DR. MENACHEM KLEIN is a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. In 2000, Dr. Klein served as adviser for Jerusalem affairs and final status talks to Israel's Foreign Minister. He later joined prominent Israeli and Palestinian figures in signing the Geneva Initiative-a detailed proposal for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. His book, A Possible Peace an Insiders' Account of the Geneva Initiative, is forthcoming in September by Columbia University Press. He is active in Peace Now.
ON THE MORNING OF JUNE 5 1967, I WAS ON THE BUS TO THE HIGH-SCHOOL YESHIVA in which I studied. I had no idea that at that moment the Six-Day war started. From the heights of Jerusalem's Bayit VaGan neighborhood, near Mount Herzl, the war looked distant.
That changed when on my way back home that afternoon, hitching two rides to the center of town, I saw a burning bus, hit by Jordanian fire, and heard the shells and bullets reverberating downtown. Through backstreets, not visible from the Old City walls, I walked to meet my mother at Heikhal Shlomo, where she worked. From there we went home, a block away.When I entered my room, I realized that the war had paid me a visit. Luckily, I wasn't there to meet it. My bed was covered with shrapnel from an artillery shell. There were also some stray bullets, which I still have in my possession.
On Wednesday, when Israel Radio announced the occupation of the Old City, I got out of the bomb shelter to see a city that was rapidly changing. It wasn't too long before the walls that separated Arab East Jerusalem from the western, Jewish part were torn down and Arabs from the former Jordanian Jerusalem, visibly confused, came to observe the Jaffa-King George junction, the only place in town with traffic lights. Residents of the western part of the city treated them humanly and forgivingly, attitudes that have become rare in today's impatient and nervous Jerusalem.
We, the Jewish teenagers of 1967, were also wonder-stricken by the new sights.We used to dodge school to again and again experience the marvels of the Old City's bazaar and buy cheap Chinese-made souvenirs of the kind that Israelis have not seen before.The open, united Jerusalem was a personal experience for me.
The anniversary of Jerusalem's occupation was a festive day at the military "hesder" yeshiva that I attended in Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank, north of Hebron). I joined the yeshiva in the summer of 1969.Two years later we built the settlement of Alon Shvut on the adjacent hilltop. One of my classmates was Yehuda Etzion, who later became a leader of the Jewish underground and served time in prison for trying to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.
The National euphoria of the 1967 victory received religious significance at the yeshiva. In the War of Independence, Israel lost the Etzion Bloc on May 15, 1948, just before the establishment of the State of Israel was announced. It was occupied again on June 8, 1967. The establishment of the state, the reunification of Jerusalem, and the return of the sons of Gush Etzion to their homes together created a national theology. The history of the Gush was identified with that of the State of Israel and the two were identified with the mythical history of the Jewish people.
That theological-national myth was comprised of the displacement, the sacrifice, the yearning and the return. These components received cosmic, messianic dimensions in the teachings of our yeshiva's rabbis and in the consciousness of their students. Real, down-to-earth history and politics were not welcome unless they validated the theological postulations of the Kook rabbis (Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, following in the footsteps of his father-Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook-was the spiritual leader of the settlement movement Gush Emunim). The Superpowers, the European countries, and the Arab states were perceived as entities whose sole intention was to disrupt God's plan. That notion moved me to take part in Gush Emunim's demonstrations against Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's 1974 talks with the Israeli leadership over a plan for an interim arrangement with Jordan.
During these romantic years, I used to walk every Friday night to pray at the Western Wall, crossing the Old City's market on my way. Jerusalem's Arabs seemed to me as passive pawns, a part of the set for the drama in which "good" Israelis fight "bad" Superpowers and Arab states. The screenplay was co-authored by God and the State of Israel. I utterly rejected the view that the West Bank and East Jerusalem were "occupied." I saw the term as a foreign notion that was disconnected from reality.
I started changing on Friday, November 17, 1977. As I left home for the Western Wall, I saw before me, on the roof of the King David Hotel, the Egyptian flag hoisted next to the Israeli flag to indicate that the advance delegation for President Anwar Sadat's visit had arrived. It was a shocking experience. In the mid-1970's I had served in the Sinai several times as a soldier. Egypt to me was an aggressive enemy that had stunned Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Several of my childhood friends and of my Gush Etzion yeshiva classmates were killed in that war.On that Friday night,my one-dimensional perception of the Arab "other" cracked.
Following Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, I decided to study the modern history of the Middle East at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. I had always been interested in history and politics but I only applied that interest to the Arab world after I started noticing its actual presence rather than its theological presence. I realized that history is not theology.
And, as usual in Middle East history, the Palestinians came last. I applied my newly-acquired realizations to the Palestinians gradually, after the failure of Israel's war against the PLO in 1982, following the PLO's moderation throughout the 1980's and after the first intifada of 1987. In my mind, the Palestinians turned from passive to active, from fighting to ruin my country into having a political agenda and an intention to co-exist with me. I focused on researching the Palestinians' society and politics.
Observing the participation of Jerusalemite Palestinians in the intifada and the turning of East Jerusalem into the political center of the uprising, I came to realize that the notion of a "unified Jerusalem, in which Jews Muslims and Christians live together in harmony" was fiction.My city, rather, is at the heart of a national conflict and is very much divided.
The 1993 Oslo agreements crystallized the disagreement over the future of the city, while offering an alternative to the confrontation: peace and coexistence with national and religious separation.
In Jerusalem, however, we also feel the price of not reaching an arrangement. Some of the most brutal Palestinian terrorist attacks of the second intifada took place in my neighborhood and on the road I travel daily.
The lessons I learned in my academic studies and as a lifelong Jerusalemite, I applied with my Israeli and
Palestinian friends when we agreed in 2003 to the Geneva Initiative, a draft final status peace agreement. Turning
this common ground into every-day reality is a challenge that still awaits us.