Paul Calvert spoke with the Deputy Mayor


Since the 1967 Six Day War, Jerusalem has been the unified capital of Israel and is a holy city for Jews, Moslems and Christians. Israel became a State for the Jewish people after the recommendations of the Balfour Declaration and after approval of the United Nations and after thousands of years of being a nation without a home. With a wealth of historical, cultural and biblical sites Jerusalem has over four million tourists each year. Paul Calvert spoke with Naomi Tsur, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem about the running of the city, tourism, how the different faith communities live and work together and the importance of 1967.

Paul: How easy is it to run a city like Jerusalem?

Naomi: Jerusalem is the most fascinating city in the world. In more ancient times it was viewed as the centre of the universe and looking at the way it is treated by world media you would think that it still is. It's something like being in the eye of a geo-political storm that's been going on for about 3,000 years and isn't going to end any time soon; but when you are in that eye, when you are in the city of Jerusalem, which the Jewish sages described as having been given 9 of the ten measures of beauty given to the entire world; sometimes we think we were given 9 of the ten measures of everything and that includes all the conflicts and difficulties.

When you are in the city itself, you realise that it is still simply a city. Its true that its the spiritual destination and the most important spiritual destination for Jews and for Christians and a very important spiritual destination for Moslems around the world, so billions of people raise there eyes to Jerusalem, but if you are just living in the city, then its a city that has to be run for all its residents. That means people want to get up in the morning and send their kids to school; go shopping, to work, to hospital, to the zoo and do all the things that you do in a city. We sometimes feel that geo-political Jerusalem, which is an entity in its own right, but has very little baring on the city that we are running. It is like some global jigsaw puzzle that in different places in the world people pick up pieces from here and from there and we arrange them in some way or another. We who live in the city realise just how tricky that might be because it is our job to care for all the population of the city. The remarkable thing is how well that works because it has different neighbourhoods; some of them are Jewish Pluralistic neighbourhoods; some of them are Arab Christian or Arab Moslem and some of them are Ultra-Orthodox Jewish. Those 30 neighbourhoods scattered around the city, when they all emerge from their neighbourhoods, they emerge into a public domain that is truly shared by all the residents.

We have a light rail that serves all the populations of the city. I travel on it every day and I see my fellow Ultra-Orthodox residents, Christians, Moslems and Jews of all different sizes, shapes, colours and ways of dress. It is a city with freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of worship for all the faiths in the city. I think that although world media as a whole tries to find everything that might be interpreted as going wrong in Jerusalem and in fact most cities have things that go wrong in them; there is a remarkable amount that goes right and if you ask people all round the city how they view themselves, they don't see themselves so much and I think that this applies both to the Israelis and the Palestinians, they feel themselves to be much more Jerusalemite than either Israeli or Palestinian. Jerusalem has its own identity and this is interesting in a world where by the end of this century we are going to have 90% of the whole world living in cities. Cities are going to be the centre of things and not the countries. Countries are going to become less and less relevant and this may have a positive bearing on the geo-political conflicts of the world.

Paul: Everyone loves coming to Jerusalem. What is special about this city?


Naomi: The special quality of Jerusalem is the fact that the city is one of the most beautiful places in the world, because of its incredible sculptural landscape. It's a landscape that hasn't changed for millennia and its heritage sites and spiritual aura are incredible. In fact they are too powerful for some people who come to the city; they get overwhelmed by the sense that wherever you walk you are walking on layers and layers of history, heritage, destruction, re-building, persecution and inspiration; all the possible things you could find in one city in a relatively small area.

What many people don't realise is that Jerusalem is a city with a lot of natural resources. There is nature in Jerusalem. You will find a park with gazelles in it in the heart of the city. We are on the major bird migration route. It's the same flora and fauna that we had in Bible times and these are things that we treasure and we are integrating into the planning of the city.

A very special quality is the way the Old City meets the New City and the light rail itself does that physically. The line of the light rail comes up past Damascus Gate and Jaffa Gate and then in your passage of the light rail to Mount Herzl. You come to the modern Calatrava Bridge at the entrance of the city. It's a completely new world of architecture and landscaping.

Paul: How many tourists do you get coming to Jerusalem every year and what can they see here?

Naomi: I think that all tourists that come to Jerusalem are one kind of pilgrim or another. Even if they don't see themselves as pilgrims, there will be something spiritual about their visit to the city.

At the beginning of our administration which was four and a half years ago, we had only just over two million tourists a year and now we are tipping over the four million. We have doubled our tourism and we have set a goal of 10 million tourists for Jerusalem annually. We think we can reach it comfortably within another five or 10 years. We must remember that cities like London or New York or Paris have about 50 million tourists a year, so we are not on that scale. Also I think the modesty and humility of Jerusalem would be badly impacted by so many, but we have to think of ways of spreading our pilgrims and tourists around and giving them interesting things to do; not only at the ultimate pilgrim sites that they all want to get to, but to enjoy the natural resources of the city, the areas around the city, the parks, gardens and many interesting historic sites.


Paul: You have a Jerusalem marathon; do you have lots of events planned for 2013?

Naomi: We have wonderful events planned for 2013. The marathon was a wonderful success; we had very good weather for ours. We are planning an incredible series of events. We will have our season of culture in the summer with a lot of outdoor cultural events for families, for tourists and for everyone to enjoy. They bring Israelis from other parts of Israel as well and the event that I am personally hosting and very busy with at the moment is the Gala opening of the first international Jerusalem symposium on green and accessible pilgrimage, because Jerusalem has joined forces with other cities in the world in a green pilgrimage network to make the pilgrim experience a sustainable one and to encourage the cities that are destinations for pilgrims to work together to receive their pilgrims in a friendly way. Jerusalem receives Jews, Christians and Moslems so is a special case; a special challenge and a special opportunity.