Q: Why do you focus solely on Jerusalem?
A: The issue of Jerusalem is only one of the issues that comprise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but considering its complexity there is a need for a body specializing solely in Jerusalem. In fact, the question of Jerusalem also has a bearing on the other two core issues -- borders and refugees -- and therefore constitutes a sort of "microcosm" of the entire conflict. Furthermore, inasmuch as there is a public discourse about Jerusalem in Israel, it suffers from a tremendous degree of ignorance and is often based on clichés and slogans. Therefore, a professional body is needed to provide the facts and figures to enable a better informed discussion of this important issue..
Q: Are you a human rights organization?
A: No. Ir Amim is an organization concerned with Jerusalem in the political context that takes into consideration the Israeli interests in the city. Since one of Ir Amim's declared goals is to strengthen Jerusalem -- both East and West -- as a city whose two parts can one day serve as the vital capitals of two states, there are many points of interface between political and humanitarian issues, but human rights is not the main focus of the organization's activity.
Q: What does Ir Amim do?
A: Ir Amim monitors all of the main developments and trends in the city that have implications for its political future within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, analyzes their significance and makes them available to the general public as well as to the media, by publishing reports, position papers and articles. The organization also offers study tours to the general public to encourage an informed public discussion of this key issue. Ir Amim also conducts lectures, parlor meetings and workshops for the general public and target audiences, as well as an annual film project in which young Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers produce short documentary films about Jerusalem from a more personal perspective. On the legal level, Ir Amim tackles a number of issues affecting the city’s stability and equitability, such as petitioning the city to build more classrooms in East Jerusalem and challenging the management of the City of David Visitor Center in Silwan by a private ideological organization. Ir Amim also works with the Palestinian community in Jerusalem to strengthen local civil society.
Q: What is Ir Amim's vision for the future of Jerusalem?
A: There are dozens of proposals as to the nature of the political solution in Jerusalem, from its physical division to joint Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty. Ir Amim does not advocate any particular solution and believes that any solution agreed upon by both sides is good enough as long as it allows both parts of the city to function as independent and vital capitals.
Q: What is Ir Amim's position on the large Israeli neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, such as Gilo and Pisgat Ze'ev?
A: Even though the diplomatic community and international law do not recognize the legality of these neighborhoods, and consider any Israeli construction beyond the Green Line as illegal settlements, Ir Amim recognizes the fact that throughout the years of annexation a reality has been created on the ground, part of which is irreversible. Ir Amim works according to the parameters for the division of sovereignty in Jerusalem presented in December 2000 by US President Bill Clinton known until today as the "Clinton Parameters," according to which the division of sovereignty in the city will be along demographic lines; namely, the large Israeli neighborhoods will remain under Israeli sovereignty while the Palestinian neighborhoods will be part of Al-Quds, the Palestinian capital.
Even though those parameters were tacitly accepted by the Palestinian side as well, Ir Amim still believes that these neighborhoods constitute part of the area whose political future should be decided at the negotiating table, and therefore any attempt to establish further facts on the ground by expanding Israeli construction in these neighborhoods is wrong and may have negative political consequences.
Q: Is there a difference between Gilo and the settlement of "Maale Zeitim" in Ras al-Amud?
A: Yes. Even though both Maale Zeitim and Gilo constitute Israeli presence beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem, and both are illegal under international law, they have different consequences both for the political future of Jerusalem and its present stability. Gilo is one of the Israeli neighborhoods which both the Clinton parameters and other political understandings recognized as being part of Israeli Jerusalem even under future agreements, and therefore it cannot undermine such an agreement. On the other hand, the settlement of "Maale Zeitim" is part of a chain of strategic settlements being promoted over the past decade by right wing ideological bodies (with vigorous state support), whose essence is Jewish settlement in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods, mainly in and around the Old City, with the goal of undermining any possibility of a future political solution involving division of sovereignty in the city into two separate capitals. But beyond the political damage they embody, the settlements also serve as an ongoing provocation against the Palestinian residents, and this loaded friction between the two populations periodically bursts into severe waves of violence.
Q: Who funds Ir Amim?
A: Support for Ir Amim's activity comes from a number of sources including Israeli foundations, the European Union and American Jewish foundations, as well as the general public. Our full list of supporters can be found on the Ir Amim website.
Q: For whom are Ir Amim's tours intended?
A: Primarily for the general Israeli public. As an Israeli organization, one of our primary goals is to encourage an informed discussion in Israeli society about the future of Jerusalem, and therefore we want to expose the political reality of Jerusalem through our tours to the broadest Israeli public possible. Besides tours in Hebrew, we also hold tours in English for foreign audiences or people whose Hebrew is not good enough. We also lead more focused groups that want to learn about the situation in Jerusalem, including journalists, youth groups, students, professionals, and others.
Q: Let's say we go on a tour, we see, we learn, we are impressed. Now what?
A: There is a lot that you can do! Ir Amim urges you to recommend to your friends to go on a tour; organize a parlor meeting where a representative of Ir Amim will come and talk to the participants; write letters to the editor following news on the political issue in Jerusalem; write to members of Knesset, and generally join efforts to generate an informed and objective discussion about the future of the city.
Q: Is Ir Amim against the separation barrier?
A: No. Ir Amim does not have a particular position for or against the separation barrier but wishes to analyze the political, military and humanitarian implications of its various segments in the Jerusalem area, since it is one of the most dramatic developments in the city since 1967.
Q: It looks like your main activity is to tattletale on Israel to the rest of the world…
A: Ir Amim's main target audience is the Israeli public. The organization makes all of its materials, documents and reports easily accessible to the Israeli public via its website and offers free study tours. However, as one of the main political issues in the conflict, Jerusalem is naturally of great concern to the international diplomatic community, which uses Ir Amim's professional knowledge to gain a better understanding of the developments on the ground. We believe the desired political solution will require maximum cooperation of all the relevant players in the field, and that is why we aim for all the parties to act on the basis of knowledge and a close familiarity with the reality on the ground.
Q: Are you associated with any political party? Are you a political organization?
A: We are political but non-partisan. Our work is political by the very fact that the issue of Jerusalem is a political issue. Our political position is support for a two-state solution and a political agreement to divide sovereignty in Jerusalem to make that solution possible. However, Ir Amim is not affiliated or associated with any political party in or outside of Israel.
Q: Why do you criticize only Israel? Why don't you criticize the Palestinians too?
A: Ir Amim is an Israeli organization, which has the Israeli interest foremost in mind in its work. Therefore and as Israeli citizens our address is primarily the Israeli government. As citizens, the Israeli government owes us accountability and it is entrusted with the Israeli interest. Furthermore, as the sovereign on the ground since 1967, Israel's conduct has much more far-reaching consequences than any other party in the area, and therefore it is that conduct that is the focus of Ir Amim's monitoring, analysis, and reporting.