Issue No.
182, June 2013 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Jerusalem The Light, the Air, the Mystique, and the Universality – Lament and Verve
By Hiba Husseini
The Jerusalem air, to some, is ethereal. To others it is ephemeral.

Visitors speak of the brilliant light - and the hues at dawn and dusk that engulf the skies. This adds to the magical atmosphere of Jerusalem, making it a special place. The light is sometimes attributed to a wondrous sensation emanating from the skies, to the holiness and sacredness of the city, or to some other inexplicable spiritual phenomenon.

All residents, regardless of faith, colour, creed, or persuasion, perceive and experience this city as theirs - a mystical incident felt in few other places in our world. Those living outside Jerusalem or those who cannot visit or are denied access speak of it as the penultimate symbol and maintain an intrinsic association to the city - forever revering the symbol and experiencing the dream.

From whichever perspective, faith, or orientation, this city - Jerusalem - will forever captivate people. It is so many things to so many people and, thus, forever mystical. Alas, this mysticism cannot and will not open the city or cause it to be shared by all who are intrinsically associated with it.

Sadly, today, Jerusalem’s holiness and sacredness have become marred and fraught with subterfuge, plots, and competing national claims. All this negativity threatens its very fabric, its universality, and its dignity. Indeed, it is now a pawn in the hands of a party that holds control over its sacred sites with sole discretion as to who will be allowed to enter and when.

The city is ailing. Its Palestinian residents are both fatigued from their struggles and despondent over the lack of progress towards Palestinian sovereignty. For them, constant daily struggles have dulled the past lustre of their Jerusalem. Day after day they face land confiscations, demolitions, and forced displacement. They are frustrated by the inability to find a just forum to assert their human, religious, and other universal rights. The toll this takes on Palestinian residents is high. Insecure from living in fear that their residency and other civil rights may be arbitrarily stripped from them, worry shapes their conduct and behaviour.

For Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the city’s uplifting spirituality is denied to them because of the tight restrictions that are placed on everyday life. For them the air seems less fresh, the light is dimmed, and hope is illusory. Experiencing the epic mysticism of this eternal city evades them.

The day-to-day life of East Jerusalemites is arduous. On top of this, the vast majority of East Jerusalemites barely make ends meet. East Jerusalem’s economy is so underdeveloped that it even lags behind major cities of the West Bank, such as Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus. A large number of residents, estimated to be as high as 85 percent, live in abject poverty. Despite facing impossible conditions, however, most of us continue to persevere and somehow keep both the grandeur and mystical nature of Jerusalem close to our hearts. It is, after all, our home.

The seminal question for those who desire to find and keep their intrinsic relationship with this universal city is: How do we all find and touch its verve? With this unyielding desire comes also the heavy burden of responsibility to maintain and uplift it. A Jerusalem for all is its essence. We pay tribute to its history and, at the same time, honour its significance and preserve its holiness for future generations. Daunting and solemn though this challenge is, any other formulation cannot and will not begin the restoration of the city.

The philosopher and essayist George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This wise imperative is ever so relevant to all of us who love and care about Jerusalem. A quick look at its history reveals its composite nature - how it has belonged to many civilisations through the ages. This chart that spans four thousand years depicts the mosaic of cultures that is Jerusalem.

What have we learned from our history and what do we fail to grasp? It seems that when it comes to Jerusalem, the learning curve hits the “Wall.” Make no mistake, I do not mean the wall of the Old City.

The Old City has seven open gates, yet it remains closed except to a “select” few. Most devotees of Jerusalem are barred from getting there long before they reach the Old City. They are deterred by a system of closures and obstacles placed in their pathway - obstacles that intimidate and exhaust the traveller.

The reality is clear, reaching Jerusalem and the Old City can be hard. Of course, a special category of worshiper is totally free to come and go to the Old City at all times of day and night. They are allowed complete freedom to go to their places of religious worship - namely, those of the Jewish faith. Others are routinely forbidden or held at bay.

Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are both basic tenets of true democracies. Such freedoms are not the case for anyone who wishes to worship at the Haram Al-Sharif, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the numerous other holy sites.

Now is the right time for our generation to create a durable imprint for the future: to ensure the universality of the city. We need to become truly enlightened and to think rationally, reasonably, and objectively about the interests of the inhabitants of the city. We also need to direct our attention to its infrastructure as well as to its cultural, historical, archaeological, religious, and economic life. Together we must reclaim the mystical spirit that is Jerusalem. Its treasure and meaning is universal. It must not be relegated to just one nation.

It is time now to open its gates and doors to all. Only then will the city become a manifestation for us all without prejudice, discrimination, or selfishness. In this sense, we can deserve to call ourselves the universal Jerusalemites, and history will bear witness to our constructiveness instead of our destructiveness.

Dr. Hiba Husseini is the senior legal and policy expert who manages the leading corporate and business law firm in Palestine known as Husseini & Husseini. She has been serving as legal adviser to the Palestinian Negotiations Team since 1994. Dr. Husseini also serves on the boards of various non-profit organisations and has written, published, and lectured worldwide.

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