Thursday, April 22, 2010

East (?) Jerusalem and Sheikh Jerach

Sent 22.April.2010

To my friends both across the sea and here in Israel,

This is a political letter. I apologize if you prefer that I keep my thoughts to myself. (if so, delete now. I won’t even know.) But as at previous occasions, I feel the need to share with friends things other than family affairs, health and well wishes. Be patient with me. As in the past, I don’t know how to shorten my letters.

Last week I packed a few sandwiches along with a couple of bottles of cold water and drove southward to Jerusalem to join the protest against expulsion of Arabs from their homes in the Sheikh Jerach section of East Jerusalem. The demonstration was in late afternoon. I used the morning for a refresher tour of East Jerusalem, its various villages and neighborhoods and the surrounding Wall. It’s not enough to hear about, not enough to read about, not enough to watch internet doco-clips. There are things which need to be re-seen and re-explained on location in order to be hit once more with the full impact of our national lunacy, a lunacy driven by both covert and overt policies of our various government agencies.

Jerusalem is a city of friction and contradiction, with conflicting passions and desires between ultra-orthodox, orthodox, the vaguely devout, the merely impious and the sophisticated secular. It’s a city of contradiction between Arab and Jew, Palestinians and Israelis, Left and Right and something nebulously called Center. It’s the city which will have the heaviest impact on our ability to move towards a Two-State resolution of our territorial conflict. Meanwhile its impact is woefully negative, backed by the execution of policies aimed at scuttling possibilities of Two-States for two peoples.

I read this week of Eli Wiesel’s passionate letter about Jerusalem in the N.Y. Times and the Washington Post. Wiesel is unable to understand why we Israelis are being asked by Obama to stop (even temporarily) building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. I was saddened at the lack of knowledge by one of my treasured icons about what the East Jerusalem “building” conflict is really all about. I also realized that while I am constantly angered by the cynical use of “Jerusalem Eternal” as our pious “right” to build anywhere in East Jerusalem, others may be totally unaware of the absurd use of that infernal/eternal excuse.

In 1967, immediately after an amazing and well earned victory over a number of Arab armies, we reunited a divided Jerusalem. We were elated and exuberant at being the supermen of the neighborhood, and were certain that now our Arab neighbors will have seen the need to make their peace with us. It took another much bloodier war to show us how fragile our self image really was. But in 1967 we reunited Jerusalem forever and ever (we supposed).

But, wait. What did we actually do? In 1967 the city boundaries of East Jerusalem encompassed about 6 or 7 square kilometers. Within these boundaries, the Old City is about one square kilometer. This is also about the total area of our “Eternal City” of two thousand years ago with its surrounding neighborhoods. For those of us who perhaps truly believe (Eli Wiesel??) in the concept of Jerusalem Eternal belonging to us and ONLY US, these are the boundaries of our Eternal City. But in 1967 we annexed to the city limits of Jerusalem about 70 (yes, seventy!) square kilometers’ instead of only 7 (seven), including 28 Palestinian villages which were never within the city limits. We did so for a number of reasons, the primary one being the creation of a security area around the city which includes a circle of mountain heights. But also simply because we wanted to annex as large an area around the city as may still be called a “reasonable” annexation. For example: a long fat finger extends the new city limits northward almost up to Ramallah. Why?... In order to include the small airfield of Atarot within the city limits. (The story goes that Teddy Kolek wanted to have a large international airport within the city limits. This hasn’t happened.) But here’s the rub: meanwhile the entire 70 square kilometers annexed to the city limits have been politically labeled “Holy” and became part of that “Eternal Jerusalem” which belongs to us and only to us for ever and ever. From the neighborhoods of Ramot Alon and Pisgat Z’ev in the north to those of Har Choma and Gilo in the south of the new city limits, we have built most (almost all) of our new Jewish neighborhoods outside of “Eternal Jerusalem” by cynically using the pretext of returning to our ancient capital – where we claim to have full historical rights to live and build as we choose. (Who do we think we are fooling, other than ourselves?)

……And those 28 Palestinian villages (neighborhoods) which ended up within the municipal boundaries? Legally, morally and in any democratic society they would receive the same city services as other neighborhoods within the city limits. They don’t. From sewage to education they’ve been neglected for years and have remained with their dowry from the Jordanian government of 43 years ago. All new Jewish neighborhoods come complete with municipal investment and services. Palestinian neighborhoods remain woefully neglected. It seems strange to admit that Jordan invested far more in the municipal infrastructure of these villages during 19 years from 1948, than we have in the 43 years since annexing them into the city limits of Jerusalem.

Why is all this happening? Eli Wiesel naively turns to Obama with a desire to keep Jerusalem “above politics”, while it is actually we Israelis who insist on using our contrived Jerusalem ethos as a political tool – as an excuse for not stopping the erection of new Jewish building in the greatly expanded city limits of East Jerusalem. (And, no doubt, the Palestinian Authority is no less political in its use of religion as a basis for its own historical rights in Jerusalem.)

And why are we doing all this (building more and more in the expanded E.Jerusalem)? And why are we not doing all that (developing the Arab neighborhoods in E.Jerusalem)? …………it becomes so simple to me while driving around the area with map in hand, with a blue line for the city limits and a red line for the Wall around it.

We evidently have three basic goals being fed by so many of the policies and directions of our government agencies:

1. Build maximally so that no future “agreement” will be able to claim back that which has been added to the municipal boundaries.

2. Do our best to encourage Arabs of East Jerusalem to leave, by not giving building permits, by evacuation via immoral but legal discriminatory laws, by withholding municipal funding of investment and services, and by etc..etc..(the list is long and frightening).

3. Use Jerusalem as a tool that will inhibit the possibility of drawing a map with boundaries that will be acceptable to the Palestinian Authority for a Two-State solution. This goal is further accentuated by our government’s desire (and plans) to extend the city limits of Jerusalem eastward (an area called E-1) up to the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, and our government’s plans to extend the surrounding Wall half-way eastward to the Jordan River and the Dead sea – essentially splitting the Palestinian West Bank into two sections. Fortunately, these plans have meanwhile been held up mostly by American insistence, but the goal is clear and evident.

I made my way to Sheikh Jerach, a neighborhood built in the 20’s for and by some of the well-to-do Arabs of Jerusalem, though appended to it is also a small area of a few homes built yet in the 1890’s (some by Jews). Today it is still considered to be good real-estate in East Jerusalem (some very respectable consulates are there). Three Arab families were recently evicted from their apartments in Sheich Jerach after their homes were legally returned to private buyers who bought the deeds from previous Jewish owners till 1948. The Arab families fled their homes in the Israeli sector and were given these apartments legally by the Jordanian government. Nearby, also in Sheich Jerach, are Jewish squatters/settlers in a building which the High Court has ordered to be evacuated and torn down. The Jerusalem municipality has successfully held off this verdict for a number of years now. The two cases depict and exemplify some of the normal policies and realities of East Jerusalem.

I came to Sheikh Jerach to join other demonstrators against the above depiction of normal policies and realities in East Jerusalem. Why demonstrate? Well, our laws and our policies state that a Jew who owned property in East Jerusalem prior to the State in 1948, can claim and get back his property no matter who is living in it today. However, an Arab from East Jerusalem, now a legal resident of Israel, who had property in West Jerusalem (or anywhere else), but fled (or “was fled”) in 1948, cannot have his property returned under any conditions. We can…..they can’t. simple. Evict Arabs – yes. Evict Jews – no way. This is the micro reason for the demonstrations. In the macro, we are demonstrating against the three goals stated above, and the policies that support them.

There were about two hundred of us at the demonstration. It felt cozy….intimate…my kind of people. We all knew we were doing something important, but I still drove home with an empty feeling. Two hundred (or even three) demonstrators, coming to Sheikh Jerach every Friday afternoon will ultimately accomplish little in today’s political world. It will give us (the demonstrators) a feeling of doing something, but more….???? I am reminded of the “orange shirts” in the Ukraine and of the “red shirts” in Thailand. Perhaps if we had 20,000 demonstrators, each with our Israeli flag, sitting and demonstrating in Sheikh Jerach, without going home, cuddled in sleeping bags on-site for the night, continuing for days and even weeks non-stop…….perhaps then, and only then, could we get the attention needed to affect changes in basic policies and their execution. But meanwhile, most of us leftist, humanistic, liberal do-gooders are armchair supporters who think of today's demonstrators as good people who just don’t know when to leave well enough alone.

If ever a miracle happens, and we do get our supporters out of their armchairs and into their sleeping bags on the streets of a place like Sheikh Jerach, I hope to be with them….sandwiches in one bag, all my prescription medications in another, laptop with extra power supply, borrowed sleeping bag, and lots of hope. Yes, I’ll be there rooting for the very legitimate rights of Palestinians, but most of all I’ll be there because I’m a Zionist Jew, and because I know that the destruction of a Two-State possibility will bring upon us the disastrous result of One-State for Two Peoples (with no equality for all), and also the end of the Zionist dream.

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