June 1997 marked thirty years since the momentous six day war thrust Israel in control of both parts of the city of Jerusalem.
That war followed a period of nineteen years, during which no Jew was allowed to live, pray or enter the Old City or any part of East Jerusalem. During those years, Arab municpal authorities in East Jerusalem obliterated all synagogues, cemeteries and or any trace of a Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The period of 1948-1967 was the first time since the 1099 Crusader massacre of Jerusalem’s Jews that the Jewish people were barred from the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Teddy Kollek, who was Mayor of Jerusalem at the time of the 1967 six day war and remained such until 1993, addressed the Middle East Forum at the Radisson Moriah Hotel in Jerusalem on June 5, on the anniversary of the Six Day War.
Kollek mentioned matter of factly that he wanted to facilitate an irreversable process of Israeli presence in every section of Jerusalem. To accomplish that purpose, Kollek declared, he was determined to settle Israelis in every area of Jerusalem, as his answer to the policies that had excluded Jews from some areas.
Teddy Kollek mentioned the other challenge that he sought to achieve for Jerusalem’s future was to improve and equalize every level of medical, social and educational service for Jerusalem’s Arab population.
Kollek candidly stated that he had not full accomplished the goal of equalization of services during his tenor as Mayor.
Kollek did point to the fact that the Jeruslaem municpality, under his direction, had pioneered social, educational and medical facilities for Arabs, where few had existed before. Kollek was proud to say that he gave orders to leave the Jordanian curriculum in tact, except for what Kollek described as the Arab arithmetic lessons which said that “if you have ten Jews and you kill six of them you have still have four Jews”
Kollek was not alone in reflecting that the inequality of services for Jerusalem’s Arab population reflects an oversight to be addressed. The Arab human rights expert, Bassam Eid, who was one of half a dozen experts to address the IPCRI conference on the occasion of the thirtieth year to Israel establishing its permanent presence in Jeruslem, presented facts and figures concerning the lack of resources made available to the Arabs in Jerusalem. The Israeli human rights group Bitzelem followed with a blistering thirtieth year report that addressed the difficulties faced by Arabs at the district office of the Israel Ministry of Interior
David Cassuto, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, chose the month of June 1997 to go on the hustings and address every possible audience with a clear message; Cassuto followed Kollek at the Middle East Forum and presented a paper that encouraged Jerusalem’s Arab population to organize themselves into a voting bloc that could potentionally take at least nine seats on Jerusalem’s municipality. “If the black hats can do it, why can’t you”, asked Cassuto.
Playing on the theme that “taxation requires representation”, Cassuto spent a good portion of the month of June in meetings with Jerusalem’s Arab leaders, imploring them to break the tabu of participation in Jerusalem’s electoral process in the forthcoming 1998 munipality elections. Cassuto stressed in every meeting with Jerusalem’s Arabs that he was not asking them to relinquish whatever attitude they have to Zionism, Israel or to Israel’s national elections.
Current Palestinian Arab understanding of Israel’s presence in Jerusalem was reflected in a study produced and presented by the University of Maryland’s Dr Jerome Segal and Al Najach University Professor Nadar Said, who together presented the first comprehensive study of Palestinian Arab views to the subject of Jerusalem in the peace process at the Jerusalem Center for Policy Studies.
Segal and Said showed that Palestinian Arabs, both in Jerusalem and in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestine Authority, now recognize a permanent Israeli presence in all parts of Jerusalem where Jews reside – showing that Arabs cope with the changed Jerusalem reality in a way that had never existed before.
Yet senior Palestine Authority researcher Walid Awad, who addressed the Middle East Forum with Kollek and Cassuto, declared that it was the policy of the Palestine Authority that no Palestinian Arab should partipate in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, until Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines that existed in Jerusalem prior to 1967. The audience at the Radisson Moriah Hotel gasped at the thought that Ramot, Gilo, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Neve Yaakov, East Talpiot and the Old City would have to revert to Arab rule as part of a peace settlement in the future.
Awad’s statement of PA Jerusalem policy reflected another side of Segal and Said’s study, that presented two findings that reflected Palestinian Arab popular support for Awad’s position: Segal and Said found that 94% of Palestinian Arabs surveyed stated they could never accept Israel’s permanent sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and 72% declared that they would “use any means” to regain independence for the Arabs of Jerusalem.
David Cassuto’s campaign for Arab political participation in Jerusalem’s political process has fallen on deaf ears of the PLO, the Palestine Authority, and the leaders of Jerusalem’s Arab population.
The question that Arab Jerusalemites will have to cope with in the near future remains: Does an underserviced and unrepresented Arab population in Jerusalem’s municipality serve their best interests?