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Story Publication logo April 18, 2013

Jerusalem, Divided and United


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Jerusalem, the meeting point of three major religions, is always set aside as the final item to be...


For the entirety of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jerusalem has been set aside for after final status negotiations. The future of the city remains one of the stickiest of negotiating issues, alongside refugees. But setting aside a decision on a divided city, or an eternally unified one, is predicated on the idea that the city will, somehow, remain static. It has not. Indeed it is constantly morphing, and there are several challenges to a shared future.

The map of Jerusalem itself has not remained constant since the city was unified in 1967. Jewish settlements at the edges of the city have metastasized, changing the map of both the city itself, and the potential outlines of a future two state solution—a Jewish state along side a Palestinian state, each with a shared half of Jerusalem as its own capitol. Twenty-three thousand new building tenders in the contested neighborhoods of Jerusalem were issued in the last year alone, more than the last three years combined. One man—Daniel Seidmann—an attorney, and the director of an NGO called Terrestrial Jerusalem monitors the map to make sure that it will still be possible to create two states with contiguous geographic elements.

In the shadow of the American Colony Hotel, in East Jerusalem, sits the tiny neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a series of 28 homes built after 1948 by the Jordanians and UNWRA for Palestinian refugees. But those families live an uncomfortable, tenuous life: the land was Jewish-owned before the War of 1948 and Israeli law allows Jews to claim land that was once Jewish (in stark contrast to the Palestinians who claim homes in the West Jerusalem, those claims remain invalid). Over the last three years, radical Jewish settlers have used the quirk in Israeli law to uproot—or attempt to uproot—the Palestinian families, as a means to bind this area to the Western half of the city.

Ultimately, the city of Jerusalem is a city of histories. Some believe to claim the future you must own the past. In the shadow of the Old City walls, a battle is being waged between two sets of archaeologists, those who believe that the past was a direct link to King David, and those who see the many layers between the Second Temple period and the present. The contested area is known as Silwan, or the City of David. It is now one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel. It is also home to a modern, impoverished Palestinian community.


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