Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Divide Jerusalem: Roofs of The Armenian Quarter

Last year I started this "Don't divide Jerusalem" series, in which from time to time I post snapshots of what the city really looks like, and where the international community and Israel's Left are so convinced there absolutely must be an international border as a prerequisite for peace.

Today I joined a tour by Eyal Meron, an archeologist and easily one of the best and most knowledgeable guides this city has. At one point we were standing on a plaza in the Jewish quarter, and he quoted Abdullah a-Tel, the Jordanian commander who conquered the Jewish quarter in 1948. (He quoted verbatim and in Hebrew, so my translation is twice removed from the source, and pardon any inaccuracies): "At the end of the battle there were no Jews left in the Jewish quarter for the first time in 2000 years, and there's no reason to think there will ever again be any". The plaza was full of the local orthodox Jewish children who throng the streets of the Jewish Quarter these days; most of their parents are too young to remember the Six Day War which reversed that outcome.

At one point Eyal took us up to a roof from which one can see stuff he wished to show us, and I took some pictures to show what I like to show: the sheer idiocy of dividing the Old City.

Here's the proposed division, as suggested by the folks of the Geneva Initiative:
The rooftop we were standing on is at the lower left (south east) corner of the section allocated to the Israelis, marked in pink:
The first problem with the north-south line next to the roof we were standing on is that it doesn't exist in reality. It's a straight line, you'll notice, but there is no straight line in that part of town that doesn't bisect homes, rooms, windowsills, doormats and kitchen cabinets. Don't believe me? Here, have a look at these two photos. They're both taken from the same roof, though in the second I moved a few steps to the left and the perspective changes a bit. In both of them, however, I'm looking north - so, along that straight line:
Note that both pictures show a high building right in front of a church spire, in the first picture it's to the right, in the second it's to the left. The church is part of the Armenian quarter, directly north of the roof I was standing on. The rooftop is part of the Jewish quarter, and I encourage you to find a straight line that might serve as a rational place to put an international border without bisecting anyone's bedroom.

It doesn't get any better when you look in the other directions. Here, for instance, is the perspective to the southeast:
The rail is an international border, then there's another one between us and the double-towered church. The rooftops below, however, are intended to be in Palestine. In the picture below, the international border will run between the rooftop I was on and the rooftop across the narrow alley, directly to the west.
Looking northwest the perspective is marginally less odd, but only because in the other directions it's so extremely wrong.
Most of what's in the foreground is the Jewish Quarter, with the new white dome of the reconstructed Hurva synagogue. Just beyond the edge of the hill is the Omar Mosque. Palestine, of course, according to the maps. The left half of the hill in the background is Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University, and thus Israel. The right half of the same hill is also Mount Scopus, but since there's a German hospital on the top of it (Augusta Victoria) it will be in Palestine. Finally, let's look due east:
The foreground is part of the Jewish Quarter, so Israel. The background is the Mount of Olives. Most of it is taken by the ancient Jewish cemetery, which has been growing up the hillside since early Biblical times. According to the Geneva Initiative folks, since the only people there are dead Jews, it belongs in Palestine. To the right of the top of the hill is an area which was purchased by Chabad before WW1, when it was an empty hillside next to the Jewish cemetery. Eventually Chabad sold it to Irwin Moskowitz who has been building Jewish apartment buildings there, commonly referred to by the Arab name of Ras el-Amud. Google it and you'll find lots of sources which will tell you these apartments are an obstacle to peace.

The American government, the EU, the UN, all of the international media, and Israel's Left are all convinced the idiocy I've reported on here is sane, reasonable, plausible, inevitable, and of course, it will be a fundamental cornerstone of peace. Apparently they all know something I don't know. After all, if everyone agrees on something, it surely must be true.


Silke said...


surely you have bulldozers in the area ?

what makes you assume that the drawing of a border should nitpick about people's bedrooms.

But I am most concerned that the German hospital, whatever that is, belongs to Palestine.

I prefer Israel.

I guess at these conferences they negotiate until dinner time and then they take a ruler ...

I wonder is it called macro- or micropolitics?

Y. Ben-David said...

Keep 'em coming---I'm printing them out for future reference. Do you have links to previous (pre-Shepherds Hotel) pieces?

Ash said...


This is a great series and probably unique.

I'd suggest giving them all the same label/tag so that they'd be easier to find or direct people to in future years.. as I'm sure the topic of divinding Jerusalem will be around for a while to come

Victor said...

YBD, click on the Jerusalem label to see all related posts. There was also one on Hevron.

Anonymous said...

This would be great as a youtube video.

AKUS said...

Yakov - all they have to do is knock down a bunch of houses, preferably Jewish, and then they can draw lines as straight as the want ... wait ... would that infringe on international law and the rights of of ... somebody ...?

The idiocy of these simple answers like - "divide Jerusalem" beggars belief.

NormanF said...

You'd have to run a wall in ways that simply don't work in reality. Silke knows the history of Berlin during the Cold War but the division was for purely political reasons - to ensure the survival of the Communist regime. When the Wall fell, the regime disappeared along with it. No division has ever worked successfully in history - the only recent example that comes to mind is in Cyprus and that is enforced only because of the presence of Turkish troops on the island.

My point is a division of Jerusalem is unnatural. It would have to be imposed and maintained by force of arms. And since Nature abhors a vacuum, that would be liable to erode over time. Dividing the city is a fool's errand then and judging by the photos you have taken, what appears to be a painless exercise on a map in practice would be impossible to carry out in the real world.

Its all theoretical speculation and one that appears unlikely to be advanced in our lifetime. Let's hope it never happens to one of the oldest cities in the world.

Barry Meislin said...

...the sheer idiocy of dividing the Old City.

But wouldn't that depend on what one's goals are?

Silke said...

Gideon Levy told me that Brecht's Caucasian Circle is performed by an Israeli theatre, the one that was supposed to perform in Ariel.

It is said that Brecht got the story from Salomon. I saw the play once on stage. It is sending the powerful message that somebody who truly loves doesn't divide but proves her love by letting go because holding on would entail harming the child.

Maybe the "world" is speculating on Israel loving Jerusalem so much that before it agrees to letting it get mutilated she'd rather agree for it to become an international city. I somehow suspect that (some?) Christians no matter how well Israel may treat them would rejoice.

No I am not being facetious, in fact I can't imagine that that hope shouldn't be dear to a lot of hearts i.e. well let's just draw the lines, wait for the fights and then do our bid for the int'l scheme.

Yaacov said...

Actually, Silke, you're right. Ehud Olmert, who spent ten years being the mayor of Jerusalem before becoming prime minister, and thus knows perfectly well that the at the very least the Old City can't physically be divided, offered the Palestinians in 2008 to make the whole area international, whatever that means. Thankfully, the Palestinians never even saw the need to respond.

The law recently passed by the Knesset that Israel can't hand over Jerusalem without a referendum means that idea won't be back anytime soon, or in any case, it won't be accomplished by a prime minister who knows his political career is almost over and yearns to be immortalized in the history books.

Silke said...


for once I've come across an argument that makes me long for politicians who want to become immortalized i.e. don the coveted by so many mantle of history (Mantel der Geschichte)

while I am at it - Der Spiegel had a "title" on the Mossad, labelling them David's avengers - as commenter Joel at EoZ pointed out Germans would likely be very amused if our BND would be dubbed Nibelungen's avengers. (for the Germanically challenged "NibelungenTreue" loyalty of the Nibelungen is shorthand for a certain kind of blind obedience.)

But most "sweet" of Der Spiegel was that they shortened the headline of the 3rd piece of the batch from an "eye for an eye, murder for murder" in the German version to an "eye for an eye" in the international one, the evil hypocrites - the piece deals with the Dubai affair and it seems we are down again to 27 perpetrators ;-)

If I remember right that is a reference to the Bible, would it be a similar gross one to the Koran the authors might have to face a "reaction".

Saul Lieberman said...

Good work.
But unlikely to be interesting to those addicted "End the Occupation."
And if you can uproot entire communities, what's a few bedrooms?

Emanuel said...

Jerusalem will never be divided but it is free for entire nation to visit it, and the world should be appreciated the Jewish hospitality other than that imagine what would happen if the Saudi Arabia nor other Islamic nation would have the control of this Jewish historic capital ?