Jerusalem is well known for its complexities and intricacies, but to date these have, for the most part, been analyzed through the eyes of one or the other side to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. JIIS researcher Dr. Hillel Cohen presents a unique view of Palestinian daily life in the Israeli capital – how as individuals and a collective this population is demanded to respect and uphold Israeli rule while at the same time being expected by their Palestinian brethren to be part of the struggle for national liberation. His new book, The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem (published jointly by JIIS and Routledge), examines life for the Palestinians of East Jerusalem since Israel took it over in 1967, though more specifically in the wake of the failed Oslo agreements and Al-Aqsa intifada (2000-05). It looks at the processes that they have undergone – their political and military activities, their relationships with both the Palestinian national movement and the Israeli experience – which led to what Cohen defines as their "identity crisis."
The subject here then is not only their political movements and functioning, but how they negotiate life on the seam, literally as well as metaphorically. In conducting his research, Cohen met and talked with hundreds of Palestinians from all walks of life – from Islamists and nationalists to apolitical folk. He often crossreferenced information garnered at such conversations with documentation from military court files and Palestinian writings. He then traced the changes Palestinian politics have undergone over time, analyzing the failure of the Palestinian struggle in Jerusalem in both its political and military dimensions. He points at "the lack of leadership and the identity crisis among these Jerusalemites which were created by Israeli policies (the wall, the closure of Palestinian institutions) and Palestinian faults (the exclusion of Jerusalem from the Palestinian authority in the Oslo agreements or the suicide attacks in the second intifada)."
As a result, he notes, "despite the fact that Jerusalem is among the areas that were occupied by Israel in 1967 and is considered by the Palestinians as their religious and political capital, there is a substantial difference between the conduct of the Palestinians in the city and those elsewhere in the territories." Their contact with Israelis and their relationship with the Israeli establishment have undoubtedly influenced them. "While a Jew today would not usually dare walk through the markets of the Palestinian cities of Hebron or Khan Yunis, Jerusalem's Old City markets are crowded with Jewish visitors, the merchants welcoming them warmly and happy for the trade. This is not to say that they do not participate in the political or armed struggle, but the character of their participation is different, as is their political identity." It remains to be seen, he says, how the political upheavals in the Middle East will influence the political behavior of the Palestinians in Jerusalem as well, but winds of change can already be felt.