, led to years of bombardments and counter-bombardments, three Gaza wars and enormous loss of life. Now another one-sided move has been made, and this time the instigator lives elsewhere.
We tremble as we listen to the hourly news. Extremists on both sides are issuing fearsome declarations. Thousands of young Palestinians have taken to the streets. Ambulances are screaming through Issawiyeh, just below the French Hill neighborhood.
The mayor of Jerusalem wants to open the square at City Hall for celebrative dancing. There are no celebrations here in my house. This move is so short-sighted. Until we acknowledge the damage we have done to the people who lived here before we came, until we see to it that Palestinians can get up in the morning in their own land as free citizens, just as we do, there will be no respite, and things will go from bad to worse.