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Noam Shoval

Hebrew U Prof Noam Shoval on Jerusalem: Cities are Divided as a result of War, Not in an Effort To Make Peace: Even if It Were to become Shared Capital, City Must be Open

by Rhonda Spivak , May 16, 2015



Hebrew University Prof. Noam Shoval gave a very interesting in-depth analysis of what is really occurring on the ground in the "earthly" as opposed to "heavenly" city of Jerusalem. In doing so, he outlined why he is not in favour of dividing the city in the context of any possible future diplomatic settlement (one which he doesn't see as likely to happen in the near future in any event). 


Shoval spoke before a large crowd in the multi-purpose room at the Asper Campus on May 4, 2015 at a program co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Centre For Israel and Jewish Affairs. 


After noting that the plan for a two state solution proposed under US President Bill Clinton essentially called for Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem to belong to the Jewish State of Israel with Arab neighborhoods of the city belonging to a Palestinian state, Shoval suggested that Jews and Arabs living in the city ought to have rights to be consulted on what they would want to see as an outcome for the city. Shoval cited a 2010-2011 survey (and there have been others with similar results) which found that 40% of the Arabs in Jerusalem do not want to be living "on the Palestinian side" (i.e. in a Palestinian state) and would prefer to remain in the State of Israel. Another 30% in the survey said they would prefer living in a Palestinian state and others weren't sure.



"Divisions will just make things worse. Cities are divided as a result of war, not in an effort to make peace. Stakeholders need to understand that Jerusalem is a living city like any other living city," said Shoval.



In regard to the notion of Jerusalem being a capital for both Israel and a future Palestinian State,  Shoval said, "You would still need to have two capitals in an open city"(emphasis add), especially since according to Shoval one sixth of the people living in Jerusalem are employed in the tourism sector. For that [tourism] you need an open city," he said. 


Shoval supported his position that Jerusalem remain an open city by reporting on a study in which he was involved that tracked 16,000 residents of Jerusalem over 24 hours with GPS devices, and then interviewed them. 


The study confirmed that Jerusalem is a living breathing whole with both Jews and Arabs spending time in the part of the city belonging to the other. "We found that 45-55% of Arabs spend some time in Jewish West Jerusalem and other Jewish areas while 85% of Jews living over the green line pass through Palestinian neighborhoods." Interestingly, the study also found that Arab women of Jerusalem  enjoyed shopping in Jewish neighborhoods since they felt freer (in terms of what they could wear) and felt less likely to be harassed by men compared to when they were out in Arab neighborhoods. 


Shoval who is a Jerusalemite and is a third generation graduate and employee of the Hebrew University stressed that "a Jewish majority in Jerusalem was established by 1870," even before Theodore Herzl held the first Zionist Congress. This fact, he indicated, runs counter to those who view Israel as a European colonial implant.


Jerusalem, which is  “the poorest city in Israel”, has a population of about 800,000, with a Jewish majority, but "the Arab minority is growing."  As he said one day "Muslims could be a majority in Jerusalem if we don't build more affordable housing," indicating that to keep a Jewish majority you need to build over the 1948 armistice line." [The 1948 Armistice line is otherwise known as the 1967 Green Line that has never been officially recognized as an international border].


Shoval explained that one of the reasons that the Jewish majority has been decreasing is that the "difficulty of building new housing in Jerusalem" has resulted in younger Jewish couples leaving the city due to the lack of affordable housing.  The Jerusalem municipality had a master plan to build over 20,000 homes on the ridges west of Jerusalem (the "Safdie plan") and expand the city Westward, but as Shoval reported this plan did not come to pass as a result of concerns raised by environmental groups that the plan would have enabled cutting down parts of the Jerusalem forest and caused irrevocable environmental and scenic harm the area.  Shoval emphasized that the housing shortage has created steep prices, which has resulted in younger people to move to settlement blocs over the 67 green line to the north, south, and east of the city. As well, he noted that there are many "ghost" apartments near downtown Jerusalem owned by foreign Jews that sit empty much of the year, and are not rented out.



On the other side, "The Palestinians in Jerusalem aren't leaving the city since they have Israeli ID cards," Shoval indicated.  This means that Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem receive privileges as residents living under Israeli sovereignty (since Israel formally annexed Jerusalem), which include free health care and education, and freedom of movement and work. 


As Shoval outlined, after 1967 Israel created facts on the ground "by building neighborhoods [over the 67 green line] to block Bethlehem and Ramallah from growing," and to ensure Jerusalem "can't be divided again." There are currently over 550,000 people, comprising close to 10% , who live  over the Green Line.  However, the only country to officially accept Israel's building over the Green Line is Micronesia, Shoval pointed out.


"Young Israeli (Jews  are leaving Jerusalem" because "it is expensive" and it is cheaper for them to live in  Ramat Shlomo, or Gilo " (over the  Green Line). Even though the US recently complained about Israel building new apartments in Ramat Shlomo since it is over the Green Line, Shoval pointed out that to Israelis it is obvious of the need to build there since they do not foresee Ramat Shlomo ever being returned to the Palestinians and there is a real housing crunch for Jewish Israelis who want to continue to live and work in Jerusalem.


"Most of the settlements are located in three settlement blocs" and Israelis agree that in any future peace agreement these settlement blocs will remain part of Israel," with the Palestinians being given land swaps in exchange, Shoval indicated.


Shoval noted in the question period that the Palestinian Authority has already built their legislature in  Abu Dis, a Palestinian town bordering Jerusalem. Shoval also stated that that the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Bark "almost fell when he was willing to give back the Mount of Olives" (which is the most ancient and most important cemetery in Jerusalem for Jews. Burial there started some 3,000 years ago in the First Temple period and the cemetery contains tombs of famous figures in Jewish history).


Shoval, who spent a sabbatical in Pittsburgh, cited statistics to show that Jerusalem has less crime and is arguably therefore a much less dangerous city than Pittsburgh. In 2012, he noted that Jerusalem reported one murder per 100,000 people compared to 41 murders per 100,000 in Pittsburgh, a city which is the 18th worst among American cities. Similarly, there were 13 robberies per 100,000 people in Jerusalem compared to 360 per 100,000 in Pittsburgh in the same time period.


In regard to robberies, Shoval stated, "Toronto has twice the rate of robberies and Vancouver has three times the rate of Jerusalem and Winnipeg has two times the rate of robberies as Vancouver."


As for terror attacks, there were nine-terror related deaths in Jerusalem last year, which was the highest number in several years.


Shoval also noted that one of the reasons that  pretty well any development  in Jerusalem makes international headlines is that "outside of Washington DC, we [in Jerusalem] have the most correspondents in the world."  Most Middle East foreign correspondents would rather be based in Israel, a democratic and stable country, as opposed to Syria or Egypt , for example.


Margaret Shuckett, president of the Winnipeg chapter of CFHU who introduced Shoval pointed out that Hebrew U, which is a ranked 57th among the world's universities, is celebrating its 90th Anniversary this year. Hebrew U's annual Live and Learn trip this year will go to Greece and Israel. Anyone interested in receiving more information about this trip can call the CFHU office here at 204 942 3085.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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