Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is once again a hot topic in the international media due to the Trump administration’s declared intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Until I started working with Ir Amim in September 2016, I personally did not know enough about Jerusalem to make an assessment about the pros or cons of this potential move. I attended Jewish Day School K-12, spent a gap year living in Israel after high school, and have family that lives just outside Jerusalem, but I had no idea about the nitty-gritty details of political, social, and economic life in this most important of cities.
Why is there a difference between the Green Line and Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries? Is Har Homa a Jerusalem neighborhood or a settlement? Why are Palestinians in Jerusalem permanent residents but not citizens? What are the implications of Israel building in East Jerusalem for the viability of the two-state solution? Before starting with Ir Amim, I couldn’t answer these questions. According to many discussions with American and Israeli Jews, neither can they.
This is a major problem. How can we, as a global Jewish community, begin to strategize about the future of Jerusalem, inside or outside the context of a two-state solution, if we don’t even know what’s happening on the ground?
I chose to conduct my fellowship with Ir Amim in order to fill my own knowledge gaps and serve as a bridge between the NGO’s unparalleled work and my home Jewish community in the United States. Day by day, I am connecting with more American Jewish leaders and exploring with them the current realities and future prospects for Israeli and Palestinian life in Jerusalem. I am becoming more familiar with obstacles to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians in the city, but I am also exposed to hopeful initiatives and inspiring people dedicated to building shared society here in Jerusalem. This experience is challenging, but it is also very rewarding.