July 24, 2000
To CMEP's Shared Jerusalem network. This Israeli newspaper article offers some history of the Old City and outlines five proposals.
Monday, July 24, 2000 Haaretz
A Threatening Mosaic
By Nadav Shragai
On June 6, 1967, the second day of the Six-Day War, Major-General Uzi Narkis, head of the IDF Central Command, urged Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to enter Jerusalem's Old City. "Absolutely not," muttered Dayan. "What do we need all that Vatican for?"
Dayan's consideration was primarily diplomatic. He viewed the Old City as a threatening mosaic of church steeples and mosque domes with a huge potential for problems. But despite this, several hours later, Levi Eshkol's government met and adopted the proposal of Menachem Begin and Yigal Allon to storm the Old City. This decision was also supported by Dayan.
Dayan was not the only Zionist leader to have reservations about including the Old City in the State of Israel. Chaim Weizmann , for example, said in July 1937 that he would not take the Old City even if it were given as a present.
But to many Jews, the Old City had become a symbol, and only the city within the walls was considered the true and original Jerusalem. In previous centuries, Jews had settled not only inside the Jewish Quarter, but also in the Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and in the northern part of the Old City - around Bab al-Houta. In the mid-1970s, this settlement became the basis for a renewed Jewish presence outside the Jewish quarter of the Old City.
The area of the Old City is small - only 871 dunams. But in addition to the well-known holy sites, it houses dozens of other holy places, synagogues, mosques, churches and monasteries. Not all the holy sites belonging to a certain community are necessarily found in that community's quarter. Thus, for example, the Via Dolorosa, holy to Christians, passes mainly through the Muslim Quarter.
At the end of 1998, 32,488 people lived in the Old City: 70 percent of them Muslim, 8.5 percent Jewish and 20 percent Christian. Most of the Muslims live in the Muslim Quarter, which is also home to 70 Jewish families and dozens of Jewish teaching institutes. The Christian Quarter is also home to 20 Jewish families and some Muslim families. There are also a few Muslims living in the Armenian Quarter. The Jewish Quarter is the only one with no residents from other ethnic groups.
Most of the Israeli contingency plans that Barak took with him to the Camp David Summit - drafted by the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister's Office, the IDF and the Jerusalem Institute - classify the Old City as a special status area. Some favor continued full Israeli sovereignity over it, while others offer a degree of sovereignity to other groups, mainly the Palestinians. Following are some of these proposals:
l. Demarcating the Old City as a "holy area" and setting up a special administration for it, which would include representatives of all its religious communities, its residents, the Israeli government and the Arab world.
2. Dividing the Old City into a Jewish/Armenian administration and a Christian/Muslim administration. The Jewish/Armenian administration would then be added to the existing City Center Administration, while the Christian/Muslim administration would be added to the Sheikh Jarrah Administration.
3. Setting up a municipal corporation with a representation for each quarter.
4. Defining the entire Old City as a national park - a step that would freeze the current situation in terms of urban planning.
5. Setting up a two-level management system: individual quarter
committees and an overall steering committee.