July 28 & 31, August 4, 2009
Delegation 31 Announcement
Report 1: Settlements
Report 2: Eric and Suheir
Report 3: Searching for Justice and
Report 4: Bil’in — After an Israeli Raid
Report 5: Experiencing Jerusalem Report 6: Final Reflections
Delegation 31 in Action!
“It is profound & pathetic at the same time” -Shakeel
The Dome of the Rock
rising gold as sunrise
out of the desert,
(one on top of the other)
in jewel tones are almost
too rich for my eyes
cultural confectionary with undertones of
riot gear and barbed wire
Nearby, men ululate glotally,
Waiting at the Wall,
Kneeling & bowing & crying
Many want to tear this place down for
new & ancient construction.
I guess it’s none of my business, really.
From here I see the Garden
of Gethsemane and bird fly
unfazed by soldiers lurking
in the corner (probably
wondering what happened to all the trees.)
A Day in Jerusalem
We went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, today. I had mixed feelings about it. As a Jew I grew up hearing about it and as a teacher at Temple Beth Israel we have Holocaust survivors come and speak; it is part of the curriculum every year. I guess I have the luxury of being able to look past the Holocaust and make comparisons to the Palestinian situation here in the land of Holocaust survivors.
As I was going through the museum I thought of other holocausts in history. Genocides like the ones perpetuated by the Turks on the Armenians, slavery and Jim Crow in America, apartheid and the Sharpeville massacre, the Sabra and Shatilla massacres during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the death squads in El Salvador. There are a litany of genocide all throughout history and what we have learned about this: nothing. There are holocausts going on in Africa and the Middle East with no signs of stopping. I also thought about the obvious; how could the Jews, victims themselves, do the same sort of things to the Palestinians and claim to be victims, blaming the real victims for their cold, calculated genocide.
We strolled around Ben Yehuda Street next, did some shopping, had some lunch and made our way to the Women in Black protest that’s been happening everyday for the past 20 years. Women in Black protest the occupation and as we were protesting we got some positive and hostile reactions. There were two police offers there to make sure things wouldn’t get out of hand. It felt good to protest, its one of my favorite things to do, to stand in solidarity with others for a cause I believe in. Today we had the afternoon off and it was wonderful because the sun really got to me today.
Fiddling While Rome Burns
The day after visiting Bil’in, we had the opportunity to meet students from Hebrew University. We met with two male students, and one female. I must admit, with my experience of Bil’in still so fresh in my mind, I became rather agitated with their responses to our questions. When asked about how they felt about Israel’s violations of international laws, they responded that as a nation, Israel has a right to assert its sovereignty and that at this point international laws are not “attractive”. When asked about military presence in Palestinian towns and illegal settlements, they responded that they couldn’t answer this question. They often replied, “The issue is far too complex” as an excuse to resort to a convoluted, mostly, theoretical account of Israel’s role in the ongoing conflict. Most of us felt, as far as normative arguments go, the issue is not so complex.
I found it rather ironic that these students were studying political science. Judging from their dissertation topics and their manner of responding to our questions, it seemed they immediately resorted to an academic stance. Political theorist Leo Strauss once said that his contemporaries were guilty of fiddling while Rome burns. I thought of this critique as I watched these students flippantly discuss the plight of Palestinians.
Jerusalem: To share or not to share
For our first day on the ground, our delegation tackled one of the central and most emotional issues at the core of peace -making between Israelis and Palestinians: Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a strong emotional connection to this holy city for the three Abrahamaic faiths. But it would be a mistake to simply pigeon-hole the conflict over Jerusalem as a petty squabble over holy sites; rather, it is a nationalistic contest for control of the Jerusalem as their capital city.
Since1948, the UN's plan to keep Jerusalem as an international city open to all failed miserably. Fierce fighting between Zionists and Arab forces, divided Jerusalem in two in 1948, rendering a Jewish West Jerusalem and a Jordanian-controlled Arab East Jerusalem. Wealthy Arab neighborhoods in West Jerusalem were summarily emptied of their inhabitants to be replaced by Jewish denizens, as our guide pointed out on our bus trip into Jerusalem upon our arrival. However, despite their drive for Jerusalem, Zionist forces failed to capture the Old City, home to the holiest sites. The Old City and East Jerusalem remained an Arab populated and controlled city... until 1967, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem and finally laid claim to the Old City, and the West Bank and Gaza to boot.
While most peace advocates agree that a shared Jerusalem, with Israel maintaining a capital in West Jerusalem and Palestine maintaining a capital in East Jerusalem and negotiated management of Old City holy sites precious to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims, Israeli policies since 1967 have not moved in that direction. As explained in a morning briefing from ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions), Israel "annexed" the whole of Jerusalem in 1969, declaring it the "indivisible and eternal" Jewish capital, a change which the international community has not recognized, and embarked on a set of actions to change the character of Arab-populated East Jerusalem. For one, the boundaries of this new united Jerusalem were carefully chosen to deliver Maximum Land, Minimum Arabs. Open and sparsely populated spaces far to the East fell within the new boundaries; however, traditional Arab neighborhoods often found themselves divided or outside the newly defined city limits. Zoning was then implemented to strictly constrain the development of Arab neighborhoods, much of the open land being designated "green zones." However, instead of reserving these green zones as nature preserves, several of them became home to Israeli Jewish settlements, illegal population transfers under international law.
While Jewish population growth was encouraged, the Palestinian Arab population of East Jerusalem found itself under increasingly discriminatory and onerous restrictions through zoning and permit requirements. It became exceedingly rare for Israel to issue very expensive building permits for Arabs. While many technocratic reasons were given, the gross disparity indicates the true reason for the denial of these building permits was a discriminatory policy towards Jerusalem’s Arab population. The result has been a severe housing shortage, driving the price beyond the reach of some Arab citizens of Jerusalem and putting heavy economic pressure on the rest. One of Israel's cruelest policies to displace the Arab population is home demolitions. We circled the hillside around the Silwan neighborhood (named for the ancient pools of Siloam) that the Israelis call the City of David. Under the pretext of archaeological excavation, some seventy homes in this Arab neighborhood have been placed under demolition order. Again, the disparity between illegal Israeli settlements encouraged by the Israeli government and illegal Palestinian Arab homes that are built anyway for the lack of issued permits shows a grossly discriminating policy. Luckily, US diplomatic pressure has given a temporary stay for these homes, but it is uncertain how long this will last.
To make a peace where Israel and Palestine share Jerusalem will require the world community to confront these policies, specifically the settlements which seem to have become "facts on the ground" to divide and fragment an Arab East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has taken a strong stand against settlements, including those in East Jerusalem. Despite the US call to enforce a settlement freeze, the Netanyahu regime in Israel has thumbed its nose at Obama's challenge. They have declared several new settlement projects in East Jerusalem, most recently 20 units in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Increasingly, pro-Israeli media have become more shrill on the issue. Just last Monday a settler group held a protest at the Israeli Knesset and settler youth have taken the offensive creating some twenty new illegal outposts. Obama is right on this issue and it is critical that we support him and not buckle to pressure from the pro-Israeli right.
Yesterday we went to a street demonstration. We joined a group called the ‘Women in Black’ who have staged a silent protest against the occupation in west Jerusalem every week for twenty-one years.
Whilst there, I noticed a very elderly gentleman. If he has been walking any slower he would have stopped altogether. He struggled slowly to a seat by the road, rested his walking stick and picked up a sign. The sign read ‘stop the occupation,’ in Hebrew. After sitting in silence for the duration of the protest, he put down his sign, picked up his stick and quietly left. I only hoped he lived close by because it took him about five minutes just to cross the busy road.
It struck me that there was a man, so old and frail, willing to take part in solidarity with the occupied people of Palestine. Nobody was obliging him and no one expected him to be there. But he was.
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