The Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem may not be an average tourist stop, but it should be. It offers powerful images and ideas regarding coexistence and peace. The museum is located on what was on Israel’s border with Jordan – literally, the “seam” — between 1948 and 1967. The seam divided Arab East Jerusalem from Jewish West Jerusalem.
To understand Jerusalem and the nature of the seam is to begin to grasp some of the realities underlying deep Israeli-Palestinian divisions. To appreciate the challenges of sharing land in this tightly populated, tiny place is a way to appreciate the compromises necessary for peace.
Some sections of East Jerusalem do indeed contain some significant Jewish sites (such as the City of David, Ir David, in the Silwan neighborhood) and Jewish neighborhoods, but it is largely Arab in population, culture and language and it is a Muslim holy city. Many of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have a long history. Palestinians hope that this will be the locus of the capital for the future Palestinian state.
Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3000 years. It has unified and spiritually nourished us. It was the Jewish longing for Jerusalem for nearly 2000 years of exile that gave our people hope. The Jewish cry for a unified city comes out of this history and longing.
However, unifying Jerusalem assumes that both East and West Jerusalem must be Jewish and Israeli. Yet, given very high Arab and very low Israeli birthrates, this would create a new reality in which the Jewish majority would very quickly be lost. As many sociologists and politicians are coming to acknowledge, demographically, this would be the death knell to our dreams for Jewish Jerusalem, and even the Jewish nation.
But there are also considerable humanitarian concerns regarding the Arabs of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A Jewish state must strive to live by the values and principles taught in Torah, such as: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong…you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). (The use of the word “stranger”/ger is a reference to our neighbors who are not members of the Jewish people.) The success of the Zionist dream is to be found in how we treat each other.
In my opinion, there is no choice but to make compromises for peace, including the division of Jerusalem into two cities; one Jewish and one Arab. No less than the future health and well being of Israel is at stake.
Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Jewish and Muslim holy sites are literally right on top of one another, and adjacent to Christian holy sites, will require a unique international plan that will allow all three religious communities to share access. But the rest of Jerusalem can acknowledge its divisions with a new seam; a peace-promoting Arab-Israeli border.
I am a proud Zionist; I love Israel. For me this means that while we rightly demand peace and security from our Arab neighbors, we must also respect their dignity. For all of us, difficult compromises are necessary for peacemaking. The more peace, the more opportunity for reconciliation. Given the frightening external threats from Iran, Syria and their proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah, the need for progress on peace with willing Palestinian partners is even greater. Palestinians, most of whom want peace with Israel in a two-state solution, also need security. We need each other if we are face down these evils.
JStreet, is a new Jewish organization whose mission is to be: “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for vigorous U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to broaden debate around Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.” It is creating quite a buzz in the Jewish world. In an environment in which dialogue about Israel has nearly broken down in the American Jewish community, a divisiveness is settling over us that is crippling our community’s strength. These issues, emotionally and spiritually charged, must be respectfully discussed in the interest of strengthening the Jewish people. JStreet is a welcome addition to this complex conversation. I encourage you to learn more at:
In 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other territory in order to achieve security. Our focus now must be on winning peace – a peace that is secure, just, and long lasting. Let us do this attentive to the complexities, and with an open heart and mind.