May 20, 2009
Friday marks 42 years on the Hebrew calendar since Jerusalem was reunified; Jews never abandoned the hope of returning following their expulsion in 70 AD. Between 1948 and 1967, Jordanian snipers transformed the streets near the Old City into a no-man's land. Jews were barred from reaching such iconic sites as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
It's simplistic to talk about Jerusalem in catch-phrases. The city is neither as "united" as Zionists would want, or as "de-facto divided" as Arab propagandists claim. It's also a misnomer to talk about "east" and "west" in describing a city whose neighborhoods intersect around hills and over valleys.
Walk Jerusalem's streets and you'll quickly understand why the city can never again be physically divided - though it can, potentially, be peacefully shared.
Metropolitan Jerusalem - population 760,800 - is 65 percent Jewish and 35% Arab. Sadly, most Arab families, and a good many Jewish ones, live in poverty. Only 45% of Jerusalemites are in the labor force (Arab women and haredi men tend not to work). Most Jewish pupils attend haredi schools. There's a classroom shortage in Arab neighborhoods.
The population is, socially and religiously, old school; at the same time, the city brims with spiritual pluralism, culture, art, even fine dinning.
Mayor Nir Barkat promises better services for the Arab sector (which boycotts the municipal council and is thus voiceless regarding how tax money is spent). He has also undertaken to make the city more inviting for non-haredi Jews.
In short, living here is intense… but a privilege.