sheikh jarrah protest 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
It is becoming increasingly hard to talk about Jerusalem without clichés.
Israeli politicians have been peddling sentimental platitudes for so long that
even the most accurate and incisive criticisms sound hackneyed.
Jerusalem is not a unified city: Jewish Jerusalemites never venture into the
east side and Palestinian Jerusalemites rarely set foot in the west side. The
school systems are separate and far from equal; public transportation is
entirely segregated; one would be hard pressed to find commercial ties or
cultural exchanges across the east-west divide. Indeed, the story of
Jerusalem is a tale of two cities.
But Israeli politicians have long ago
found out that the truth cannot do as much for their careers as intoxicating
myths. And so celestial Jerusalem, unified and eternal Jerusalem, Jerusalem of
gold, superseded earthly Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. So
powerful is this myth that it can justify practically anything: decades of
political stagnation, systematic discrimination and above all, the creeping
dispossession of Palestinians.
Underlying this tragedy is a single, tiny,
word: ours. It is this possessive pronoun which animates Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s belligerent rhetoric, which guides Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to
demolish 22 houses in Silwan in favor of the fictional “King’s Garden,” and
which led the courts to authorize the eviction of four Palestinian families from
their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
At its core, the dispute in Sheikh Jarrah
boils down to an infuriating asymmetry in the right to say “ours.” At the heart
of this story are 28 Palestinian families who fled their houses in what is now
Israel during the 1948 war. Arriving in Jordanian east Jerusalem after the war,
these families were offered an opportunity to rebuild their lives. The
Jordanian government and UNRWA gave them plots of land in an empty field in
Sheikh Jarrah in exchange for their refugee cards.
occupation of east Jerusalem in 1967, these resettled refugees discovered that a
Jewish organization claims ownership of their houses based on deeds dating from
the 19th century. But when the Palestinian families presented the same
kind of deeds to their pre-’48 properties, they found out that the right to say
“ours” is ethnically biased. As a result, four of these families were thrown
into the street, and 24 more await a similar fate.
BUT THE human aspect
tells only half the story. For behind the human tragedy lurks a larger
political program, the plan for the “Judaization” of east Jerusalem. In a
remarkable cooperation between state officials and secretive settlers’
organizations, Jerusalem is becoming a demographic battlefield.
agencies, such as the Jerusalem Municipality, weave a net of nightmarish
bureaucracy around the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, refusing to
issue building permits, demolishing illegal construction, revoking permanent
residencies and eschewing responsibility for education, health and
transportation. This growing obsession with changing the Jewish-Arab proportions
is clearly evidenced in the proposed local outline plan (Jerusalem 2000), which
actually sets demographic benchmarks for policy makers.
All the while,
settlers’ organizations such as Elad, Ateret Cohanim and Nahalat Shimon work
unremittingly to implant small Jewish enclaves within Palestinian neighborhoods
so as to undermine any possibility for a future division of sovereignty over
this manifestly divided city. More than 2,000 Jewish settlers already inhabit
heavily guarded residential outposts in a ring around the Old City. They are
accompanied by private security guards who become the new sheriffs in town, and
use constant harassment to make the daily lives of Palestinian residents
unbearable. The message is clear: Jerusalem is ours; kindly pack your bags and
Discrimination and dispossession systematically pervade all
aspects of life in east Jerusalem. What makes Sheikh Jarrah unique is the fact
that soon after the forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes,
it became clear that many Israelis are simply not going to let this one
What began in small solidarity vigils in August 2009 quickly
evolved into weekly demonstrations in which hundreds, sometimes thousands, of
Israelis, Jews and Arabs, renounce the occupation of east Jerusalem.
about this nascent protest movement is spontaneous and disorganized, but
basic principles it lays down may become the foundations for a
the Israeli left. In Sheikh Jarrah, reconciliation comes before peace,
solidarity cuts across national identities and loyalties are formed on
of shared principles and mutual interests.
A peculiar mixture of reasons,
real and imagined, place Jerusalem at the heart of the
conflict. For years, it has been considered an insurmountable stumbling
the way to a solution. But this is precisely where the truly subversive
of the Sheikh Jarrah movement comes to light. For it is at this heart of
conflict that the daily friction with the reality of segregation,
discrimination unmasks the deception of political rhetoric. And this
between what one is led to believe and what one sees with one’s own eyes
tremendous source of motivation. Jerusalem is at the heart of the
this heart is slowly opening up.The writer is a PhD candidate in the
University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. He lives in
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>