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Kadima's Bibi: Stop Jerusalem Sloganeering

Last Wednesday, I spoke at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, a national Israeli holiday in which Israeli Jews mark the unification of Jerusalem in 1967. I spoke about Jerusalem and tried to demonstrate how Israeli government policies to settle Jews in East Jerusalem - including in the heart of exclusively Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem - are jeopardizing the two state solution, and therefore threatening Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish state.

About halfway through my address, a woman got up, outraged, and protested the disrespect to Jerusalem, on Yom Yerushalayim. If you are willing to give away Jerusalem, you are not Jewish she said. She was very shaken. She said some terrible things as she walked out.

I'm happy it happened. Besides creating drama to keep the crowd awake, her fit reminded the audience just how emotional an issue Jerusalem is, and how demagoguery, manipulation and sheer ignorance steer the discussion on Jerusalem from the realm of pragmatism to dogmatism and often fanaticism.

There were others in the audience who refused to believe my factual presentation of settlement policies and of exclusionist government plans to create a ring of biblical parks around Jerusalem's Holy Basin. A "conspiracy theory," one person called it. I wish.

Accepting the truth on Jerusalem is hard. Israelis and their friends in America have been conditioned for years that dividing Jerusalem is beyond the pale, that Jerusalem is above politics, that ceding any part of Jerusalem is heresy. This was the sentiment that Elie Wiesel expressed in his full page newspaper ads earlier this month.

Wiesel should meet Arieh Bibi.

The day after Jerusalem Day, I read an interview with Knesset Member Arieh Bibi of Kadima on a Kadima Hebrew web site. Bibi (no relation to Benjamin Netanyahu's nickname) was for years a Likudnick.

Years ago, during the first Palestinian intifada, as a reporter covering Palestinian affairs, I spent hours listening to his briefings. Bibi was then the commander of Jerusalem's police. Back then he used to routinely talk about the eternally united Jerusalem and how important it was to assert and protect its unity.  

Arieh Bibi changed.

"I have since sobered up," he told the "Yalla Kadima" web site. "I grew up on the ideology of the Likud movement and on the path of Menahem Begin. I remember to this day all their songs. But today, when I soberly examine what is happening in Jerusalem I see many problems that we directly are responsible for."

"During the first intifada, there were some forty thousand (Palestinian) residents on the Arab side of town. Today there are already 260,000. is that not clear? What can you add to this dry figure. Who cannot draw the obvious conclusions from this?"

Israel never backed up the annexation of East Jerusalem with honest action to extend equality to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, MK Bibi said. "All these (Palestinian) residents of East Jerusalem do not have even one community center, we don't clear their trash, there are no appropriate construction master plans, there is no adequate educational system, there are no adequate roads between the (Palestinian) neighborhoods, the infrastructures are flawed and education is not running adequately. In this respect too, Israel has proven that it does not deserve East Jerusalem, even though we had numerous opportunities and dozens of years to prove the contrary since 1967."

"You can't have the cake and eat it too: both demand the land and give nothing to the residents who inhabit it."

Israel has long ago lost real hold on Arab villages such as Iassawiyah, Shuafat, Adu Dis and Jabal Mukabber - all of which are inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, the former Jerusalem police chief said. The only Israelis who go there are soldiers and police officers quelling demonstrations. He said. "Even on the Temple Mount, it is the Muslim Waqf that's in control, with salaries paid by Jordan. So what sovereignty are we talking about? We are fooling ourselves. People don't understand the situation because they have sand thrown in their eyes. People don't see the picture beyond sloganeering. The right has a clear interest to confuse the public. But we should show people the full picture. We should take the decision makers on a tour of Jerusalem and clarify to them what is really taking place on the ground."

Doing so doesn't mean compromising our religion, MK Bibi said. "But no one will convince me that the dead are more important than the living."