The Bridge and the Wall

The majority agree that the separation wall symbolizes Jerusalem more than the Strings Bridge. Should a neglected, filthy city with a impoverished population waste a quarter of a billion shekels to establish a 'myth' that no one believes in anymore?

The Strings Bridge, inaugurated two days ago in a giant, spectacular and expensive extravaganza, was not drafted for its modest task, but rather for its aesthetic and symbolic value. After all, those who decided to bridge the modest height difference between Romema and Zion Valley via a quarter-billion-shekel monument did not seriously consider a plan that would cost one-tenth of this.

The planner of this monument (calling it a "bridge" is a lame excuse) defined its purpose very well: This is a "landmark: a city's symbol of identity or myth." And indeed, the different opinions about its significance - "secular symbolism," or perhaps the profile of "David's harp, or a shofar" - its appropriateness to the crowded and neglected urban landscape, financial and other considerations, divert attention from the "landmark" site and its significance for Jerusalem's urban fabric.

Santiago Calatrava's monument was put here because this is, on the face of it, the city's entrance, so it is in fact a gate, not a bridge. But this gate was built at a time when its city already had fled.

Jerusalem's main visual design principle as a walled city on a mountaintop, with its moats defined by the Soreq Valley to the north and west, and the Refaim Valley to the south, was disrupted years ago. The very politicians who initiated the Strings Bridge, and their predecessors, are responsible for breaking up the city and sprawling it over giant stretches of land, both inside and outside the municipal boundaries, and they continue to do so.

Instead of serving as the gate that symbolizes pilgrims' arrival to the holy city - and replacing the Old City gates - the bridge, pathetically stuffed between the neighborhoods of Etz Hahaim, Kiryat Moshe and the Mekasher tenements, is a monument to the stupidity of Jerusalem's monstrous expansion - currently 124 square kilometers for 700,000 residents. (Paris, in comparison, sits on 105 square kilometers and has 2.2 million residents.)

The quarter-billion-dollar investment in an "identity symbol" in the western part of the city is also not something to be sniffed at. After two generations of resource-rich efforts to establish political, physical and demographic facts beyond the cease-fire lines, known as East Jerusalem, the city's leaders are now turning westward. Instead of building the bridge over the Kidron Valley toward Mt. Scopus, for example, they chose to mount "the highest flagpole in the Middle East" in the Romema neighborhood.

Could this be an awakening from the illusion of a unified city?

In the 1950s, when the city was divided between Israel and Jordan, the Jewish city, its representative institutions and its transportation system turned westward, and the historic center next to the Old City was neglected. The second intifada began the process of alienation and disengagement from the Palestinian residents of the eastern city. As the "identity symbol" was being constructed in the west, another monument was being built in the east - a separation wall. Contrary to the optimistic and elegant skyward monument, the brutal and opaque concrete wall divides neighbors and relatives, and symbolizes pessimism and hopelessness for the chances - perhaps illusion - of reasonable relations between the two ethnic groups.

The inauguration celebrations for the Strings Bridge marked the end of celebrating 40 years of a unified Jerusalem, but only very few people still believe in the illusion that an open, pluralistic city of ethnic coexistence is possible. The majority agrees that the separation wall symbolizes Jerusalem more than the Strings Bridge. Perhaps that explains the sour feelings that accompanied the event. Should a neglected, filthy city with an impoverished population waste a quarter of a billion shekels to establish a "myth" that no one believes in anymore?

And in any case, even a genius like Calatrava cannot compete with the visual symbols of Jerusalem: the Tower of David, the Dome of the Rock and the Old City walls, all of which are - how ironic! - Arab-Muslim symbols.