Israel Keeps Stranglehold on Jerusalem

By Ruether, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Israel Keeps Stranglehold on Jerusalem

Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter

Attempts by some Jews and Christians to make exclusive claims on Jerusalem have plunged the city into crisis.

Recognizing a growing problem, a conference in East Jerusalem in late January stressed the rich cultural diversity of the city throughout its long history and the equal rights of all three Abrahamic faiths-Judaism, Christianity and Islam--to religious attachment there.

Theological reflection on Jerusalem as a city for many peoples and three faiths,in contrast with exclusive claims, was the meeting's key. Specifically, the conference-envisioned as a positive step to express a prophetic vision and to raise awareness internationally--was about "the significance of Jerusalem for Christians and Christians for Jerusalem."

Organizers were aware of the most recent territorial and demographic reshaping of Jerusalem, which began with the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 and continues at a rapid pace today.

In 1967 the government of Israel not only annexed East Jerusalem as defined under Jordanian rule but expanded its boundaries to 10 times its I former size. Israel drew a gerrymandered territorial boundary around Palestinian East Jerusalem. Authorities avoided areas of Palestinian residency but defined open land owned by these Palestinians as state land or "green spots" on which Palestinians could not build. These areas with in expanded Jerusalem have continually been redefined as areas of"public utility" for the construction of exclusively Jewish settlements. Remaining Palestinian communities between these settlements have been denied the right to expand, isolating and suffocating them.

There has also been an extensive Judaization of the Old City. After 1967, the Moroccan quarter was completely razed to create a plaza in front of the Waiting Wall. Many Palestinian homeowners were expelled from an expanded and rebuilt Jewish quarter. In the past decade and a half, there has been a house-by-house takeover of properties in the Muslim and Christian quarters by militant Jewish settlers, many of whom belong to religious groups that are awaiting the destruction of the Muslim Dome of the Rock, a mosque that is the oldest extant Islamic monument, in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple in its place. These settlers see themselves as preparing the way for this "redemptive" event.

The October 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation' Organization postponed a decision on the disposition of Jerusalem until May 1996. But Israel has only accelerated the building of settlements in the past three years in what seems to be a frantic rare to consolidate a commanding Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and the marginalization of the remaining Arabs. Even today. the large settlement of Har Homa for 30,000 residents in its first stage is being planned. for the remaining forested area north of Bethlehem on land taken from the villages of Beit Sahour and Um Tuba.

In addition to expanding settlements within the territory annexed in 1967, Israel has also been shaping a second ring of settlements reaching beyond Ramallah in the north. almost to Jericho in the east and down to Hebron in the south. and is engaged in defining this zone as "Greater Jerusalem." All together. this ring of settlements around former East Jerusalem encompasses some 30 percent of the former West Bank. Israel is also engaged in major projects of confiscation of Palestinian agricultural land to build bypass roads that link these various Jewish settlements to one another, while Palestinian towns are isolated from one another and denied access to Jerusalem.

Beginning with the Gulf War in January 1991 and accelerating with the peace accords of 1993, Israel has been tightening the noose around West Bank Palestinian communities near Jerusalem as well as marginalizing those Palestinians who live within the area. Numerous fortified roadblocks have been thrown up on the roads that lead from Palestinian communities such as Ramallah, Bethany and Bethlehem.

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