by: Nathan Williams, BFP Staff Writer
Jerusalem is experiencing one of its biggest expansions ever. Mayor Nir Barkat is focused on making Jerusalem a modern metropolis and one of the most accessible cities in Israel. Barkat hopes that new rail lines, business centers and massive residential construction will not only attract new citizens, but also investment from Israeli companies.
During 2018, the newest addition to the Jerusalem transport infrastructure will be officially inaugurated and opened to the public. The King David Line will expand the network of Israel Railways, offering a high-speed link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv via Ben Gurion Airport. This new route will cut travel time over the 56-km (35-mile) distance to just twenty-eight minutes and link directly to public transport in Jerusalem. While on the one hand it is good news for the citizens of Jerusalem and tourists alike, there is a concern that the rapid modernization of this ancient city will affect its unique character.
The Other Capital
Founded some 100 years ago, the seaside city of Tel Aviv has, by default, carried the title of the unofficial capital city of Israel. When the world refused to recognize Jerusalem or to place their diplomatic missions in the biblical capital, the logical choice for the international community was to look to Tel Aviv. According to historical fact and now added to the chorus, US President Trump, Jerusalem can restate the claim of being the official capital city of Israel. But what may appear to simply be a battle of titles between two cities, also embodies a clash of ideologies that plays out within the rank and file of Israeli citizens. Tel Aviv has become the quintessential model of a modern, liberal, cultural center, while Jerusalem is perceived to be religious, extremist and stiff. Therein lies the crux of this struggle—a clash between secularism and conservatism—that questions the actual identity of the State of Israel and the rights of its religious and secular citizens.
In the Beginning
The origin of the current religious status quo in Israel is attributed to a letter sent by David Ben-Gurion to the United Nations on June 19, 1947. Ben-Gurion feared that he would lose the support of Jewish religious leaders by declaring a secular state instead of a religious one. Consequently a letter was penned outlining that the State of Israel would abide by key policy principles fundamental to Orthodox Judaism. Perhaps not realizing it at the time, the letter would become the guide for the modern State of Israel in defining all future relationships between religion and state. Ben-Gurion covered matters like the Shabbat (Sabbath day of rest), religious Jewish kosher laws regarding food, family laws like marriage and basic education. As the primary identity of the State of Israel is a Jewish one, the government has enforced these fundamental laws of Orthodox Judaism. But periodically in modern history the debate flares up about whether there should be a separation of “church and state,” or rather rabbinate and state, in Israel.
SOURCE: Bridges for Peace