Monday, May 14, 2007

Jerusalem, 1952

This week Israel celebrates the 40th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem, by any objective yardstick one of the best things ever to happen to the holy city.

Of course, the international community disagrees, and the EU and US are expected to boycott the celebrations.

So let's have a look at how Jerusalem was after it was divided. From Time magazine, April 28, 1952:


Jerusalem, holy city of three great religions, is dying from strangulation. The rope around its neck is the barbed wire which separates Jew from Arab, the New City from the Old.

Before the Arab-Israel war of 1948-49, Jerusalem was a thriving community of nearly a quarter of a million people. Today, divided between Israel and Jordan, after three years of "armistice" without real peace, it is a 1,650-sq. mi. economic wilderness. Blocked gates, streets dead-ended by dragons teeth and rusting barbed wire, roadblocks and ruins divide the two cities, which for economic well-being must be one. On the Arab side, 100,000 people live without money to buy plentiful goods. On the Jewish side, somewhere between 110,000 and 140,000 people live with money but no goods to buy. The people watch each other uneasily. The wife of Jacob Meyerbaum and the wife of Ahmed Abu Mohammed hang the morning's washing out on lines which are separated by only a few yards. Then they return to equally empty kitchens.

Palestinian Prison. Business on both sides of this divided city is almost dead. The proprietor of Bulos' souvenir shop just inside Jaffa Gate in the Arab section surveyed his empty store and the empty street leading to the gate where Arab Legionnaires, checked kaffiyehs on their heads, blocked the way. "Before the war," he said, "at this time of the morning the street would be jammed with tourists from the King David Hotel. By Sunday night the counters would be empty and the cash register full of those beautiful old Palestinian pounds. Today I've got a store full of goods, one clerk who has nothing to do but talk politics with his cousin—and the cash register hasn't got a dozen Jordanian dinars in it."

Some Arabs talk hopefully of internationalizing the Holy City as called for by the U.N.'s Nov. 29, 1947 resolution. But most doubt it will come about. "The resolution will never be enforced," said a Christian Arab, "because the big powers don't care about it. But even if the U.N. fulfilled its word, the two governments which now divide Jerusalem would fight it. The Israelis surround us on three sides and the Jordanians block us off on the fourth. We are in a prison."

The Palestinian is a lonely man who hates the Jordan government which took over his country against his will. He also despises the U.S. and Great Britain, on whom he places the major blame for his plight. He particularly hates Harry Truman and hopes that General Eisenhower will be elected and that he will change U.S. policy on the Israeli-Arab problem. The British whisper that Britain did everything it could to protect the Arabs against the U.S.'s mad determination to create the state of Israel. The burden of hate is shifting more & more to the Americans. And the U.S. does nothing to answer the accusations.

Communism Gains. There is a great deal of grumbling about the way U.S. Point Four aid is being handled. For instance, a $1,200,000 emergency shipment of U.S. wheat was stopped short at Amman, and never found its way across the Jordan River for distribution to the needy in Jerusalem. The reason: Jordan, quite suddenly, discovered that she had a bumper wheat crop coming up, and that this foreign wheat, which had been sought to avert serious famine, would drive prices down. In the meantime, Jerusalem has almost no wheat, and bread is short.

The atmosphere in the bars and coffee houses reminds me of the early 1930s in the U.S. when jobless men sat around all day with nothing to do except feel sorry for themselves. The men of Jerusalem don't know where to go, which way to turn. There are no leaders, no men with messages. Even the evil former Grand Mufti has lost a substantial part of his following, because he no longer does anything, no longer sends his devoted followers money.

The Communist Party is growing stronger. Though outlawed in Jordan, it is very active underground, and you hear the Commie line in every coffee house and bar. Directed from Haifa in Israel (where it is legal), the party has mobile printing presses which flood the countryside with literature. Normally, the Jerusalem Palestinian is not the sort who would be a Communist. But he has not had any work for three years. His properties in the New City are now in the hands of the Israelis. He is desperate. Arab Jerusalem is one of the three most fertile fields for Communism in the Middle East today (the others: Teheran and Cairo).

New Race of Wanderers. In Jerusalem today you see oldsters and middle-aged men, but few vigorous, ambitious educated men in their 20s. The reason is simple. Those who can are getting out. They are working all over the Arab world as teachers or junior staffers in oil companies. One sees them in Syria, Iraq, and up & down the length of the Persian Gulf, sad, lonely for the lovely hills of Judea. They are a new race of wanderers from the Holy Land.

I mentioned the declining number of young men in Jerusalem to one of Palestine's greatest jurists the other night. He nodded sadly and said: "Yes. Our people are disintegrating. The young ones, the strong ones are all going away. The ones we must count on in the future will not be here when we need them. But could you tell them not to go? What is there for them here?"

Of course, the Israeli side continued to grow and become a modern city between the time this article was written and 1967, while the Arab side continued to slide into a slum. Apparently, today's wise diplomats (the progeny of the diplomats of 1952 who did nothing to stop the Old City from being Judenrein ) prefer that state of affairs to Jerusalem today, with triple the population and a bustling economy for Arab and Jew.