Last update - 08:37 22/12/2006
Academic group seeks to make Jerusalem a violence-free city
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent
Is it possible to turn Jerusalem, which has known so much war and terrorism, into a violence-free zone? A group of Palestinian, Israeli and European academics and intellectuals believes it could happen. On Sunday they will meet at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) to discuss the idea, "Jerusalem First - City without Violence."
Between the start of the intifada in October 2000 and the first half of November 2004, there were 600 terror incidents in Jerusalem, 30 of them suicide attacks that killed 210 people. Next week the city's Tantur Ecumenical Institute will host a meeting of Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy who will continue to discuss the idea.
"This is an embryonic, gradual attempt in which both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, will commit themselves to removing violence from Jerusalem at least for a certain period of time," JIIS head Prof. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, one of the proponents of the idea, explained. He noted that a similar formula was drafted during the Korean War, in the South Korean port city of Pusan.
According to Bar-Siman-Tov, if the experiment succeeds in Jerusalem it could serve as a model for cooperation between the two sides. "This initiative," he emphasized, "does not deal with Jerusalem's political future, and focuses solely on reducing and ending violence. In the first stage the proponents - Palestinians, Israelis, Swiss and Europeans [sic] - will issue a joint statement. In the next stage, we intend to bring in public figures who live in the city - clergy and intellectuals - and in the third stage an attempt will be made to persuade policymakers on both sides to adopt the initiative."
Among the proponents of the idea are members of the Swiss-based Lassalle-Institut, which a few months ago hosted a group of Palestinians and Israelis for a series of meetings. Fifteen of the 20 Israeli participants signed the joint statement, but only seven of the 20 Palestinians were willing to sign off on the idea of turning Jerusalem into a violence-free zone, and even then only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from extremist organizations.
Staff from Lassalle who are currently living in Israel have met over the past few months with delegations from UN member states and members of the Palestinian delegation. Dr. Anna Gamma, of Lassalle, told Haaretz that the responses from all parties have been good and that members of the Palestinian UN delegation promised to pass the message on to the decision-makers.