Mick Dumper and Wendy Pullan: The truth that faces Jerusalem... divided cities can never flourish

Monday 01 March 2010 01:00

The intermittent and fragile peace process between Israel and Palestine has become notorious for both its longevity and its lack of progress in reaching a definitive solution to the underlying conflict. One of the main stumbling blocks is the status of Jerusalem, different and overlapping parts of which are claimed by each camp as its national capital.

Our research in other cities of Europe and the Middle East has shown that few if any physically divided cities have ever flourished. Indeed, while the physical division of a city through walls and barriers may address the symptoms of a conflict, it does not solve the problems that engendered the conflict in the first place.

Each divided or reintegrated city presents its own set of circumstances; yet precedents from other divided or contested cities and societies may be useful for seeing possible directions and avoiding pitfalls, and such cases provide both a broad and a long view of the conditions in Jerusalem.

For example, Jerusalem, whether physically divided or not, will remain a "border town" in the sense that for the foreseeable future it will continue to mark a boundary between Israelis and Palestinians. For many who have grown up in monotheistic traditions that regard the city as the religious centre of the world, this is a disturbing notion. Nonetheless, some border cities have reinvented themselves and then thrived, such as the German-Polish border towns of Gubin/Guben and Gorlitz/Zgorzelec. Could it be possible for Jerusalem to turn its border status to its advantage – economically, culturally and iconically?

The discussions held for this project reviewed a number of directions that could be regarded as positive for Jerusalem, such as being a site for mutual religious toleration, or a centre for Palestinian-Israeli cultural, political and economic exchange, as well as demonstrating how different aspects of modernity and antiquity can coexist.

Nevertheless, it was agreed that a sine qua non of any positive development is the cessation of the current levels of human and structural inequality and of exclusive Israeli rule over East Jerusalem.

Taken from a Chatham House briefing paper, 'Jerusalem: The Cost of Failure'; www.chathamhouse.org.uk

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