Some time has passed since Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Holocaust survivor, published his "For Jerusalem: An Open Letter to President Obama,"1 addressing United States President Barack Obama in full-page advertisements in the influential and globally read American newspapers: the New York Times (April 18, 2010), the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune (April 16, 2010). Several friends of mine in London, Washington, New York, Berlin and even Sydney, who knew I was a Jerusalemite - born and bred, who learned the history and meaning of every single stone in the Old City - urged me to respond. The same people were also puzzled by Wiesel's motives in embarking on such an expensive advertising campaign, when he had had the opportunity to convey his thoughts and make his request in a face-to-face encounter with the American president at a dinner one or two nights before. And, as he claimed, he had gotten the impression that Obama "respected his advice to postpone discussions on Jerusalem" until the end of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Why did Wiesel make such an appeal when the so-called proximity negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians had just begun? The answer was readily provided by the highly respected Israeli Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy: Wiesel was "on a mission from his… friend Benjamin Netanyahu…." [Netanyahu] "sent him and asked him to do" just that: "To postpone. Postpone and postpone." The irony is that a man with such credentials, who the Nobel Prize committee said is a "messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity" is doing exactly the opposite," Levy stressed. "With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies." ("The Friend," Haaretz, June 5, 2010).
Before elaborating on my views relating to this blunt and unusual form of paid media pressure on American public opinion and, consequently, on the president who has labored with admirable determination to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, I should point to the resounding "NO"s by Netanyahu's right-wing government regarding nearly all the vital final status issues: borders, settlements, refugees and, especially, Jerusalem.Heartened by Jewish and Israeli Reactions
The burden of expressing my views regarding this most wonderful of cities has been alleviated by reading the response of 100 Jewish Jerusalemites - academics, political activists and community leaders - to Wiesel's claims.2 More important than their number is the fact that their response came in the form of a letter published in the New York Review of Books (May 27, 2010) in which they expressed "frustration, even outrage" at Wiesel's claims, adding that they wished Jerusalem to be a symbol of dignity, "not of hubris, inequality, and discrimination."
Having waited all that while to respond to Wiesel's wild claims, indeed lies, may have been prompted by a desire to absorb his purpose and motives and a stronger desire to consider Israeli and Jewish reactions to the content and timing of this advertising campaign. This seemed important, particularly after having talked with and listened to fair-minded Israeli intellectuals many times in the past few years and having found that we shared similar views on the need for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Accordingly, a group of Jewish American leaders launched an online petition, "For the Sake of Zion,"3 urging an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The petition was signed by dozens of prominent American rabbis, judges, writers, academics, and philanthropists; they were "encouraged" by the recent European petition "Call for Reason,"4 signed by more than 7,000 Jewish citizens of European countries. The American Jewish leaders go on to say that they categorically condemn terrorism, but, at the same time, [they] "abhor the continuing occupation that has persisted for far too long; it cannot and should not be sustained." Indeed, this respectable and decent call by Jewish leaders in Europe, the U.S., and Israel goes a long way in reinforcing Palestinian aspirations to end Israel's 43 years of occupation and to establish a state of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital.A City Not Above Politics
With respect to "terrorism," clearly, no one should condone violence, in whatever form, against a civilian population; however, one is immediately reminded of what the Israeli forces did to the impoverished, mostly refugee population of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. And it should be noted that this type of terror was introduced into Palestine by Jewish groups after the First World War and before the creation of the state of Israel: the assassination of United Nations mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and the massacre at Deir Yassin and other Palestinian villages, which forced 800,000 people to flee Palestine and to become refugees ever since. These were but the tip of the iceberg of Jewish terrorism at the time; their aim was to expedite the establishment of the state of Israel.
After 43 years of occupation and without a glimmer of hope, it is not surprising that some Palestinian groups have resorted to violence in desperation. It would appear that history has come full circle but in reverse. In their letter, the Jewish Jerusalemites accused Wiesel of being blind to history and the realities of life in Jerusalem today, including to the systematic discrimination against the Arab population, stressing very clearly that the Arab part of the city was "utterly neglected [and] used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiations," all the while frantically Judaizing East Jerusalem in order "to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition." Isn't that one of Wiesel's and, thus, Netanyahu's ultimate objectives for the status of Jerusalem? I cannot but agree with the content of their letter; I, especially concur with their qualifying "doubly outrageous" Wiesel's claim that "Jerusalem is above politics."
Contemporary Jerusalem was created, as the whole world knows, by a political decision and its boundaries drawn shortly after the 1967 War by Israeli generals and politicians. By trying to enforce the unification of the two parts, they created "an unwieldy behemoth, encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem." Having been commissioned to write the political and historical parts of Jordan's submission on the "Israeli Separation Wall" to the International Court of Justice, I traveled through Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to observe and research. My immediate conclusion was in agreement with reports that I had read before: The tortuous municipal boundaries of today's Jerusalem stretch from the outskirts of Ramallah in the north to the edge of Bethlehem in the south, with a full circle of dozens of settlements and a monstrous wall that separates the city from its natural environment. The result is a total cut-off from the rest of the West Bank and its Palestinian population.
Again, we can clearly see on whose behalf Wiesel undertook his expensive advertising campaign and made his outrageous statements, when we note that in their letter, these same Jewish writers had this to say in response to Wiesel: "Now the [Israeli] government calls this artificial fabrication 'Jerusalem' in order to obviate any approaching chance for peace."Ignoring Thousands of Years of Non-Jewish History
I am truly compelled to invite Mr. Wiesel to read the Holy Qur'an once more if he has read it before, though I am certain he never did. If he had, he surely would have noticed that the Holy City and many sites within it are referenced several times in the Qur'an. He might start with the mention of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Surat Al-Isra'a (17:1), or the implicit reference to Jerusalem in Surat Al-Najm (53: 6-19). More to the point, Netanyahu's scriptural argument is hardly supportive of his cause, seeing that the scripture which mentions Jerusalem 767 times is not the Jewish holy book at all, but is in fact the Christian Bible (specifically the King James Version). If Netanyahu means to say that Jerusalem belongs to whichever religion mentions its name the most, then the Israeli prime minister really ought to cede possession of the city to the pope. Of course, neither I, nor Netanyahu, and not even the pope, can genuinely believe that control of this great city "belongs" to any one faith, based on such an arbitrary measure.
Wiesel makes another outrageous claim that "[t]oday, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines," further adding that "contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city." At this point, I totally agree with former Israeli Cabinet Minister Yossi Sarid, who said that "someone has deceived Elie Wiesel." An Arab not only may not build "anywhere," but "he should thank his God if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out onto the street with his family and belongings." The Nobel laureate must have read or heard about the Madis and the Kurds and other Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah, who have been living there long before the state of Israel came into existence and who have been uprooted and made refugees in tents outside their homes "because certain Jews are chafing from Jerusalem space constraints," as Sarid said ("For Jerusalem, a response to Elie Wiesel," Haaretz, April18, 2010).
Reading Wiesel's advertisements in the major American newspapers or quotations from them in other international journals, several people may have concluded that peace had finally taken root in the Holy City of Peace. To read that Jews, Christians and Muslims can now worship unimpeded at their respective holy sites in Jerusalem can only lead to such a conclusion. The reality, unfortunately, is totally different. To me, having criss-crossed historic Palestine from north to south in the process of data collection on the separation wall, it is clearly apparent that Wiesel's statement is a big lie. The Israeli system of the huge concrete wall, roadblocks, checkpoints, permits, settlements, Israelis-only roads and many other similar facts on the ground make it virtually impossible for millions of indigenous Palestinians to ever reach their holy shrines in Jerusalem. If by miracle some manage to obtain permits, they must be over 50 years of age and pose no security threat. Dr. Issam Malkawi, professor of political science at Jordan University, and I were at a conference in Jerusalem a few months ago. As Friday came, we decided to attend Friday prayers in al-Aqsa Mosque. Being a Jeruslamite and knowing the Old City well, I led him through its narrow alleys, which I knew by heart, in order to avoid Israeli police checkpoints. Alas, we were stopped on three occasions; we were searched and asked to show our passports with proper visas, in spite of the fact that we were both over 50 - in fact, well over 60.Jerusalem - A Red Line
Israel's provocative measures, which clearly seek the postponement of negotiations with the objective of altering the cultural and religious identity of Jerusalem, and thus threaten its sacred sites, have caused a great deal of frustration with Netanyahu's government in the Arab and Muslim worlds. King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country concluded a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, expressed strong feelings of dismay about Israel's unilateral actions in Jerusalem in statements that were widely reported in the international media. "Jerusalem is a red line," he said, and "one cannot be silent over Israel's attempts to change realities in the city." Besides being a Hashemite, a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian monarch is obviously angered by those actions which "threaten peace prospects and push the region towards a new cycle of conflict and violence." It should be noted that the Washington Declaration signed by King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel on July 25,1994, recognized and accepted Jordan's role as Custodian and Protector of Muslim and Christian shrines in Jerusalem and, hence, King Abdullah's sense of let-down and betrayal. It is not surprising, therefore, for the king to express his views in such strong language, saying that Israel was "playing with fire" in East Jerusalem, and adding a clear warning that "all political, legal and diplomatic options are open for dealing with Israeli violations of international law."
Finally, what if, hypothetically, the issue of Jerusalem were to be postponed until the last stage of negotiations, what should we expect? Fifty thousand housing units added to the existing settlements and new settlements mushrooming around Jerusalem, extending well into the Dead Sea hills? This is a scheme already approved by the Israeli government, thus increasing the Jewish population of Metropolitan Jerusalem by another 250,000 settlers. All this will happen at the expense of the existing Palestinian population of the city, who will be robbed of their lands and will have their homes demolished; who, like the inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Ras el- Amud, will be evicted and forced into refugee status - all this with a total disregard by the Israeli authorities of the numerous United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions about Jerusalem according to which any change in the city is considered illegal and null and void.A Sign of Optimism?
In conclusion, I find Levy's comment [in Haaretz] a sign of optimism, particularly when he says that instead of talking to Obama about postponement, Wiesel should have talked about "the opportunity to establish a just peace (and a just Israel)"; instead of talking about "the outrageous injustice to the Palestinians," he talked about "perpetuating the occupation."
Again, I find nothing more accurate or true than a quote from the American Jewish leaders' petition, which I hope Netanyahu and his emissary, Wiesel, would find the time to read and consider in good faith: "Occupation and the continuing pursuit of settlements in the West Bank and in the Arab districts of Jerusalem… are morally and politically wrong," as they feed "the unacceptable de-legitimization process that Israel currently faces abroad." Indeed, after reading the Israeli, European and American Jewish responses to Wiesel's propaganda campaign, the one conclusion that emerges is that "Israel will soon be faced with two equally disastrous choices": a nation struggling to achieve independence and the right to self-determination by violent means and hate-provoked actions with tragic consequences for both peoples, as one obvious choice; or two nations in one state, based on an apartheid regime that would lead to a new dimension of struggle and more bloodshed. For everybody's sake, we pray wisdom will finally prevail.
1 For a full version of the text, please see Documents, p 261.
2 For a full version of the response, see Documents, p 262.
3 For a full versión of the text, see Documents p 260.
4 Full a full version of the text, see Documents p 259.