Jerusalem is crumbling under the weight of its own idealization

The Sheikh Jarrah activists who are want a just Jerusalem wrote an open letter in response to a letter that Elie Wiesel published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal last week. Wiesel described Jerusalem as “the world’s Jewish spiritual capital” and “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.” The Sheikh Jarrah activists who, unlike Wiesel, actually live in Jerusalem, say: “We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.” They describe the city they call home as “crumbling under the weight of its own idealization.”

This disconnect between cherished image and lived reality no doubt holds just as true not simply for Jerusalem but for Israel itself among so many Zionists who passionately defend the Jewish state while choosing not to live there.

From Jerusalem, an open letter to Elie Wiesel

Dear Mr. Wiesel,

We write to you from Jerusalem to convey our frustration, even outrage, at your recently published letter on Jerusalem. We are Jewish Jerusalemites –- residents by choice of a battered city, a city used and abused, ransacked time and again first by foreign conquerors and now by its own politicians. We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.

Our Jerusalem is concrete, its hills covered with limestone houses and pine trees; its streets lined with synagogues, mosques and churches. Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity — not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one.

For more than a generation now the earthly city we call home has been crumbling under the weight of its own idealization. Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet it is our commitment that makes your homecoming possible. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.

Indeed, your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First, because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries of today’s Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. Feigning to unify an ancient city, they created an unwieldy behemoth, encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem. Stretching from the outskirts of Ramallah in the north to the edge of Bethlehem in the south, the Jerusalem the Israeli government foolishly concocted is larger than Paris. Its historical core, the nexus of memories and religious significance often called “the Holy Basin”, comprises a mere one percent of its area. Now they call this artificial fabrication ‘Jerusalem’ in order to obviate any approaching chance for peace.

Second, your attempt to keep Jerusalem above politics means divesting us of a future. For being above politics is being devoid of the power to shape the reality of one’s life. As true Jerusalemites, we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city, parts of which are utterly neglected, being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation. All the while, they franticly “Judaize” Eastern Jerusalem in order to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition.

We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You discover see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality’s refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.

We, the people of Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar. This-worldly Jerusalem must be shared by the people of the two nations residing in it. Only a shared city will live up to the prophet’s vision: “Zion shall be redeemed with justice”. As we chant weekly in our vigils in Sheikh Jarrah: “Nothing can be holy in an occupied city!”


Just Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah) Activists

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Norman Morley says:

    There is truth in this letter. I myself wonder why the powers to be, are doing what they are doing, hiding behind the whole of the Israeli people. The leaders are what could be termed “Dinosaurs” in their thinking, desperately holding on to power, not wanting to let go, willing to sacrifice the whole of their people to maintain their own egos. The same can be said about the Arabs to an extent. What no one seems to be pushing the leaders to explain in plain simple to understand terms, is what gives you the right to dictate how others live? The Blood & Treasure, both in lives & money, is a sorry price to pay for stupidity, on either side. War mongers are just that, regardless of which flag they fly.

  2. DE Teodoru says:

    Perhaps we who are outside the loop would do well to withhold final judgment as the two parties are to this day in postural shadow boxing mode. Certainly, there is an upper limit beyond which a creeping borderless state DELIBERATELY without borders so it can ever expand to Biblical borders will go based on a fully open $ spigot that keeps it alive. Netanyahu has to play a lot of politics, foreign and domestic– as did Nixon with his visit to China– based on his exclusive reputation that alone could make giant steps forward possible. Netanyahu is in a much tighter garment than Nixon ever was, with his Cabinet pockets full of weird toads, and far more vulnerable as Israel’s “Tricky Bibbi.” We often see absurd arguments made about realities thousands of years old that can’t even find archeological validation. But the al-Asqa Mosque is there and no American president– whatever AIPAC lobby power exists or doesn’t exist– will ever allow again an obstruction by angry Muslim allies of our vital myocardial oil arteries for the sake of some pressure group. The days of Truman are far behind us and the summer rise in per gallon gasoline prices are forcefully reminding us all of that. Netanyahu is not blind to any of these realities so I think patience from the public, like that of a scientist itching to release a pet theory but suffering from missing airtight data, would be the best policy until more data is available. Even Bibbi would not dare violate the first law of physics: what’s physically there trumps what was theoretically there thousands of years ago.

  3. Norman Morley says:

    On has to ask, just how much time should we on the outside wait? This stuff, what ever you want to call it, has been going on for so long now, that it’s ridiculous. Because the U.S.A. is playing a roll there, but doesn’t really have any say, for what ever reason, AIPAC along with all the others in & out of government are ready to scream & point the finger if anyone goes against the status quo. The U.S. Government for too long has put way too much time, effort, money into the so called Peace project. In the meantime, there are People dying on both sides. Maybe if the U.S. just pulled out entirely, then either the parties will achieve a peaceful settlement, or blow themselves up. Time for the U.S. to start keeping the nose out of others business. Let France take the U.S. place there.