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April 2000 (written by Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP Director for "Stewardship of Public Life - Middle East" - Presbyterian Church (USA)

"Christians Call for a Shared Jerusalem" was the headline of a full page ad in the New York Times of December 21, 1996.  The message, which called Jerusalem the "Home, Hope and Heritage of Two Peoples and Three Religions," was signed by the heads of the denominations and organizations that make up Churches for Middle East Peace. This action received sparked a sharp debate with some Christian Right and Jewish community organizational leaders.  Subsequently, this Shared Jerusalem message was published in a Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and in six major metropolitan newspapers.  The churches' groundbreaking statement continues to reverberate among advocates for Middle East peace, and the debate on Jerusalem has now fundamentally changed with the concept of "Sharing" being the hot topic.
Early in the new year of 2000, with negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem looming, the call for a shared Jerusalem was heard again -- and this time from Jewish voices here and in Israel.  But can the shared Jerusalem message be heard by U.S. politicians in the cacophony of campaign rhetoric?  The position that Jerusalem is solely and eternally the capital of Israel has been vigorously supported by the U.S. Congress which in 1995 mandated the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  The President has so far blocked the move by invoking the waiver authority attached to the bill.

By contrast, the debate about Jerusalem that took place recently in a Congressional meeting room was a refreshing change.  It was a discussion among Palestinians and Israelis about the possibility, indeed probability, of sharing Jerusalem.  Sponsored by the American Jewish "Friends of Peace Now" with the cooperation of the American Arab "American Committee on Jerusalem," the February program's intent was to "provide a flavor of the type of conversations that are going on all over the Middle East."

"In one manner or another Jerusalem will be shared. We have won," said one of the panelists.  While it is possible for historians and peace-seekers to see the inevitability of a shared future for Jerusalem,  U.S. politicians find it hard to look beyond the next election and the pressures of domestic politics.  As one panelist said, "the notion of a shared Jerusalem has not reached political fruition.  We need to create the space for political leaders to do this."  This year, during the campaign season, advocates for Middle East peace are called upon to nurture and promote the shared Jerusalem principle so that it can come to political fruition.

At the core of discussions about sharing Jerusalem is the reality that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims have differing concepts of what constitutes "Jerusalem."  At a minimum, it is the walled city of historic Jerusalem -- the subject of the  prayers and hymns of worship -- that is predominant in everyone's mind.   Yet, this most revered portion of Jerusalem constitutes only 1% of the present city.  Over half of today's Jerusalem was not part of Jerusalem at all before 1967, but part of Bethlehem and 28 West Bank villages occupied in the war.

Demographic considerations were the primary factor in Israel's expansion after 1967 of Jerusalem's borders.  The goal of ensuring a Jewish majority in the city was accomplished by excluding the populated Palestinian urban areas in the West Bank and annexing the sparsely populated and agricultural land.

Ten percent of the area now known as East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City,  was under Jordanian control from 1948-1967. The other 90% of East Jerusalem was West Bank land grafted onto the city.  A University of Maryland survey has shown that neither Israelis or Palestinians have equal attachment to all the neighborhoods of Jerusalem.  In fact, the current situation is a de-facto division of the city by national identity.


A group of American rabbis, looking at the dispassionate findings of the University of Maryland survey, have concluded that sharing Jerusalem is not only possible but  "will be the strongest basis for lasting peace."  Over 300 rabbis signed a statement titled "Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem"  that was organized by the Jewish Peace Lobby and reported in the New York Times on January 20.  The rabbis affirm the rightfulness of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem,  then pose the question "whether the pursuit of both justice and lasting peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the Palestinian people.  We believe that it does."

Only a few days later came a report from a joint project of the Universities of Oklahoma, Haifa and Bethlehem that brought Israeli and Arab academics, retired diplomats and military officers together to prepare guiding principles for negotiating Jerusalem.  Time magazine, on January 31, reported that "For the first time, a group of Establishment figures in Israel has endorsed the idea of sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. Their first guideline puts it clearly, "Neither the imposition of annexation nor the partition of Jerusalem could serve as a basis for the final status of the city.  Jerusalem is to be the capital of both Israel and Palestine in Jewish West and Arab East of the city, respectively and on equal footing."

Then came the release of a Harvard University study funded by the U.S Information Agency, the Ford Foundation and the Charles B. Bronfman Foundation.  The changed nature of the debate was evident in the page one headline on February 25 of the American Jewish newspaper, Forward.  "Jerusalem Sends Mixed Signals on Jerusalem, as U.S. -Funded Study Backs Sharing the Capital."  Four Palestinians and four Israelis made up the working group which concluded that, "The solution of the Jerusalem problem should respect the national, cultural, religious, political, legal, and historical rights of both peoples.  Jerusalem should be an open and undivided city, with free access to the holy sites, serving as the capital of both states."

Some reports suggest increasing the size of Jerusalem in order to share it on equal footing; others call for decreasing the borders of Jewish Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) to allow for a Palestinian Jerusalem (Al Quds) alongside it. Via numerous alternative routes the goal of Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine can be reached.
You will find these statements and reports in the Shared Jerusalem Resource Center at CMEP's website <>

In any scenario,  the Old City will require special arrangements reached through creative negotiations that take into account broader interests including those of the international churches.  The previously mentioned survey showed that the Old City and Mount of Olives areas hold a unique and passionate religious, cultural and historical importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

For some years, the Vatican has sought a "special statute" for Jerusalem and "international guarantees" as necessary to preserve the religious character of the Holy City and to secure the rights of the living religious communities.  Catholic authorities clarify that this "should be confused neither with the so-called ‘corpus seperatum' proposed by the United Nations in 1947, nor with what is popularly called ‘the internationalization' of the city."

The guiding principle for the Old City that the Oklahoma/Haifa/Bethlehem group agreed upon is similar.  "The protection and preservation of the unique religious interests of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, must be guaranteed and freedom of worship, and access to holy places must be assured."

This is the title of a newspaper insert delivered with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in December 1999.  Another example of the remarkably changed debate on Jerusalem, this newspaper insert was published by B'Tselem, the leading Israeli organization advocating for human rights in the Occupied Territories.  While recognizing the profound symbolism of the holiness of the city,  this publication focuses on the living city and the human rights violations faced by the 200,000 Palestinians of Jerusalem.

Land Use: The government of Israel has explicitly stated its intention of creating a reality that will preempt any challenge to Israel's sovereignty in East Jerusalem.  It has used the delay in the negotiations over the future status of Jerusalem to appropriate land and expand settlements.  For the most part, Palestinians are prevented from building and when they do build without permits the homes are subject to demolition.  There are now 43,000 homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem - all built on expropriated land. There are 28,000 homes in Palestinian neighborhoods and a housing shortage that B'Tselem says exceeds 20,000 housing units. The setting of "low building percentages" is another means of limiting Palestinian growth.  B'Tselem gives this example: "an Arab may get a building permit to build a two-story building of 50 square meters.  A Jew owning the same size plot could build an eight-story building of 200 square meters."

Residency Cards: The Israeli Minister of Interior announced he would end the confiscation from Palestinians of their Jerusalem residency cards. But, the new policy is unclear as is the fate of all those thousands of Palestinians born in Jerusalem who have already lost their residency cards.  B'Tselem points to the blatant discrimination of the policy which began in December 1995:  "Jews can live abroad, in another town in Israel, or in settlements in the Occupied Territories for as long as they like, with no fear of losing their rights."

Use of Tax Money: Palestinians pay taxes in Jerusalem just like the Israelis, yet they do not enjoy the same services.  Entire Palestinian neighborhoods are not hooked up to a sewerage system and there are few parks and not one outdoor public swimming pool.  The bureaucratic process of registering births, deaths or a change of address at the East Jerusalem Ministry of Interior office is called "almost impassible and certainly inhumane" by B'Tselem.

Israel's closure policy has severely damaged Palestinian life in all dimensions.  The policy which prohibits Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from entering Jerusalem without a permit is justified by Israel as a security measure against terrorism. However, according to B'Tselem, many prominent Israeli security figures admit that the closure policy has little effect on Israeli security.  This severing of Palestinians from their institutions in Jerusalem has had a withering impact on Palestinian religious, family, medical, educational and cultural life as well as the Palestinian economy.

The ability and right of Palestinians to freely enter East Jerusalem -- to conduct business, to worship, to seek medical attention – must be restored even as negotiations are in process.  The wholeness of Jerusalem should be upheld, with open access to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

While it is not the place of the Churches to specify the political results of negotiations, it is essential that a solution to Jerusalem's disputed status recognize that it is a city like no other , that it is "home" to people of all three religious traditions and that it cannot belong to any one people or religion.


The high priority that Christian advocates for peace and justice give to Jerusalem is well placed.  Considering the role of our government, the U.S. churches have a unique credibility and responsibility for advocacy on Jerusalem issues.

This is a long term effort. Since 1996 church members and their leadership have worked with Churches for Middle East Peace to bring policymakers' attention to the message "Christians Call for a Shared Jerusalem."  Now in 2000, the Shared Jerusalem message is gaining support within the American Jewish community and is widely promoted by the American Arab and Muslim communities.  But the option of sharing Jerusalem is far from reaching political fruition. Our efforts to promote the principle of sharing Jerusalem as the key to Middle East peace must continue with vigor and perseverence. Whether the final status negotiations progress toward an agreement, are postponed or break down, the principle stands that Jerusalem must be open to both Palestinians and Israelis and needs the public's attention and that of policymakers.

The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Administration have different roles in the peace process and in the exercise of foreign policy and should be approached accordingly.  Let them know that you, and your denomination, are deeply concerned about Jerusalem.   If your church has a service or study program on Jerusalem, send
a copy to your members of Congress.  At times of breaking news about Jerusalem, call your members and the White House - opinion calls are tabulated.

Write now, later and again to your member of Congress.  Make your letter current by  making reference to recent news about Jerusalem.

- Ask your Representative and Senators to support Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and to reject efforts to force the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem before a negotiated agreement.  Israeli Prime Minister Barak has asked Congress not to push for the embassy move.   But Jerusalem's mayor, Likud leader Ehud Olmert, has chided Jewish organizations for not doing enough to implement the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.

 - It is wrong for Congress to prejudge these sensitive negotiations and inflame the relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

- Appeal to them in this campaign season not to treat Jerusalem as a political football.

- Ask them to support the principle that Jerusalem should be open to all, shared by all
  -- two peoples and three religions.

Write the Administration now, later and again. Direct your letters to the President or the Secretary of State.
- Express appreciation for the Administration's refusal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem prematurely.

- Ask the U.S. to insist that Israel cease its practices that damage the Palestinians' ability to live, build, conduct business, visit or worship in Jerusalem.

- Urge the Administration to lend support to the principle and practices of sharing Jerusalem now and in the future.

- Remind the administration that according to international law, Israel must allow freedom of movement between the Palestinian territories:  the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Demand that Palestinians have access to Jerusalem.

The Honorable _________ The Honorable __________ President Bill Clinton
U.S. Senate   U.S. House of Representatives The White House
Washington, DC 20510  Washington, DC 20515  Washington, DC 20500
                 Capitol Switchboard 202/224-3121   White House Comments Line

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