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Israel: Constitution, Government and Politics

Is There a Common Jerusalem Political Culture?

Daniel J. Elazar

Great cities are well known for commanding strong identification and loyalty on the part of their residents. In ancient times when cities also were states, these cultural loyalties often were linked with political loyalty. In modern times, fundamental political loyalties have been transferred elsewhere, but cultural loyalties often remain. The ties of New Yorkers to New York, Parisians to Paris, Florentines to Florence and Calcuttans to Calcutta are not particularly tied to political loyalty although in those cases, at least there is no incompatibility between political and civic loyalty. This is not the case with Jerusalem. Jerusalem long has commanded very strong civic identification and loyalty on the part of its inhabitants even though that civic loyalty has had to survive many changes in the political loyalties required of its citizenry.

Since 1948, this problem has been compounded by the fact that Jerusalem's residents have had two competing, at times conflicting, civic loyalties. Israel and Jordanian, and more recently, a new Palestinian political loyalty. The issue of which political loyalty has been a sore point, if not a central feature, of the Israel - Palestinian conflict, leading to questions which need to be raised with regard to civic loyalties, and beyond that to political culture. Why this study? The resolution of the Jerusalem question will, in the last analysis, rely upon political negotiation and decision making based upon the expectations, aspirations, and rural situations by both parties. Understanding common political culture patterns could possibly be of assistance in reaching that resolution.

Political culture can be understood as a dimension of culture generally that is also an independent variable in its effects on political life and not merely a residual category. It can be defined as a group's deeply rooted pattern of orientations to political action. While political culture, like all culture, changes, it is very slow to change and cannot easily be changed by conscious manipulation. In that respect, it must be distinguished form political style, which, like all styles, is superficial and can change more frequently although it represents the expression of something deeper. It is important not to confuse political style with political culture which involves subconscious attitudes and behavior as much or more as conscious orientations or response patterns. In situations where there may be substantial difference in general culture, often there are certain elements of political culture which provide a basis for communication and sharing among groups. Good examples of that can be found in various political situations around the world where certain groups seem to find a common language despite their difference while others, which may be similar in certain ways, are in constant conflict. There are some question of underlying political culture that may influence in both directions.

This paper can only begin to raise those questions. Preliminary research suggests that direct attempts to get at the answers with regard to political culture are very much entangled with the issues of political loyalty and hence the strands are not easily separable, nor best uncovered by direct questioning. Those subtle methodologies are required.

Whatever the entanglements, one thing is clear of all Jerusalemites, and that is the in common commitment to Jerusalem as their city. It would not be unfair to view their commitment to Jerusalem the city as among the most powerful in the world today. Indeed, it is one of the factors that exacerbates the conflict. There are territories in dispute between the two peoples that carry minimal emotional attachment with them, obviously within the context in which the entire territory of what is referred to as the Holy Land evokes emotional attachment. Some have the additional attachment that comes from being considered strategic in one way or another. Still others have symbolic associations attached to them, but that symbolism has very little that can quickly tie it to place.

Jerusalem, on the other hand, has all those elements; strategic, symbolic and concrete sites and ties. When it comes to civic loyalty and feeling, the vast majority of Jerusalemites, whatever the people or their persuasion, have very strong feelings and commitments. Each group, perhaps for its own reasons, but the end result is the same.

Political Culture: Beyond Civic Loyalties

Jerusalem Jews and Arabs: Commonalities

  1. Identification with the Jerusalem, qua Jerusalem.

  2. The sense of each group that they have been deprived of their rights or aspirations.
  3. Religious attitudes toward the city.
  4. Desires for political and social separation.
  5. National ambitions.
  6. Use of informal accommodation practices.
  7. Concern for the character of the city.

Some of these commonalities can serve as the basis for communication and sharing while others exacerbate potential and actual conflicts.

In those parts of the United States where settlers of Puritan stock were later joined by settlers of Scandinavian stock, despite the differences in their respective general cultures, their political cultures were basically alike or harmonious so they were able to forge common state polities together with relatively little difficulty. Naturally there was competition for office between the groups, but that competition did not extend to more fundamental issues since each group assumed that, whoever gained office, they would pursue patterns of government acceptable to the other. This was quite unlike the situation where Irish settled among descendants of the Puritans. While there were strong similarities between their two general cultures, their cultures clashed and each group soon perceived that loss of office to the other meant fundamental changes in the ways of government. Even though both were committed to the United States, and ultimately to living together, it took four or five generations before there was even a superficial melding of their respective political cultures. This question has direct bearing on our case in the sense that whatever the differences in general culture between Jews and Arabs, they may not preclude commonalities in political culture. Those commonalities may serve to bring the two peoples together or to further exacerbate tensions among them precisely because of their similarity.

Let us turn then to identification of possible commonalities in the political culture of the two peoples.

Identification with Jerusalem.

We have already suggested that in the civic realm that all groups of Jerusalemites are characterized by their strong civic identification with and loyalty to Jerusalem. This identification with Jerusalem could be the starting point for our investigation. There is a special character of the identification with Jerusalem as well, that rests on strong religious, historic and familial connections. Although not actually symmetrical, they are sufficient among both peoples to be culturally similar. Both Arabs and Jews identify the old families who have been in Jerusalem for centuries as the nuclei of their communities, albeit with different consequences in the present. Those whole families are symbolic of the concreteness of the attachment of each people to the city. Arabs speak of families that have been in the city for as many as fourteen hundred years, a figure which may or may not mythic. Jews do not face the continuous residence of any families back more than 500 years, but like to point out that the Eliachar family has been in Jerusalem continuously since 1485, and that seven other families in the city came to Jerusalem directly from Spain when expelled from that country in 1492. Clearly, the Muslim claim is based upon the settlement of Arab families at the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637.

The Vaad Haeida Sephardi, the Sephardic Community Council which had been the governing body for Jerusalem's Jews under Ottoman rule, or at least its latter centuries, dates its founding to Nachman Dies reestablishment of a Jewish community in Jerusalem in 1268, after the last expulsion in the city which had left only two Jewish families in residence.

The old Arab families are reckoned to be those whose property formally held by the Muslim Wakf, for purposes of protection against Ottomon taxation, are still considered to be property of the families in question, and to define which are the old families who are the major property owners in the city. These old families were politically very influential at least until the Six- Day War. The equivalent families in Jewish Jerusalem can also be traced to these property holdings. They are the ones that own almost all of the city's central business district and downtown lands. They maintained their very strong influence in the life of the city until the collapse of Ottoman rule in World War I. In the 1920s they withdrew from public affairs in the face of the rise of Zionism, and now remain present but not immediately visible in the city's public life. Still, those of both communities whose history of residence in the city is more recent seek vicarious standing through identification with their respective old families.

1. Identification with Jerusalem, qua Jerusalem.

We have already suggested that this is the major foundation stone for any shared political culture in the city. Within the two peoples, comprise major division in the city's population we can identify continuing or permanent subdivisions among the Palestinians, we can identify Muslims, the various Christian communities that share Arab nationality, and the Armenians, that is to say Christians of Armenian nationality. Among the Jewish population there are ultra-Orthodox Jews, religious Zionists, a secular intelligentsia, and traditional Jews who do not fit into any of the other three camps. What all have in common is their identification with the city. That identification may lead to contradictory demands. This probably refuels the demand among many, if not most, Jews who want exclusive political control in the city while most Arabs seem to require political control over some of the city to satisfy their identification needs. At the same time, it also generates possibilities for compromise. For example, very few Jews do not see the city as bicultural, and are perfectly willing to see Jerusalem's Arab population have the cultural autonomy that they might want, recognizing their legitimate presence in the city as not less than that of the Jews. By the same token, the apparently greater willingness of Jerusalem's Arabs to reach some kind of compromise solution might also be tied to this identification with the city and recognition of the fact that the Jews are and will be a continuing presence in it.

2. The sense of each group that they have been deprived of their rights or aspirations.

While each group understands the sources and justifications for that identification in its own way, the level of identification is relatively equivalent to each of the key peoples and probably most of their subdivisions has a sense that it has been deprived of its full rights or aspirations vis-a-vis Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a whole. The particular nature of that sense of deprivation is group specific. For the Jews, Jewish history places Jerusalem at the geographic center of Jewish space and the Temple Mount at the heart of Jerusalem while the same time, Jews had been prevented from exercising political sovereignty over Jerusalem for over 2000 years and are still formally denied compilation of sovereignty over the city by the nations. For more traditional and observant Jews, the fact that the Temple Mount remains in Muslim hands is a serious deprivation. For Muslim Arabs, Islam views Jerusalem as its third holiest city, and for Christian Arabs it has all the Christian investiture of holiness. Both groups, as Arabs or Palestinians feel deprived of rule in Jerusalem as a result of the Six-Day War, and as Palestinians as a result of even earlier occupations. That sense of deprivation is part of the new Palestinian national myth. These views about Jerusalem tied into strong sense of national deprivation felt by both peoples; the Jews as a historic and religious deprivation and the Palestinians as a national deprivation.

3. Religious Attitudes Toward the City

As suggested in the previous paragraph, these attitudes of deprivation, while not symmetrical, are the shapers of much of the sense of attachment and they are strongly rooted in the religious commitments or background of all three faiths. Religious beliefs are perhaps the strongest of all human beliefs, the ones least amenable to change and most demanding of coherent and consistent response. While religious feelings about Jerusalem among the two peoples are not symmetrical, nor are they symmetrical with regard to the three faiths since Jerusalem occupies a much higher place in Jewish religion than it does for either Christianity or Islam, but they are real feelings for all three.

4. Desire for Political and Social Separation

Vis-a-vis each other, both peoples have a basic desire for separation, albeit under what each perceives as optimal conditions for itself. There is also a certain asymmetry here. The Palestinians probably desire more separation, especially in the political realm, as part of the inquest for Palestinian identity although they have begun to reconcile themselves to the reality of the Jewish presence in some ways. The Jews have reconciled themselves to being unable to achieve their optimal conditions of complete separation and are willing to sacrifice them for political control.

5. National Ambitions

In this respect, both have strong national ambitions that are in conflict over Jerusalem. Both see those ambitions as simple matters of justice that end long deprivation and injustice. No doubt if they could, each would like the other to disappear. But both have much closer to the realization that neither will, and thus they must find some way to live together. This is a general phenomenon with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Jerusalem, it is compounded by a recognition of the necessity to live together within the same city. Research on the Israel-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem suggests that the Palestinian Jerusalemites are perhaps the most willing to compromise of all Palestinians. This may mean a number of factors explaining why ranging from the role of proximity in the same city leading to a recognition of reality in Palestinians part to unwillingness to give up the personal benefits received for being under Israeli rule. Two larger questions of political culture. The matter bears further investigation.

6. Use of Informal Accommodation Practices

At the same time, because both peoples have come to recognize the reality in which they are located, they have developed informal accommodation practices. This is particularly true in Jerusalem, where shared civic sentiments of attachment to the city have made those accommodations even more necessary if life may continue. The variety of these accommodations has been discussed elsewhere in this project. The fact is that, whatever their sentiments, all but a few extremists accept the necessity for these accommodation, practices de facto, although not necessarily de jure. This is not at all reflected in the rhetoric of either side. It is particularly absent from the Palestinian rhetoric since Palestinian rhetoric focusses on the deprivations of what they consider the Israeli occupation and what they perceive as their second class status in a city in which they have been historically resident for centuries. Jews are less likely to use that rhetoric with regard to their informal accommodations since they do not feel immediately deprived. The Jews who use it are those few who are active on behalf of the Palestinians. This is perhaps the case in which rhetoric and reality are most in conflict.

7. In a sense, this brings us full circle since those accommodations practices go beyond the accommodations that have been developed by the rest of the country, principally because of the joint concern of all segments of the population for the character of the city and even for the peace of the city. This concern for the character and peace of the city is directly tied to the civic pride that embraces the city's inhabitants.

Not all of these political cultural elements are unifying. Some are polarizing. But, they all testify to the existence of shared political culture to some extent whatever its consequences. A third difference is in the extent of the hamulah system. Among the Palestinians hamulot are both strong and very extensive, perhaps up to 5000 members. To recognize the active kinship ties and the obligations that flow from them. There are some characteristics among Israeli Jews which are colloquially referred to as marking humulot and not only among Jews from Arab countries, but these are greatly weakened and much less in the Palestinian Arab sector the inroads of modernity. For the Palestinians hamulah identity exceeded national identity until recently. Whereas for Jews, even when hamulot was stronger, national identity has been primary for thousands of years.

A fourth difference is the definition of the feeling of helplessness. More than a hundred years ago, before the rise of Zionism, it was possible to talk about the Jews feeling helpless in matters political, although it is questionable that they felt as helpless as Palestinians seem to feel today. In any case, Zionism and other Jewish national movements eliminated that feeling of helplessness over the course of several generations, whereas for the Palestinians because their political consciousness has been raised at a time when their political situation has not seemed to them to be improving, perhaps even declining, the Palestinian sense of helplessness seems to have increased. And as we know, political culture can have a variety of consequences; what is shared can be disruptive. If so, it must be dealt with. Nevertheless, understanding this political culture is a first step toward finding a way to reach an effective accommodation between the peoples involved, the groups into which they are divided, and the city which they all love.

To suggest that the two peoples in Jerusalem share elements of a common political culture, does not require us to ignore the political cultural differences that separate them. To mention only two; both communities have old families that have dominated civic and whatever political life was open to their community for generations. In the past, the old Sephardic elite have in many ways resembled the old Muslim Arab elite. Both were well rooted within Middle Eastern culture in which lineage and extended families played a major role in determining position in society. The Sephardic families began to lose their dominant leadership role in the last half of the 19th century, and completely lost it after the British conquest of Palestine and the transfer of leadership to the Zionist movement immediately after World War I. The Arab family elites continued to hold power until the latter half of the 20th century, and they are only now losing their special standing, approximately a century after the transformation in Jewish Jerusalem.

So, too, the nature of elite vs. democratic control is substantially different among the two people. These are only two of the more manifest political cultural differences between the two communities worth of note.

Some people see common political culture only in common political activity only in joint political parties, common celebrations, and the like. But the very things that are common in the political culture may present joint activities of those kinds in many fields. In that case, political culture may serve as a barrier rather than as a unifying force. In other ways, there are not joint activities political culture may be serving if not a unifying, at least an adjusting force keeping the conflict within bounds.

List of Interviewees

1. Gershon Baskin, Co-director of IPCRI
2. Dr. Robin Twite
3. Zakaria Al Qaq, Co-director of IPCRI
4. Hana Siniora, journalist
5. Khalil Tufakaji, Arab Studies Society
6. Dr. Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem
7. Nadav Shelef

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