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Voices From Jerusalem: A City of Delicate Balance

From a speech by Alice Shalvi at a demonstration against the expansion of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem, September 10, 2009*.

Jerusalem is holy ground to three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Therein lie its uniqueness, its magnificence, its beauty. And therein lies the source of its tragedy.

For over a millennium Jerusalem has been a battlefield, the cause of bloodshed and destruction a place where innocent people are killed - all motivated by religious fervor.

In modern times, religious fanaticism has been joined by fanatic nationalism. The numerous holy symbols and places of Jewish, Christian and Muslim worship have been destroyed by believers in one or other of these competing religions.

The war of 1967 created an unprecedented opportunity to end the cycle of hatred and mutual destruction. I was right there in the city center on that wonderful day when the gates opened, when the wall separating the Israeli half of the city from the Jordanian zone came down. I watched with amazement as the river of people flowed out of the Old City and East Jerusalem: after twenty years of separation and isolation people greeted each other, shook each other's hand, as if in a great joint celebration. It was a moment of grace and hope, of honest feelings on all sides, of good will, reconciliation and peace. Had we allowed these feelings to flourish, had we built our policies on them, the present moment would look entirely different.

The traditional geography of Jerusalem has always been one of unity amidst separation. To this day, Jerusalem is a city of quarters: the Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter and so on. It is a city of delicate balance, one that requires all its citizens to practice tolerance and respect towards their neighbors, respect for the beliefs and customs of the "Other," respect for the places holy to different religions, be it the Western Wall, the Temple Mount/Haram al Sherif, or the Holy Sepulcher:

True religious and social pluralism, tolerance and respect demand that we refrain from imposing our wishes on others, from committing any act that would disrupt the delicate fabric that enables and encourages us to live together. Hence building Jewish settlements in the heart of Arab neighborhoods is an act against true coexistence.

It is an act of arrogance, a belligerent act that could ignite the flames of violence.

It is an act of disrespect.

It is a provocation, an act of extreme discrimination.

It is an expression of hatred and enmity, an act of coercion and heartlessness.

These violent acts of cruelty and heartlessness - the invasion of other people's homes, their destruction, and the removal of entire families from the homes where they have lived for generations, all done in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness - are forbidden for any nation, but especially for a people that has itself suffered endless persecution and exile, a nation in whose midst live those who themselves experienced persecution and exile. This is not simply a crime; it is a sin!

This is a month of great sanctity for both Jews and Muslims - Elul and Ramadan. In both religions, it is a time of looking into our hearts, a time of heshbon nefesh, of soul searching, of striving to come closer to one's Creator, a time of prayer, of forgiveness, a time of change.

In Elul, Jews blow the Shofar [ram's horn] every day, to call us not only to soul-searching and self-examination, but also to vows and rededication. Now is the time to demand of Israel's national and local government that they cease these cruel acts, put an end to the expansion of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, respect its Arab residents, give them equal rights, provide them with equal services and allow them to build better lives for themselves; a time to avoid distortion of justice, to surrender the power to govern another people.

We should remember that not everything that is legal is necessarily also just. Remember that we, Jews, are called upon to seek justice above all. Our God has commanded us: "Justice, justice shall you pursue," and also "Seek peace and pursue it." Justice will not be done and peace will not be attained as long as we continue to impose our presence on others. This is why construction must be stopped and with it Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. They are obstacles on the way to peace. We must take care not to disrupt the delicate balance, but rather to guarantee that believers from all religions can work together to safeguard the sanctity and uniqueness of our city Jerusalem, Ir Shalom, the City of Peace.