Who Cares Where Shoafat Is?

It is difficult to decide what is more unprofessional and foolish - the way the borders of Jerusalem were drawn 40 years ago or the talk about changing them today.

Meron Benvenisti
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Meron Benvenisti

It is difficult to decide what is more unprofessional and foolish - the way the borders of Jerusalem were drawn 40 years ago or the talk about changing them today. But perhaps something that was done with so little thought and in such an amateur fashion must be fated to be handled in similar fashion. It appears that dealing with matters considered to be of historical significance gives those who handle them a feeling of self-importance rather than of modesty and caution.

So they tend to rely too easily on mistaken assumptions and incorrect data which, as the years go by, are forgotten. And when their stupidity is revealed, it has already become covered in the shining armor of a national myth that it is forbidden to harm. Those who sketched the borders of Jerusalem in 1967 made all the possible mistakes. They were certain they were drawing the eastern border of Israel since the West Bank would be returned to Jordan, so they drew lines that "could be defended" - lines of a border rather than urban lines. They were interested only in reserves of land for building Jewish neighborhoods, and not in the Arab population that would be annexed. They conducted themselves according to the Zionist doctrine that asserts that only the Jewish factor is dynamic while the Arabs are always subject to manipulation. There was also no lack of comic considerations: fixing a border that would leave beyond it a factory for producing cigarettes and a distillery for Arak. And mayor Teddy Kollek wanted an airport. The entire giant area was annexed to Jerusalem because only under the aura of the holy city could such an appetite for control be justified. And in this way, the stony hills were anointed with holy oil and no one could take away their sanctity.

Over the years, all the mistaken assumptions and ludicrous considerations were disclosed. Israel remained in the entire West Bank, the hunger for control exceeded all limits and entire cities were set up over the sanctified border where the land, again, turned into holy land.

The Arab population was revealed as a dynamic force that grew threefold and threatened to win the demographic race. The geography of fear created psychological barriers that could not be crossed and turned the united city into a joke. Not one of the assumptions on which the borders were fixed held water, but these absurd borders - because of their very absurdity - were cemented in the form of a terrifying separation wall that was built along their length, as if to continue the march of folly and oppose anyone who revealed the absurdity.

And those people who started to talk of "subtracting neighborhoods at the edge" were the very same who had pushed for building the fence that ran along a route which included the neighborhoods now earmarked to be "subtracted." They hoped that no one would notice the contradiction, or perhaps out of amateurism and lack of thought, because, after all, who cares where Shoafat is?

The camps that formed once again reflected the lack of consideration on the part of the industry-for-finding-solutions-for-the-Jerusalem-problem. Spokesmen for Meretz on the left and Avigdor Lieberman on the right both support Vice Premier Haim Ramon's initiative, each with his own motives. The left is thrilled at the readiness to return territory while Lieberman is interested in the precedent of bureaucratic transfer that will "correct" the demographic balance. Ramon is interested in saving the expenses of paying insurance benefits which would be taken away from residents who are "subtracted."

On the opposite side are groups who are adamant about holding onto the very last Palestinian on the fringes of the city as the supreme test of Israeli patriotism. And after this clash led to the publication of maps, plans and draft laws, the Jerusalem Institute published a detailed study that revealed to what extent the argument was amateurish and thoughtless - it is almost impossible to "subtract" neighborhoods without destroying the fabric of life in the city, and it is extremely difficult (and of course immoral) to retract social benefits previously granted. It turns out that the lack of consideration created the borders of the annexation, gave birth to unexpected results and actually led to the economic improvement of Arab Jerusalem. But perhaps it was not the thoughtlessness that led to this but rather the colonialist bravado; that those who drew the borders over the generations added and subtracted thousands of people without asking their opinions. To day they are "inside" and tomorrow, when the fashion changes, they will be "out." This playing around with peoples' lives is the height of folly because anyone who wants to draw the future of the city must listen to the wishes of all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.