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Jerusalem Day: Another Look

Jerusalem Day: Another Look

Today, March 12, 2010, Israel celebrated the 43rd anniversary of a united Jerusalem. Normally, the day passes without much notice in the United States. But because of Netanyahu’s recent row with Obama over housing expansion for religious Jewish settlers in the predominantly Arab parts of East Jerusalem, more people are watching.

A quick overview: the initial spat began when Netanyahu’s government announced the construction of 1,600 new homes for religious settlers during Vice President Joe Biden’s first visit to Israel — despite the Obama administration’s insistence that all East Jerusalem construction be halted. The Obama administration took it as a slap in the face, and has since slapped back hard. There’s been a few diplomatic rebukes, but more importantly a growing public clamor — mainly through media outlets — that has made Jerusalem, once a taboo subject, a front-page issue.

I will be honest with you: I myself knew little about the specifics of Jerusalem’s modern history until this spat. I knew Israel called it its capital, and the Palestinians wanted to call it that too. I also knew that West Jerusalem was where Jews today predominantly live; and that East Jerusalem was where Arabs mostly lived too. And I recalled the Clinton-Barak offer to Yassir Arafat, which basically would have split the capital in two: Israel keeps the West; Palestine takes the East. And the Old City, where all the great relics are, and which sits just inside the eastern part of the greater city, would shared. Sounded good to me.

But, as it happened, Arafat rejected the plan, and the past decade has witnessed a second intifada, the split among Palestinians — with Hamas in control of Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank — and not to mention a war with Lebanon and the ominous threat of one with Iran. So much change — so much history — has happened in the last decade that the issue of Jerusalem has seemed to slip most peoples’ minds. Certainly it’s slipped mine.

But that is no excuse to be lazy. The media has done, frankly, a poor job informing the public about what’s actually happening in Jerusalem; how the city is actually divided; how it got the way it is now. Obviously, in the telling of history, everyone has there own spin. And I have my own. But I think it does any fair take must rely on as much reliable information as possible. So, in the spirit of an open exchange of information, I’m setting up links to a few excellent articles that give an extensive history of how modern Jerusalem got the way it did.

I am sure discriminating readers will notice that all my sources are generally from liberal publications: The New Yorker and The New York Times, mainly. But I think, if you actually care to read them, you will also notice a clarity and even-handedness that belies any easy claim of bias. David Remnick, the New Yorker’s editor in chief, is a seasoned Israel reporter, and one who I think is very hard to call pro- or anti- anything. His review of books by Tom Segev and Michael Oren on the ’67 War, in which Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan, illuminates a big part of the problem we’re having now.

Remnick’s review of Benny Morris’ history of 1948 War, where Israel established its indepedence, is also critical. It was that war that Israel actually took posession of West Jerusalem. In the armistice, Jordan took East Jerusalem, and, again, it wasn’t until the ’67 war that Israel could lay claim to both.

And because I think maps are crucial to understanding history and present day politics, I’m sending a link that shows a great one, and was published on a New York Times’ blog when the recent Jerusalem row began anew. It gives an excellent overview of the city’s history, which may make it worth reading first, before digging into Remnick’s lengthier essays. Nonetheless, all are worthy of your time.

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