I paid a visit to Jerusalem in the 1950s. It was a city divided between Israel and Jordan.
A report in The Jerusalem Post caught my eye; it was about an episode that had taken place in a nursing home.
The Jewish nursing home was located at the edge of the no-man’s-land separating the Israeli and Jordanian sectors of the city.
An elderly Jewish resident was leaning out the window. Her dentures fell out of her mouth and landed on the ground. No nursing home employee dared retrieve it, fearing being shot from the Jordanian side.
A military unit from the U.N Observation Mission retrieved the dentures. To many in Israel, this episode became the symbol of divided Jerusalem.
A recent New York Times report from Beirut stated: “Mr. Trump’s decision, which dealt a blow to the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, has been widely condemned across the Arab world and beyond.”
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim the city as their political capital and as a religious site. The city’s status has been disputed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the war, Israel seized the city’s western half; the rest remained in Jordanian hands. Israel seized the eastern half during the 1967 war.
This created “facts on the ground.” A 1980 law declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s undivided capital. President Trump, by endorsing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promising to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, said his decision reflects reality. But, he added, the final decision on Jerusalem’s boundaries should be left to the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Many experts believe that any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must resolve the status of Jerusalem. The Palestinians insist that eastern Jerusalem must become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
But what are the boundaries of Jerusalem? It is one of the oldest cities in the world. During its history it has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured 44 times. In 1538, walls were built around Jerusalem under Suleiman the Magnificent. Today, those walls define the Old City. But modern Jerusalem — population 800,000 — has grown far beyond that boundary.
Of the residents, 550,000 are Jews, 281,000 Muslims and the rest are Christians or not classified by religion.
Some years ago, Alan Freeman, executive vice president of the Jerusalem Foundation, a multi-national nonprofit solely devoted to the development of Greater Jerusalem, visited Williamsburg. He was a guest of Ron Rapoport, professor of government at the College of William and Mary. Rapoport’s late father, Bernard Rapoport, was a major donor to the foundation.
Freeman, a graduate of the London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, was a long-time associate of the legendary mayor of Jerusalem, the late Teddy Kollek. As the longest serving major in the city’s history, Kollek’s emphasis was on shaping a peaceful, thriving future for the city. He embraced all the city’s inhabitants.
However, he said, Israel, in all its negotiations with the Palestinians, has clarified that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands in any final-status agreement. But, Greater Jerusalem’s boundaries are negotiable.
While touring Colonial Williamsburg, Freeman noted some people consider only the one-square-mile Historic Area as Williamsburg. But Greater Williamsburg, which is home to tens-of thousands of people, is known and recognized also, as Williamsburg.
Thus, he said, there is no reason to believe that the future capital of an independent Palestinian state, even if it is located outside the boundaries of Historic Jerusalem, couldn’t be known and recognized also, as Jerusalem, the capital city of the new state.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.