Moshe Leon is to be congratulated on being elected the new mayor of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. It was a hard-fought campaign against Ofer Berkovitch, head of the Hitorerut party,which garnered almost half the votes. It could have gone either way, and was an expression of the feelings of the residents of Jerusalem. Now it’s time to run the city as a united one.
Unfortunately, very few of Jerusalem’s Arab residents participated in the election – not enough to elect an Arab member to the city council. The absence of such a council member will be sorely felt. Hopefully, this will change in the next election.
The task facing the new mayor and the new city council is to make Jerusalem a truly united city. As we all know only too well Jerusalem is not a really a united city at present. Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries were established by a decision of the government of Israel after the Six-Day War.
Fifty one years later, it does not matter what were the reasons behind that decision. The municipal boundaries have not been changed since then, and should not be changed. They have become the symbol of a united Jerusalem, of a realty that ties the Jewish and Arab population of the city together. Jerusalem should be united and not divided.
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It is in Jerusalem that we can measure whether or not there has been progress in the integration of the city’s Arab residents and Jewish residents. This reflects and has a dramatic impact on the problems of integration of Israel’s Arab citizens in the larger society and economy.
The primary difference is the fact that the large majority of Jerusalem’s Arabs are not Israeli citizens, although most have the option of receiving Israeli citizenship. The difficulties that the Ministry of Interior places before Arabs applying for Israeli citizenship is evidence that there are forces in Israel reluctant to promote this move. Not everyone supports it. There is progress, but it is very slow.
It is in the economic sphere that integration is most apparent. Much of Jerusalem’s economy is in the hands of Arabs residing in East Jerusalem – bus and taxi transportation, hotels and restaurants, and commercial establishments. Nowadays it is difficult to visualize Jerusalem functioning without its Arab residents.
It is in the physical appearance and living conditions of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods that the differences are, to say the least, shocking and tend to encourage hostility and even violence among its Arab residents and violence between Arab and Jewish residents, rather than not social integration. This is a major challenge now facing the mayor, the new municipal council, and the government.
It should come as no surprise that many of the same problems that Jerusalem’s Arab residents face in integrating into Israel’s society and economy, are also experienced by Arab citizens of Israel who live Jerusalem. Uniting Jerusalem can be viewed as part of the relationship between Jews and Arabs throughout Israel.
It is here that Jerusalem has a major role to play in the development of the country as a whole. Not only as Israel’s capital, but as an example of how to bring Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens to work amicably together for the benefit of their country and for their mutual benefit.
Jerusalem needs to be united, but Jerusalem also has the power to unite. Success in Jerusalem will lead to success throughout the country.