The Jerusalem2050 Visionaries Conference was held at MIT in April 2005. At that time there were 175,000 Jewish residents living in parts of metropolitan Jerusalem that had been conquered during the June 1967 war. These residents inhabited several Jewish neighborhoods – French Hill, Neve Ya’akov, Ramot Alon, East Talpiyot, Har Homa, Pisgat Ze’ev, Gilo, and others – that had over the past thirty-eight years filled up the area labeled “East Jerusalem” with modern urban sprawl. Additionally, dozens of Jewish families had established “outposts” within Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem – Ma’aleh Zeitim in Ras el Amud, Kidsmat Tzion in Abu Dis, and others – making that contiguity thicker and deeper. Still, The Visionaries Conference saw fit to try to understand what it would take to make Jerusalem a place where “diverse citizenries can co-exist in benign, yet creative, ways.”
Scroll back to 1967 and you see the ongoing historical and political process: West Jerusalem, that part of Jerusalem that was under Israeli rule since 1948, was thirty-eight square kilometers in area. East Jerusalem, under Jordanian rule, was six square kilometers in area. Immediately after the 1967 war, Israel formally annexed not only that small area, but also an additional sixty-four square kilometers, including twenty-eight Palestinian villages, and called it all Jerusalem. This formality was crucial and essential: differentiated from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, even from the West Bank itself – which could be and would be more or less debatable – Jerusalem, all one hundred and eight square kilometers of it, became a legal part of Israel (albeit legal according to Israeli law only, and in explicit opposition to international law). In the ensuing thirty-eight years – from 1967 to 2005 – the trajectory was clear: a regular annual rise in Jewish population in (the expanded) East Jerusalem and a corresponding annual rise in housing units. Less quantifiable, but in no way less substantive, was the original adoption, then overall acceptance, and finally insistence by the Israeli consciousness of East Jerusalem as a legitimate, natural, and sine qua non part of Israel. Scroll forward – fast forward – to the last four years, between 2005 and 2009. In these years the population of Jews in East Jerusalem has continued to rise, not strikingly but rather in accordance with the regularity of the past forty years, to almost two hundred thousand. And this week the headlines screamed about nine-hundred new units approved by the District Planning and Construction Committee to expand the “old” neighborhood of Gilo.
It is not politics or demographics that I am writing about. It is not Obama’s demands and attendant waffles over expansion of settlements or even the settlement project in general as the ultimate icon of Israeli occupation. It is not the question of conflict and compromise over security and land that befuddles and amazes. It is only the inexorable trajectory of the Israeli Jerusalem project and its successful end-point in the Israeli mind. Mainstream Israel views not only the French Hill (settled in 1968 by up-and-coming Israeli yuppies), Gilo (settled in 1970), and East Talpiyot (settled in 1970), but also Pisgat Ze’ev (settled in 1980) and Har Homa (settled in 1991) as standard Jerusalem suburbs. Jerusalem – all of it – does not seem to belong to the commonplace discourse of “getting out of the territories” or “dismantling the settlements.” (Indeed, when talk of “solutions” occurs, Jerusalem is enumerated alongside, but separately from, borders, settlements, and refugees.) For forty-two years the relentless course of the Jewish urban takeover of greater Jerusalem has suffered a minimum number of setbacks and is now enjoying a predictable triumph. The name of that triumph is “the heart of the consensus.” Jerusalem – all of it – is in the heart of Israeli consensus.
Poignantly, we are launching the Jerusalem2050 website at the same time that Jerusalem has come to the fore with the brouhaha over the Gilo plans for expansion. But notice the point of upset, the source of rancor. This is not, say the almost unanimous defenders of the plans, an outpost, not a settlement, not a contested “new” neighborhood (at one point, every single one of these neighborhoods was new) where Palestinians are being ousted from their houses. This is Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem, in the heart of Israeli consensus. On the other side, however, on the Palestinian side, and in the international discourse, this heart of Israeli consensus is just as consensually illegal, consensually immoral, consensually Occupation. The gap between the sides is now immeasurably wide, a virtually unbridgeable gulf of psyches. While Jerusalem2050 dreams of “a dialogue that would allow us to discuss Jerusalem and elicit visions for its future,” the ever-continuing facts on the ground have created unyielding chasms of conception and perception. The terms and vocabulary of the dialogue must be altered, it now seems, if visions are ever to be realized.
- Anat Biletzki