What Makes for Middle East Peace?

Upon his return from Camp David in summer 1999, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak informed reporters that future decisions regarding the peace process would be guided by three major concerns: security, unity, and holiness. Put differently, Israel will not compromise its security, undermine its national unity, or sacrifice Jerusalem's sacredness.

The latter concern is worrisome. Barak, after all, was a secular Jew known for his pragmatic approach. He managed to disrupt the existing status quo by questioning "Jerusalem's indivisibility," but then notified the public that he would not make concessions regarding the city's holiness. How, one might ask, can holiness be protected?

Jewish fundamentalists as well as settlers think that prolonging Israeli sovereignty over every part of Jerusalem will defend the city's sanctity. They relate to Jerusalem as if the city were some kind of idol, not unlike the golden calf, and consider it irrelevant that of the 32,500 people living in the old quarter, more than 29,500 are Palestinians. They also disregard the historical and religious claims made by Christians and Muslims.

Holiness, in other words, is equated with Jewish domination and control, which in reality has meant expelling Palestinians from their homes, expropriating land, demolishing houses, and blocking their attempts to build new neighborhoods.

An alternative conception, one currently less popular in Israel, links sanctity to justice. The Bible teaches us that justice is not about domination but about treating one's neighbors evenhandedly and honestly and allowing them to maintain their integrity. As long as Israel continues subjugating the Palestinian population living in Jerusalem, the city will be devoid of genuine holiness.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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