After some lunch we heard our next speaker for the day, Jared Goldfarb, who focused on “The Jerusalem Question: Who’s asking? Who gets to answer?” Among many things Jared is a freelance Jewish/Israel educator around Israel. I have had discussions with Mr. Goldfarb in the past on OTZMA; he is a great speaker to listen to and asks us questions that force us to answer and start discussing.
He began his discussion with, of course, asking us a question: “Why are you here?” This led us into the topic of Jewish culture – because, let’s be real, everyone on OTZMA’s reasoning for coming to Israel had a lot to do with being Jewish. Jared said how much of the Jewish culture has to do with the city of Jerusalem. “Jerusalem is the undivided eternal capital for the Jewish people.” We talked about what it would mean if Jerusalem became an international city and if it were defined with borders that may change the shape and look of the city. If this were to happen would it may change Jerusalem physically, but would it change the Jerusalem that may only really need to be in our hearts?
To delve into the topic further we all hopped onto a bus and made our way to a look-out point overlooking Jerusalem. Jared said to look deep into the place that, over the years, has been constantly conquered, attacked, rebuilt, reidentified — layers and layers and layers and layers.
We then spoke about East Jerusalem. From 1948-1967 Jerusalem was a mixed city of the Western World on the west and the Middle Eastern world on the east. There was a fence that acted as a border diving the two and only diplomats could get across. In 1967 the Israeli forces conquered the city of Jerusalem, the fence came down, and there were no more borders between the two cultures. From then on, and even until today, each culture kind of stuck to themselves.
Today there around 800,000 people living in Jerusalem. 60% are Jewish and the rest are Palestinian/Arab. There are also a few thousand Christians. Although we always seem to hear the term, “an undivided Jerusalem,” each culture in this city is.. very much divided. So what exactly does it mean to be undivided? Is it just a good political term? In order to have a ‘United Jerusalem’ there are some options to choose from. Everyone living there would all be Jewish — a “Jewish Jerusalem” if you will. If the land is undivided then so are the people right? The downside of this is that people will be kicked out, and Jerusalem will not only be drawn differently but it will be completely redefined. Another option is to create a ‘City of Coexistence,’ a bi-national state. There will be one city as a capital of two nations — Israel and Palestine. The last option is to make Jerusalem neither Israel nor Palestine but ‘simply’ an international city.
After reflecting on this a bit further we got back onto the bus and drove through East Jerusalem.
Living here are Palestinians of Jerusalem who haven’t taken citizenship since 1967. If they do this would mean they would be recognizing the state of Israel which they currently do not do. Instead many here have a blue card which gives them basic rights, though important to note, this excludes the right to vote.
The main road of East Jerusalem is extremely small and narrow. This is the road where delivery trucks are supposed to drive on to deliver all of the necessary goods such as food and other large supplies. Since the people living here can not vote the municipality has the say in the look of the neighborhood, and let me tell you, it really doesn’t look that good. There are two sides to this voting problem — one is saying that you [Israel] should provide equally for all of your citizens [Palestinians with blue cards]. But the other side says if you don’t vote, well then you should get nothing.
While the Israeli government does provide some to this area, private Israeli companies such as Bezek (internet) or phone, television companies, etc. don’t typically come into East Jerusalem and provide services here. They feel it is unsafe and there is to bad of an infrastructure to set anything tangible up. We were asked whose fault is this? Israel’s? These are private companies so they can technically do as they please. How about the Palestinian Authority? Well they at least provide electricity.
After Jared was done giving us a tour of East Jerusalem we made our way to the Judean Youth Hostel where we would be spending a lot of our time over the course of the next five days. Mainly to sleep, but also to eat and hear some speakers. Mr. Goldfarb finished his discussion with us by asking what our opinion of East Jerusalem was and if we had any solutions to the current situation.
When he was done we were all quite tired from the day’s events. We still had one more speaker to listen to so we re-energized with some coffee and cakes and then sat down to listen to our final speaker of the day.