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Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Daniel Seidemann

In January 2010, Daniel Seidemann founded Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli non-profit organization that works to identify and track developments in Jerusalem. Prior to founding Terrestrial Jerusalem, Daniel conducted legal work with Ir Amim, where he took on cases defending individuals, families and communities who were negatively impacted by the wall and the expansion of Jewish settlements in and around Jerusalem.Follow @DanielSeidemann //

  • Let's start by talking a little about your background and how you got involved.

    I'm a former American. I've been living in Israel for 32 years. I've been a lawyer for 18 years. In October of 1991 I got a phone call from a friend of mine who was a member of Knesset. The settlers had just taken over 10 or 11 houses in Silwan.1 He said, "I want you to take it to the Supreme Court." I asked him on what basis, and he said, "Well, why don't we find out." Initially, the office turned it down because it was just too cumbersome and time consuming to do pro-bono work like this, but we couldn't live with ourselves with a clear conscience, so we decided to take it on. In the weeks and months that followed, we were able to crack the genetic code of a covert government policy that targeted Palestinian properties in order to turn them over as ideological trinkets to settler organizations. We were able to expose this, and take it to the Supreme Court. Not by legal means, but by political means, we were able to shut down the policy for a period of about 10 years. That was the beginning of my involvement, and as a result of that I was sucked into the very compelling subject of the relations between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, which is my sandbox. East Jerusalem is my sandbox. I don't deal with the West Bank; I don't deal with Gaza. Things function differently in East Jerusalem than they function anywhere else. Over time it became like volumes in an encyclopedia: land expropriations, house demolitions, the planning regime, public education, the political process, shutting down of the Orient House, Palestinian elections, etc. As a result of my work on the ground, with Palestinians, I was brought in at a very early stage in track two diplomacy and was involved in most of the unofficial talks that took place between Israelis and Palestinians concerning the political future of the city. I had a minor role during the actual negotiations in Camp David and Taba.

    • 1On October 9, 1991, armed Jewish settlers (backed by some ideologically like-minded legislators) seized six homes in Silwan, a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem. See Haitham Hamad. "Legal Wrangle Ensues After Settlers Seize Six Arab Homes," The Associated Press, International News, 9 Oct 1991.

  • Why does Jerusalem interest you more than other places?

    Because it is the most fascinating place on the face of the earth. It is the epicenter of the conflict; it's the quintessential arena where the clash between not only Israeli interests and Palestinian interests, but the Israeli narrative, the Jewish narrative, and the Palestinian Muslim and Christian narratives clash in the place that's most important to all. It's a microcosm of the universe, so you get to play with the primordial elements of the conflict as if it were play dough. Aside from being grueling, difficult, and often lonely, it's also a hell of a lot of fun.

  • Why, in retrospect, do you think you got involved?

    Part of my reason for coming to Israel was to live history as a participant sport and not as a spectator sport. This gave me an opportunity to put some soul into a rather soulless profession, namely the legal profession. There's a great deal of satisfaction in taking the hugest issues and disaggregating them and taking them apart into their component parts and fixing some of them, preventing some of the bad things from happening, and seeing actual results. During the last 4 years of the intifada, where Israelis and Palestinians have regressed and cancelled the mutual humanization that took place before, and dehumanized one another again, we never missed a beat. It's not touchy-feely people-to-people stuff, it's very object oriented: history has condemned us to share the city; we've got work to do, let's get the work done. I'm involved in very eye-level, joint efforts without for a minute forgetting that I'm an Israeli trying to advocate an Israeli interest as I see it, and my partners, rivals, sometimes enemies are trying to advance their causes from the Palestinian perspective.

  • How does your work contribute to peace?

    Ezer Weizman once said, "Let's finish building the state and go home." That's never going to work in Jerusalem. Even if this is going to be a politically divided city, Jerusalem is going to remain one organism, so there will always be an element of building peace from the ground up. That's especially the case now, in the current political climate where the real impasse is the horrible gap between the politically impossible and the historically inevitable.I think everybody knows what final status in Jerusalem looks like 10 or 15 years from now, and nobody knows how to get there. The ability to work incrementally is one element that I think is clearly peace work. Also, politicians are good at arriving at agreements but they rarely ask what I call the "will you respect me in the morning question," namely, if you agree on something, is it going to work? So that too is an element: putting political ideas to scrutiny in order to see how viable they are, how sustainable they are. The third thing is that Jerusalem is a small atomic device. It's not nitroglycerin, it's not every random bump in the road that ignites Jerusalem, but there are things that create critical mass that cause Jerusalem to explode, and when Jerusalem explodes it has ramifications throughout the region. There's a good deal of what I think of as peace work in trying to dismantle ticking time bombs before they go off. So all of these things have something to do with peace, even though in terms of the profile, it's not coming up with a Geneva-like accord, although certain contributions in that direction have been made as well.

  • What are some of the projects you are involved with now?

    I can give you a number of examples, if joint projects are what interest you most. For example, Palestinian elections "broke out" a month ago, and they'll be conducted in another two weeks time.1 We have established contacts with Palestinian NGOs about the anticipated problems on election day, what obstacles there are to turning this into a genuine democratic process, what obstacles there are to getting out the vote, what obstacles might be put in place intentionally by the Israeli government, and what are the internal failings of the Palestinians in this regard, how do we deal with that. I will be addressing three groups of Palestinian community leaders next week on the problems entailed in the elections, and also the importance of the elections from an Israeli perspective. We're setting up a joint task force or situation room for Election Day in order to solve crises on the spot. We are training the two major groups of international observers, the National Democratic Institute2 and the European Commission observers, on what they should anticipate on Election Day, and things of that nature. People get off the plane, start wandering around, they don't know where they are and they are supposed to be conducting the elections. They may be experts on elections, but they don't have the vaguest idea what East Jerusalem is about, and it operates differently here. So that's one example of a joint project. Just simply having dealt with the way the city functions for the last 14 years, we have an idea of what to anticipate. So that's one example. One of the dirty little secrets of the last few years is that the Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem is under way. Now that may sound odd, because here we are, walling in Jerusalem for the first time since 1535.3 That vacuum is not being filled with any kind of concerted political effort by the Palestinians. We have consequently found ourselves working with neighborhood associations in what we call self-empowerment, namely helping develop local community non-profit organizations that will develop a genuine constituency, a community agenda. Sometimes that means dealing with the implications of the wall, sometimes the lack of classrooms and things of that nature. It's Israelis and Palestinians - it's not something we're doing, it's something where we're sort of in the back seat with - we're helping to facilitate it and it has humanitarian implications in the present, making the city more viable here and now, but also political implications for the future, building the Palestinian municipality from the ground up. So this is an on-going effort; the elections come and go, we'll have another round shortly, but this is another example. When you say "we," to whom are you referring? We have a non-profit, a new NGO, called Ir Amim, which is coordinating a lot of these efforts. It is an Israeli organization intentionally, not necessarily a Jewish one, but an Israeli one.4 We work opposite and with Palestinian partners. I can give you another example. On Friday I'll be in court, [through my law office, not with Ir Amim] I'm representing a community of 30,000 people who are in Jerusalem who are about to be cut out from Jerusalem by the wall. I am probably the only Israeli who has ever conducted a town meeting in a refugee camp, or certainly in the Shu'fat Refugee Camp. We're working in order to stop this and offering alternatives and engaging in dialogue with the security authorities and things of that nature. So some of these things are dealing with acute problems when they erupt, but some of them are ongoing efforts to try to turn this into a more viable, sustainable city - knowing that my kids will be safe and that the city will be pleasant only if kids on the other side of town enjoy the same benefits. That's not the case now.

    • 1This interview was conducted on December 29th, 2004. The Palestinian presidential elections were held on January 9, 2005.
    • 2The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) is a US-based non-profit organization that works "to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide." See http://www.ndi.org.
    • 3In 1535 Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman "the Magnificent" began the project of building the existing walls around Jerusalem. Those walls surround what is known today as Jerusalem's Old City. Between 1948 and 1967, during the period of Jordanian control of the West Bank, a barrier consisting of concrete walls and barbed wire separated East Jerusalem (Jordanian controlled) and West Jerusalem (Israeli controlled).
    • 4By "not necessarily a Jewish [organization], but an Israeli one" Seidemann means it is an organization that is based in Israel, whose members may be Jewish or Palestinian citizens of Israel.

  • Can you talk about the wall, and the implications of its current planned route?

    The wall in Jerusalem is hugely problematic, and I think ultimately could well be counter-productive. There are going to be 200,000 - 250,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side of the wall. They're not Israelis of the Islamic persuasion, they're Palestinians.1 They're being cut off from their hinterland in the surroundings, Bethlehem to the south and Ramallah to the north. This has stark humanitarian implications. Almost invariably - not always, but almost invariably - the wall cuts off Palestinians from other Palestinians in a rather arbitrary route, and there's no non-arbitrary route in Jerusalem except by political agreement. So I think the possibility of the wall having grave detrimental effects is very real. I think it's already happening. We are trying to convince the authorities that number one, the wall must be temporary, it can't be a border, and that a convincing cease-fire will always be more effective than any kind of physical measure. That's an uphill battle. We're trying to reroute the wall in certain places, even if it's the choice between the horrible and the miserable. There are no good routes. We're trying to mitigate the humanitarian impact of the wall by various means, sometimes rerouting, sometimes by the humanitarian mechanisms geared to making life in the shadow of the wall slightly more livable. You could say this can be called "lubricating the Occupation," and perhaps it is, but people have to live.

    • 1Seidemann means that the Palestinians he is referring to who will be on the Israeli side of the wall are not Israeli citizens.

  • What do you hope to achieve here?

    A livable city. What does a "livable city" mean? A city that thrives on its contradictions, that will be one city, two cities, three cities simultaneously, that doesn't homogenize the populations, that gives each population their own living space and allows the interactions to develop organically between the two communities. Sometimes there will be a lot of separation, and sometimes there will be more cooperation. That's the way Jerusalem has always functioned. To have a politically empowered Palestinian community with a genuine civil society. Conflict is not going to disappear in Jerusalem. We have no aspirations to slay the dragon, but more or less to tame it, or housebreak it. I appeared in Capitol Hill1 in September of 2000 between Camp David and the outbreak of the intifada, and people were sort of rather glibly talking about the approaching peace, and I was tearing my hair out and saying, "We're sitting on the abyss, the edge of a volcano!" Things were not nearly as good as they appeared to be in the summer of 2000, but they're not nearly as bad as they appear to be today. There's a viable city here. It's not a utopian city; it's politically achievable, but it's not going to happen tomorrow morning. We are years away from a genuine political process in Jerusalem I believe, but I also believe that we're not decades away.

    • 1Refers to the United States' Capitol area in Washington, DC.

  • Jerusalem is a very divided city; could you talk about that?

    There are glass walls all over the place. But when you arrive at that conclusion, you can also arrive at the opposite one. That with the glass walls, the separations and stark divisions, there is also a hidden weave of veins and arteries that tie the two parts of the city together, and on a human level, Jerusalem is not Hebron; the atmosphere is not such that it is so poisoned on the street that a tense coexistence is not possible. It's very possible. Where do you see that weaving together? Maternity wards, places of work. Even with the separate lives that people lead, there's no problem for an Israeli to walk into East Jerusalem, and there's no problem for a Palestinian to walk into West Jerusalem. It's not Belfast. It was like Belfast at the beginning of the intifada. I'll tell you a story. About 5 years ago I was in Belfast with a group of Israelis and Palestinians who dealt with our own negotiations but also dealt with the problems of Belfast. There was a small group of us standing on a tour with a Republican1 peace activist by the Peace Wall in Belfast,2 and he said, "Those people over there," pointing to the other side of the wall, "They're not really Irish, they're English. No, worse than that, they're Scottish. And they've only been here for 400 years." Faisal Husseini, who was then a leader of the Palestinian people, and who has since passed away, turned to me and said, "Thank God we're only Jerusalemites - but this is what can become of us." I don't think that we have the kind of visceral hatred on a communal level in Jerusalem that you find in other war torn cities.

    • 1"Republican" in the context of Northern Ireland refers to an Irish nationalist who favors Northern Ireland becoming part of the Irish State, as opposed to a Loyalist or Unionist who favors the continued union of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom. Most Republicans are Irish Catholic and most Unionists are Protestant.
    • 2The "Peace Wall" exists throughout areas of Belfast separating Loyalist from Nationalist areas.

  • What's your biggest challenge now?

    Dealing with all the balls that I'm trying to juggle. So much is happening in Jerusalem, there's so much to be done. There's not a want of worthy endeavors to engage in. The real problem for us is to prioritize it into ways that are going to have the biggest impact, and present a credible agenda to the Israeli public. I think the Israeli public is ripe to hear a credible agenda that is going to get us out of the mess of the last 4 years of the intifada. And I don't think that the Israeli Left has done that very well. How does that apply to your work? You know, Jerusalem attracts believers, and we're certainly attuned to Jerusalem's mesmerizing lure, but we aren't true believers. In one day last week we were approached by AIPAC, the American Jewish lobby, to do work with them, the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the leaders of the Refugee Camp in Shu'fat, the Jewish Federations, the Israeli National Security Council, the American Consulate. Because we have a sober sense of what is possible in Jerusalem, I think we're listened to in ways that other groups are not, and that's an important asset that we try to maintain. Everybody lies about Jerusalem. Jews lie, Christians lie, Muslims lie. We try to tell the truth. We're not always successful, but we try.

  • What are some of the "lies" about Jerusalem that you're referring to?

    Jerusalem is a symbol: you know, the-undivided-capital-of-Israel-that-will-never-be-divided, one word; or Jerusalem being the center of the Palestinian people - well, you know in a lot of ways Ramallah is the center, the political center and the commercial center, and the decline in East Jerusalem is reflected by the decline in West Jerusalem. Palestinians of East Jerusalem speak very Palestinian and act sometimes more Israeli than that, they live very ambiguous lives. Jerusalem is a lot more complicated than any of the ideologies that pretend to explain it.

  • What do you personally gain from doing this work?

    A lot of satisfaction. The work is very difficult; it's very grueling, and sometimes very unpopular. There were times when it was more unpopular. You're dealing with these subjects; you're turning into a traitor in some people's eyes. But there is great satisfaction of being able to make a difference, and there are palpable ways. Again, when I say, "making a difference," it's not redeeming the city or bringing redemption. We don't think in terms of redemption. But making the city more stable, more viable, more equitable. And when you can point to certain achievements in this area, there's a great deal of satisfaction in that.

  • What are some of those achievements?

    Stopping Bibi Netanyahu from shutting down the Orient House as an election ploy in 1999. Getting a few thousand Palestinian kids into public schools. Preventing settlers from taking over houses from Palestinians. Humanizing, or trying to humanize, the wall.1 Every day there's something. While the United States is "making the world safer for democracy," and a lot of this can be sloganeering, it's wonderful to be able to sit down with people that you respect and trust and talk openly about the problems of how you generate a genuine democratic process in the Palestinian elections, in a very sober way. Are you talking about working with Palestinians on the Palestinian elections? Absolutely. And helping. We're helping one another, they'll be opening up a crisis center for election day, but we'll be sitting with them and trying to figure out how to solve the crises when they come up, and sometimes working with the observers, or the international community, or the Israeli authorities. We have an interest that there will be a genuine political community opposite us on the Palestinian side, and so do they. So, it's great fun.

    • 1Seidemann means that he is attempting to lessen the negative humanitarian impact of the Wall.

  • Do you feel that people on the Israeli side have sometimes seen you as a traitor?

    There have been times, in the beginning yes, because dealing with the political future of Jerusalem at a time when the mantra was set in concrete, was not very popular. There are people on the Israeli Right who have targeted me. I was accused by Mayor Olmert of being an agent of the Palestinian Authority, something that he has subsequently apologized over, after I initiated legal proceedings against him. But that's rare. What's remarkable is how few threats there have been. I've probably received one threatening phone call in 13 or 14 years of work. That's a pretty good record. So I'm not the flavor of the month in all quarters, but I think the demonization that existed in the past no longer does.

  • How has the conflict affected your life?

    It has become my life's work, something that I get up to in the morning and go to sleep with at night. You don't compartmentalize. You don't take a week off. When I go abroad it's like leaving the kids at home without a babysitter. On the other hand, there's something that's very pampering about this, because most people in the Israeli Left have been very frustrated over the last few years about not having anything to do. I've been frustrated as well because we didn't want to arrive at this situation; I'm certainly not making light of the horrible consequences of the intifada and the breakdown of the political process. But I am able to get up in the morning and know that this is something I can do in order to advance things, this is going to make a difference; we don't have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves.

  • In terms of international audiences, which do you feel is most important?

    I would say that there are three important international audiences: Washington, Washington, Washington. At the moment. Of course, I'm exaggerating. I think that much of what happens is decided in Washington, and decided in a very narrow way in Washington. But if the Americans are masters of the urgent, the Europeans, for example, are masters of the important. If you want to have a genuine political process, you won't have that without some active American involvement, which has been very lacking over the last few years, since 9/11 particularly. But if you want to build a Palestinian Jerusalem from the ground up, the Americans won't do that. The Europeans will help, and that's important. I don't think there's a short cut. There's the consular tradition and things of that nature, and there's a greater sense of process in Europe than there is in the United States Government, I'm not necessarily talking about America as a whole. As problematic as our peace agreements are with Egypt and Jordan, their voices as the voices of moderation in providing legitimacy to peace as a process and to Israel as such has an enormous amount of impact, so I wouldn't be too Washington-centric. But I still say, "Washington, Washington, Washington."

  • How do you think the US can be most constructive?

    By prioritizing. Number one, by re-engaging, because there has been disengagement, which I think has had a very adverse effect: "Let 'em bleed." And by prioritizing, asking what is of utmost importance, and focusing on that. Stopping terror is clearly one of them, generating a genuinely democratic process is clearly one of them, and here I agree with Bush Administration. But also, preventing Israeli actions that will predispose the outcome of final status, that will perhaps destroy the two-state solution. Those things are happening, and there's no American engagement.

  • What are the things that are happening that will destroy prospects for the two-state solution?

    Building up a settlement between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem, renewed settlement activity in the West Bank, a politically motivated route of the wall, all sorts of things of that nature. We need American engagement to prevent those things that threaten to destabilize the city. And finally, if God forbid a ceasefire were to break out tomorrow morning, I don't think the Administration would have much of an idea of what to do next. How do you begin to develop methodologies and bridging mechanisms that will cross the chasm between where we are and where we have to go? I think that America has to be involved in the trauma room medicine more than it has, but also to begin to think about what to do in convalescence.

  • How do you think previous peace processes failed or succeeded?

    It's a huge question. I think that there were large mistakes made in the Oslo process. Oslo made people's lives worse, and you can't have a genuine process that makes people's lives worse: on the Israeli side because of the terror, on the Palestinian side because it made their lives worse - the corruption in the Palestinian Authority, but also the increasing settlement and the extension of Israeli hegemony over the West Bank. The negotiators got too far ahead of their constituencies, and they weren't the real decision makers. At the time, during Camp David, I thought that the parties were not ripe for a final status. I think that the attempt to go whole hog and try and reach one without a fallback solution was a mistake. I'm not entirely sure that I was right at the time. I think that we may have been a lot closer than we thought. The last mile of that agreement would have required two different leaders. Arafat was not willing to go the distance, and I don't think Barak was either, although Arafat absolved him of much of the blame. The last mile of this is going to require a national leadership that's going to remold the consciousnesses of the respective communities, and neither Barak nor Arafat had it in them. I'm not creating a false symmetry here. I think there are different proportions of blame, but to a certain extent I think, as horrible as this may sound, that the intifada may have been "the gods have not been satisfied" with the amount of blood they need before we proceed to a final status agreement, which is almost inevitable.

  • What do you hope to see in the next round, what do you think has to be done differently?

    Lessons learned? I don't know. I'm not an expert on the peace process. I think I am an expert on Jerusalem. The Palestinians will never go back to a process that is incremental, because they will always see this - legitimately - as an Israeli ploy just to gain advantages and buy time. Israelis will never go straight to endgame. And what we have to do is develop methodologies that will be sufficiently endgame in order to generate Palestinian willingness to engage, and sufficiently incremental at least in implementation in order to allay genuine Israeli suspicions. It would be nice if the negotiators next time know something about the city. Because they didn't in the beginning. There was a very sharp learning curve, but at Camp David the amount of expertise inside the room could not have filled a thimble. By the Americans, the Israelis and the Palestinians.

  • What understanding about Jerusalem was lacking at Camp David?

    Oh, minor things like how the city works, what will work in the city, what the traffic will bear in terms of the subjective perceptions of the respective constituencies, what kind of political arrangements would be viable. When you say, "how the city works," what level are you talking about? It's not enough to come in with a scalpel. The negotiators through Oslo knew how to take out a scalpel or draw lines in the sand, to mix metaphors. Jerusalem is one organism, and if you politically divide it, it will remain, in some ways, one organism. There are things that will work, and there are things that won't work. There are things that will arouse fears, and there are things that will allay suspicions. There are things that an Israeli perception can accept. On the Temple Mount, for example. What kind of arrangement would simultaneously be satisfactory to the political centers of both Palestinians and Israelis? I think that was the most botched element of the negotiations. Once again, I think there was a great deal of improvement between Camp David and Taba. It's the only time in my life where I saw up close how decisions were made on a matter of intense international interest. It was rather appalling.

  • What international interests are you talking about?

    Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not a local issue. Jerusalem resonates throughout the region and throughout the world, for various reasons, both pragmatically and symbolically. To see decision-making taking place with such little amount of expertise inside the room, without real options being developed in critical stages, was really rather disappointing, to say the least.

  • If it can't be a politically divided city, what is your vision for the city?

    There's no alternative. Let me put it this way, there's one solution, and another consequence. The only solution is the two-state solution, and that two-state solution has to be inside the city of Jerusalem, and not outside it. There will be no equilibrium without Jerusalem being politically divided. There is no alternative to that as a solution. The other alternative is a consequence. The consequence is the one state solution, which neither side wants, which will Balkanize the region, and Balkanize the conflict, and Balkanize the city of Jerusalem, which will be a disaster for both peoples.

  • Are you saying Jerusalem should be a shared capital?

    Not necessarily shared. The atmosphere on both sides of the line is "out of my face." I think the Palestinians want the opportunity to make a mess of their lives just as we've had the opportunity to make a mess of ours. So there would be a Palestinian capital, there would be an Israeli capital. My recommendation is that the initial stage should create mechanisms that will require as little cooperation as possible, because that will be the mood. And it's possible to do that. I'm not saying that as an ideology. I think it will change over time, and there will be better periods and there will be worse periods. But a shared city implies touchy-feely, why don't we all get together. Come on.

  • What do you mean when you say "Balkanized"?

    If there's one lesson that I have learned during my 13, 14 years of working on Jerusalem, it is that Israelis and Palestinians do not seek to share a political community. They want to live in their own communities and not to share decisions, not to share the processes, etc. That is at the core of both national movements. Creating circumstances where that's not possible condemns people to live in dissonance or to live in contradiction, that they have to live together because the realities are such, and they don't want to live together. That will be a horrible disaster that will create constant hemorrhaging between the two communities.

  • What are some of the things that have shown you that Israelis and Palestinians don't want to share a political community?

    Small things. One of the senior officials in the Israeli government described the area of Har Homa1 as an area in the southeast corner of Jerusalem detached from all of the city's neighborhoods, which is entirely correct, if you don't see the Palestinian neighborhood immediately next door. The Palestinians, in the eyes of decision makers, are like stealth bombers. There's no such thing as a "we" that an Israeli will say that includes the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, just as there is no such thing as a "we" said by the Palestinians of East Jerusalem that includes Israelis. So it informs virtually everything we do, on both sides of the divide.

    • 1A Jewish settlement located southeast of Jerusalem.

  • What are some of the other lessons you've learned over the course of your 14 years?

    Everybody lies. Don't believe anything until you can touch it. People are scared stiff of dealing with the issues. Jerusalem attracts solution-mongers like flies are attracted to a garbage can. Normal, decent, intelligent people start to salivate and become glassy eyed when they talk about Jerusalem, and all of their messianic hormones come out.

  • Do you have a religious attachment to Jerusalem?

    Not in the traditional sense. But I think that there is a secularized kind of religious attachment. Jerusalem historically resonates with sanctity, even in a secular sense. And we are doing the mitzvot of Jerusalem, the commandments "you shall not" or "you shall."

  • What are the "you shalls" and the "you shall nots"?

    "Do no harm," Hippocrates—another famous Jew.1 Do no harm, keep the options open, make room for people in this city, God has enough room here. People. Look for the viable ways that the city will be a politically sustainable city. Don't do anything that's going to deprive our children of options that we have.

    • 1A physician of Ancient Greece who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries B.C.E. Many people consider him to be the founder of medicine. Seidemann is joking about Hippocrates being Jewish.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    I don't think a lot about it. First of all, it's a very sober peace. One of the things that I'm convinced about is if God forbid there will be a peace agreement in Jerusalem, we will not be unemployed. There's not going to be a peace that solves the conflict. There is going to be a peace that re-channels the conflict, tames it a bit, re-structures it. So, my vision of peace is hardly idyllic; it's a better but achievable imperfect reality.

  • What keeps you working at this?

    Obsession. I wrote an affidavit yesterday concerning the refugee camp. I think I have a 50-50 chance of succeeding and changing the route of the wall, which is good. Usually the chances of success are lower. Knowing that my powers of persuasion are going to make the difference in whether these 30,000 people are going to be living in a living hell in Jerusalem terms, or maintaining some semblance of normalcy, how can I not keep going? How can I not do it?