At the dedication of Jerusalem's City Hall in June 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred to the mayor, Teddy Kollek, as "Herod the Second." Kollek was not pleased with the comparison - or at least pretended to be offended.
"Herod," he said, "mainly built grandiose structures and buildings for military purposes." In Kollek's eyes, "external grandiosity is not what's important; rather, it is building up people, establishing bridges of understanding between Jews and Muslims, Jews and Christians."
Most of the decisions Kollek made or supported were based on his Zionist worldview: He believed that creating physical and demographic facts on the ground was a proven way of ensuring the city' future as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people. Kollek, like all the leaders of his generation, did not hesitate to work toward this goal, under the principle that the borders of the Jewish collective would be set by its settlement.
That is how during Kollek's term as mayor (1965-1993), more than 60,000 apartments were built, including more than 35,000 in areas annexed in 1967. The city's Jewish population increased from 200,000 in 1967 to 400,000 in 1993. The Arab population increased from 70,000 to 150,000. The area of municipal jurisdiction grew from some 40 square kilometers on the eve of the Six-Day War to 108 square kilometers after the reunification, reaching 123 square kilometers in 1993. Jerusalem was transformed from a sleepy, peripheral city into a huge metropolis, but at a heavy cost. The development from the outside inward weakened the historic city center. The migration of the established classes to the suburbs weakened the city's socio-economic base, and the sprawl placed a substantial burden on the city's services, which were overextended to begin with. Patriotic arguments helped attain approval for hasty, poorly planned building projects that often dealt a harsh blow to the skyline.
Alongside the unwanted developments, many accomplishments filled the mayor with satisfaction. Mostly, Kollek emphasized the rapid growth of neighborhoods built in the 1970s and 1980s; the restoration of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City; the refurbishing of the old markets; the construction of the national park around the walls of the Old City and the Tower of David Museum; the establishment of dozens of public parks, and cultural institutions along the "cultural mile"; the preservation of old neighborhoods and historical buildings; the building of the Jerusalem Zoo; and the development of high-tech industries.
A Viennese hedonist
His critics accused him of investing in cultural projects far removed from the needs of most of Jerusalem's struggling residents, but Kollek rejected these claims.
"It was hard," he wrote, "to convince Jerusalem's residents of the necessity, value and importance of beauty. Most of Jerusalem's citizens did not bring with them a tradition of beauty from their countries of origin," he wrote with a hint of Viennese condescension.
Kollek's contribution to beautifying Jerusalem and the evolving - puritanical and provincial - Israeli society was unique. It stemmed from his worldview, which was shaped in the city of his birth, Vienna. His background was very different from that of the state's founding fathers as well as his colleagues, who were born in Israel.
The pioneers came mostly from Eastern European farms, and were raised on Jewish culture and the revolutionary tradition of Russia. They were tough, instilled with a sense of a higher mission, and they clung to their goals. They felt threatened in a hostile world, and strove to overcome this by means of willpower. Their experiences made them perceive the world as a dichotomy: those for and against us. His native-born peers were born into the Jewish-Arab conflict, and regarded everything beyond their provincial space with suspicion, due to the restrictions imposed by the language barrier.
Kollek was different: He did not feel threatened by gentiles. On the contrary, he enjoyed their company. He did not bore them with ideology, and did not demand atonement for Jewish suffering. Kollek reached out to the great wide world, and it received him warmly.
The founding fathers watched with amusement as he tried to add a bit of beauty and sophistication to the besieged State of Israel, which faced existential threats. They left him to deal with setting up national parks, radio stations, tourist attractions and a national museum. Not everyone complimented him. Many envied his joie de vivre, openness and audacity to try to understand the world. He was troubled by the attitude of his colleagues, who saw his concern for "marginal" matters as evidence of his lack of seriousness.
With this baggage, Kollek positioned himself center stage for a new scene in the age-old tragedy called Jerusalem. A person with broad horizons, vibrant and optimistic, Kollek found himself at the head of a zealous, tough, divided city filled with tragedy. He not only led it for a generation, but also became its shining symbol - until the substantial contradiction between the man, his character and his views, and his city, its qualities and character and his advanced age, overcame the man.
Kollek came to this city as a great healer. He knew the city was seeking solace, not a prophet of doom, as it had an ample supply of the latter. He sought to influence through the force of his activism, to distract his subjects from their day-to-day struggles and convince them life was beautiful beyond their destructive hates. He was not a naive man and he had no illusions, but his worldview did not let him perceive reality as a tribal war without a solution. His approach was to treat the symptoms of the conflict and to help people live with the problem, in the hope that time would eventually enable a solution.
The good hero
His activity was filled with contradictions. His positions were uncompromising: "The demand of the Arabs that Jerusalem be recognized as their capital as well has no basis in reality, and we must reject it outright. Jerusalem will not be divided. It will be the capital of Israel, only the capital of Israel, and a unified city under its sovereignty."
He saw the Arabs as a religious and ethnic minority whose rights must be respected. His strategy relied on the "mosaic theory," which viewed the model of the Old City's ethnic quarters as a successful model of coexistence, based on separate, unhindered ethnic and cultural development.
He strove to keep the Arab population quiet by improving services. He believed improving their standard of living would persuade them they were being treated with fairness and equality. Kollek did not see the contradiction between "separate development and peaceful coexistence" and the appropriation of Arab lands and construction of Jewish neighborhoods across the 1948 armistice line. He considered appropriating one-third of the annexed area as a means of "preventing a new division of the city along the line separating the two communities." He considered the Palestinians' opposition to this policy an expression of political hostility.
He distinguished between building homogeneous Jewish neighborhoods, which suited the mosaic theory, and extremist groups' "attempts to plop Jews into the heart of Arab neighborhoods," occasionally with government support. Kollek did not mince his words in opposing such moves, and he even held a one-man protest against them: "They are nurturing the Arab hatred and the international opposition to Israel's control of unified Jerusalem ... anyone who creates areas of friction that upset Jerusalem's tranquillity is serving the interests of Israel's enemies."
There was a clear public relations element in the mayor's policy of "patience, tolerance and time." Kollek devoted a large share of his time to nurturing international ties and hosted lofty delegations and personalities, and this policy did indeed bear fruit. Statements of wonder and support were heard from all over, reinforcing the sense that "the Jerusalem problem" could be pushed to the bottom of the agenda of the permanent status talks, and in the meantime, the status quo could continue. This status quo was based on principles set by Kollek: equality in municipal services; the right to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections; non-intervention in the education system of state-municipal schools; and Muslim control of the Temple Mount.
In the dialogue with the Palestinian population, Kollek filled the role of "the good guy" and was seen favorably by all, Jews and Arabs alike. No one deluded himself into thinking that Kollek was not part of the establishment, but he was considered the hero, the sane one. In the tragedy called Jerusalem, one universally loved figure was a necessity; otherwise the despair would eat away at everyone.
A slap in the face
For many years, it seemed that the conflicted city was captivated by the charm of the great healer. It was like the calm before a storm. Kollek remained loyal to government decisions, even while he deliberated how long he could put his international prestige in the service of the regime, prestige that became a fig leaf for actions he opposed, like the 1980 Jerusalem Law.
He was a party to Israeli government policy in East Jerusalem, but his approach was more complex than that of others: He did not believe land could be annexed without its inhabitants. Therefore he fought for - and barely obtained - welfare benefits, freedom of movement, an independent education system, a relatively free press and the non-imposition of the Absentee Property Owner's Law for East Jerusalem's Arab residents. The proof of his approach's success is these residents' unwillingness to lose all these rights under potential Palestinian rule.
But the rifts burst forth one day in December 1987. The intifada destroyed the illusion that Kollek's policy had created stable coexistence. Kollek felt like he had been slapped in the face, as if the intifada were a personal affront. Kollek continued with his policy of "tolerance," and only rarely responded harshly to violent Palestinian protests, but it was obvious he had lost his self-confidence.
He did, however, retract his decision not to run for re-election in 1993, but the Jewish voters turned their backs, and the Arab voters stayed home.
After 28 years as the mayor of Israel's capital, Kollek vacated his seat for Ehud Olmert. The power change quickly led to attempts to damage the legendary mayor's name. Some said Kollek intentionally neglected East Jerusalem and was called "the defender of the Arabs" thanks only to successful public relations designed to hide the lies and neglect. The man who coined the slogan "unified Jerusalem forever and ever" was said to have become a supporter of transferring Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians.
Kollek himself never responded. He felt his unique place in the annals of the eternal city could not be undermined.