Jerusalem is like a mosaic with many pieces that when complete make an outstanding picture. When a piece of the mosaic is missing, the wholeness is destroyed and the focus is on what is missing.
The pieces of Jerusalem are its many peoples, ethnic groups, religions, communities, neighborhoods, cultures, traditions, smells, tastes, alleyways, churches, mosques and synagogues. Without these many pieces, Jerusalem would not be Jerusalem.
This diversity in Jerusalem is what I have always loved most about the city I have chosen to be my home, above all others. I celebrate this diversity and have worked over many years to help others to see the blessing of diversity that provides Jerusalem with the possibility of being the most special city in the world – the place that could be the global capital of understanding and peace. In modern times, Jerusalem has not come close to meeting its potential. Jerusalem has become the focal point and the core of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The more that Jerusalem is held or thought of as the possession of only one side of the conflict, the further it moves away from reaching its importance and its potential.
Nearly 40% percent of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians.
They have never recognized Jerusalem as a united city under Israel’s sovereignty. They consider east Jerusalem occupied territory. They have never been treated by Israel as belonging to the city and belonging in the city. The Palestinian parts of Jerusalem are the poorest parts, disadvantaged in every way imaginable, severely discriminated against in the allocation of resources and services. In the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, there are no zoning plans, building permits are almost impossible to receive. There is an immediate need for more than 2,000 classrooms for Palestinians in Jerusalem. There are not enough social workers, opens spaces, parks, sidewalks, or any other municipal services. The only really noticeable “improvement” in municipal services for Palestinians over the past years is the number of home demolitions.
Palestinians in Jerusalem are constantly at risk of losing their “right” to live in the city under Israeli law.
Properties owned by Jews prior to 1948 and lived in by Palestinians since are being claimed by Jewish settler associations claiming to represent the pre-1948 owners, making tens of Palestinian families homeless – and that number may go into the hundreds.
Palestinian owners of properties in west Jerusalem from before 1948 do not have the equal right to reclaim their properties in Talbiyeh, Katamon, Baka, Musrara and more. Now there are even plans to remove Kafr Aqab and the Shuafat refugee camp from within the Jerusalem municipal borders, meaning the over 100,000 Palestinians living there will lose their status as Jerusalem residents.
Palestinians in Jerusalem did not ask to become Israelis. Israel conquered them in 1967 and then declared their areas under Israeli sovereignty and issued them permits to live in Israel under the Law of Entry into the State of Israel. Since then they have Jerusalem resident identity cards and they pay taxes to the Jerusalem municipality.
Because of the non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem, Palestinians have so far chosen not to participate in Jerusalem’s municipal elections.
The right to participate in municipal elections is not connected to citizenship and goes back to the times of the British Mandate. Palestinians have been politically invisible in Jerusalem and not only are they losing Jerusalem, the chances of creating a shared city are disappearing.
Without finding the way to share Jerusalem, there will never be peace between Israel and Palestine. Just as Jerusalem is the center of the conflict, Jerusalem is also the center of any future peace. The official position of the Palestinians is that west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Two capitals in Jerusalem – one open, physically undivided city is the foundation of any future Israeli-Palestinian peace.
US President Donald Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and failure to mention that it is also the capital of Palestine has managed to sidetrack the Palestinian leadership from the real issues in Jerusalem – the rights of the people living in the city. Trump’s recognition is insignificant – it changes nothing in reality. Trump’s declaring that he removed Jerusalem from the table is equally insignificant; without Jerusalem there is no table. The people of Jerusalem – all of the people of Jerusalem – need to focus on saving Jerusalem. Our challenge is to raise Jerusalem to meet its potential – that means inclusion, participation, celebration of diversity and standing up for each other’s rights in Jerusalem.
This year on October 30, in the Jerusalem municipal elections, for the first time in history a joint Palestinian- Israeli list will run for the city council. Although the idea of a joint Palestinian-Israeli list for Jerusalem’s city council has been with me for more than two decades, its time has now arrived. Yerushalayim-Al Quds will be headed by Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian activist, entrepreneur and peace-builder, together with myself.
We have only just begun to work and even prior to a formal launch, tens of Palestinians and Israelis have already approached us to join. It is clear that our joint list will be composed of 50% Palestinians (Aziz will lead the list) and 50% Israelis. Women will be represented equally on both sides. The list will include social and political activists from all over Jerusalem – from Jerusalem’s social and economic peripheries, religious groups, including the ultra-Orthodox.
Yerushalayim-Al Quds presents a challenge to all Jerusalemites and an opportunity to save Jerusalem.
Yerushalayim-Al Quds can be the surprise of the elections and the best thing that has happened in Jerusalem and for Jerusalem. Yerushalayim-Al Quds will create the shared Jerusalem that celebrates the diversity and recognizes each other as belonging in Jerusalem and to Jerusalem. No population group or community will be invisible anymore in Jerusalem.
This is our chance – Jerusalem’s residents – Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Muslims and Christians, believers and non-believers, Mizrahim, Ashkenazim, ultra-Orthodox, Maqdasim (original Palestinian Jerusalemites), villagers, Hebronites, residents of the Old City, residents of Shuafat camp, all neighborhoods in the city – we can together take the fate and the future of Jerusalem in our hands. From Jerusalem will ring the bells of freedom and the message of hope! Jerusalem belongs to us all.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives (www.ipcri.org). His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.