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Hebrew U prof disputes image of Jerusalem as polarized city

Noam Shoval is definitely not in favour of redividing Jerusalem.
Despite some groups’ plans for such a division in the name of peace, the Hebrew University Geography Professor and lifelong Jerusalemite argues that dividing the ancient city will not bring about peace.

“Division will only make things worse,” he said. “Cities are divided as a result of war, not in an effort to make peace. Stakeholders need to understand that Jerusalem is a living city like any other living city. In terms of housing, there are certainly segregated areas but, in all other respects, that is not the case.”
Speaking to a large gathering at the Campus on Monday, May 4 (a program co-sponsored by the Winnipeg chapter of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Centre fort Israel and Jewish Affairs), Shoval backed up his assertions with a report on a study that he was involved in that tracked 16,000 Jerusalem residents over 24 hours with GPS devices and then interviewed them.
“The study showed that there is a lot of shared space in the city centre,” he reported. “We found that 45%-50% of Arabs spend some time in (largely) Jewish West Jerusalem and other Jewish areas while 85% of Jews pass through Arab neighbourhoods during the course of a day.”
He added that Arab women who participated in the survey said that they enjoyed shopping in Jewish neighbourhoods because they felt freer in those areas away from the harassment that they might receive while out and about in Arab areas.
Shoval began his presentation by noting that not only is he a lifelong Jerusalemite, but also that he is a third generation graduate and employee of the Hebrew University.
He noted that while Jerusalem is a place of pilgrimage for three religions and a spiritual symbol, the real earthly city is quite small and is one of the poorest cities in Israel. “The most important industry is tourism,” he noted.
He pointed out that the 3,800-year-old walled Old City is quite small – the distance from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the Temple Mount is only about the size of three to four hockey rinks.
He also pointed out that, contrary to those Westerners who view Israel as a European colonial implant, Jerusalem has had an overall Jewish majority since 1870, well before the advent of Zionism.
Although the city’s population of about 800,000 has a Jewish majority, he noted, the Arab minority is growing. “Part of the problem,” he said, “has been the difficulty of building new housing in Jerusalem.”
Part of the problem (re building), he attributes to international pressure. Then there is the environmental factor. There was a comprehensive plan to expand Jerusalem to the west of the city. That plan was stymied by strong lobbying from Israel’s Green movement, which was concerned about protecting the Jerusalem Forest  west of Jerusalem.
The result of the housing shortage has meant that housing prices are extremely expensive. That has forced many younger people, including many younger Haredim, to look elsewhere for housing, such as the newer Jewish neighbourhoods and settlement blocs to the north, south and east of the city.
(The Palestinians don’t leave, he noted, because those who do lose their valued Israeli residency permits.)
There are now over 550,000 people – 10% of Israel’s population – living over the Green Line (the 1948 armistice lines that have never been officially recognized internationally as a border), Shoval noted.
While only one country – Micronesia – and some American evangelical Christians accept the settlement blocs beyond the Green Line as part of Jewish Israel, he reported, all Israelis do. And, he added, that in any peace agreement with the Palestinians, these areas will remain part of Israel. The Palestinians would be compensated with areas of land now in Israel proper that border the Palestinian Authority’s domains.
In response to a question as to whether the PA would ever accept a peace agreement without east Jerusalem as their capital, Shoval pointed out that the PA have already built their legislature in Abu Dis, a place just outside the city to the southeast and an area that is adjacent to the Old City walls.
As to the image in the outside world of Jerusalem being a dangerous and violent city, Shoval again used statistics to refute that belief. Comparing Jerusalem’s crime rates to Pittsburgh (where he spent a sabbatical), he pointed out that in 2012, Jerusalem reported one murder per 100,000 people as compared to 41 murders per 100,000 in Pittsburgh (which was only the 18th worst result among American cities). In the same year, there were just 13 robberies per 100,000 people in Jerusalem compared to 360 per 100,000 in Pittsburgh.
“Toronto has twice the rate of robberies and Vancouver three times the rate of Jerusalem,” he said. “And Winnipeg has two times the rate of robberies as Vancouver.”
Terror? There were nine terror-related deaths in Jerusalem last year, he said – and that was the highest number in several years.
As for Palestinian views of the future, Shoval reported the results of a 2010-2011 survey that found that 40% of Palestinians living in Jerusalem want to remain under Israeli governance, 30% say they would prefer living in a Palestinian state and the others weren’t sure.
In introducing Professor Shoval, Margaret Shuckett, president of the Winnipeg chapter of CFHU, noted that the Hebrew University – which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, is the top-rated university in the Middle East and is ranked 57th among the world’s universities.
She also encouraged those in attendance to consider signing up for the Hebrew University’s annual Live and Learn Trip, which this year includes a stop in Greece as well as Israel.
For further information, readers can call the CFHU office here at 204 942-3085.

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