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Elie Wiesel's Wrong Move on Peace

Elie Wiesel, the noted Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust survivor, has provoked a serious row with an open letter to President Barak Obama published last month in The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. His opinion was strongly rebuked by Yossi Sarid, a former member of Knesset, and by a group of notable Jewish leaders and academicians who live in Jerusalem.

“There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain, “said Mr. Wiesel in his letter.

Latter he added, “Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real state but about memory.”

In an open letter published in Haaretz, Yosse Sarid stated, “Someone has deceived you, my dear friend. Not only may an Arab not build “anywhere,” but he may thank his god if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out onto the street with his family and property. Perhaps you have heard about Arab residents in Sheikh Jarrah, having lived there since 1948, who are again being uprooted and made refugees because certain Jews are chafing from Jerusalem’s space constraints.”

“Those same jealous Jews insist on inserting themselves like so many bones in the throats of Arab neighborhoods, purifying and Judaizing them with the help of rich American benefactors, several of whom you may know personally. Behind the scenes our prime minister and Jerusalem’s mayor are pulling the strings of this puppet show while in public deflecting responsibility for this lawlessness and greed. That is the real reason for the ‘new and old tensions surfacing at a disturbing pace’ of which you warn in your letter.”

“’Jerusalem is above politics’ you write. It is unfortunate that a man of your standing must confuse fundamental issues and confound the reader. Is it not politics that deals with mankind’s weightiest issues, with matters of war and peace, life and death? And is life itself not holier than historical rights, than national and personal memory – holier even than Jerusalem? The living always take precedence over the dead, as must the present and future over the past.”

Writing in The New York Review of Books, a group of 100 prominent Israelis write,

“…Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some otherworldly city that purports to supersede the interest of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet it is our commitment that makes your homecoming possible. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.”

…”We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You will see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality’s refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.”

“We, who live in Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar. The Jerusalem of this world must be shared by the people of the two nations residing in it. Only a shared city will live up to the prophet’s vision: ‘Zion shall be redeemed with justice.’ As we chant weekly in our vigils in Sheikh Jarrah: ‘Nothing can be holy in an occupied city!’”


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César Chelala

César Chelala

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a
winner of several journalism awards.

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