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Reflections on Jerusalem Day in an Impoverished, Extremist, and Divided City

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By Orly Noy

On May 12, Israel celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the "reunification" of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. This article is a reflection on Yom Yerushalayim, which is celebrated with very little regard to the actual current conflicted status of Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) over the years, has become a bizarre event: in an impoverished, battered city, the western side celebrates an imaginary reunification with its eastern counterpart. The celebrants swear loyalty to a united, undivided Israeli capital from now until forever, while most of them cannot even identify the boundaries of this united city on map, and have never visited its Palestinian neighborhoods.

Jerusalem Day accurately portrays the Israeli public discourse regarding the political status of the city: a great deal of ceremonialism, slogans, and a sea of waving flags, but very little relevant substance relating to the root of the city's conflicted reality, and realistically examining its future possibilities.

A practical look at Jerusalem today leaves very little to celebrate. Jerusalem is the poorest large city in Israel, in which over a third of its population is Palestinians who do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Eastern side of the city. It constantly stands at the heart of political storms, and its name has become equated with extremism and strife.

Over time, Jerusalem has become the symbol of the Israeli "having it all" illusion. We want to talk about peace, but also build in East Jerusalem. We want to support the two-state solution, but also sanctify the boundaries of Jerusalem. We want to hold on to the Palestinian neighborhoods, but also keep the demographic balance in the city. The attempt to "have our cake and eat it too" not only has no future, it also relegates the city to a chaotic state of uncertainty.

The future of the Jerusalem has never been more enigmatic. Are we building? Not building? If so, where? And what borders of the city does Israel aspire to, anyway? The route of the Separation Barrier, encompassing Greater Jerusalem? The existing Municipal Boundary?

Jerusalem presents complex problems to the Israeli leadership, which may not have the public status or political courage to solve them. Israeli politicians generally run from every significant discussion of the Jerusalem issue. But after 43 years of annexation, they cannot continue to avoid it. In the beginning of the 44th year, Israel needs politicians who have the courage to openly say that the city is not actually united, and it never was. Israel does not have the feasible option to ensure a Jewish Jerusalem in its current boundaries. Without dividing the sovereignty of the city into 2 capitals, there is no real possibility to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution.

For many years after the Six-Day War, Israel held the perception that was embodied by Moshe Dayan, who said, "We're better off with Sharm-al-Sheikh and no peace, than peace without Sharm-al-Sheikh." It took Israel approximately 12 years to free itself from this perception, but as a result, obtained a peace agreement with the most dominant Arab state, and peace in its southern border. We should hope that Israel will act now with the same maturity and choose peace without East Jerusalem, instead of East Jerusalem without peace.