East and north

East Jerusalemites are torn between their multiple identities and conflicting feelings of solidarity.

east jerusalem arabs 88 (photo credit: )
east jerusalem arabs 88
(photo credit: )
As the war in the North continues, thousands of angry protesters have thronged the streets of Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, Teheran, Jakarta and Gaza, carrying portraits of Hassan Nasrallah and anti-Israeli posters. During this entire period of time, Arab Jerusalem has remained quiet. There have been no demonstrations, no protests, no burning tires or torn Israeli flags. Yet just beneath this deceptive surface, east Jerusalemites do feel strongly about the fighting in the North. As always, they are torn between their multiple identities, their feelings of solidarity with the Lebanese and their fear for their own families in northern Israel. Iba Farrah, a 25-year old resident of Wadi Joz, says that although security measures make it difficult to organize protests in Jerusalem, the sympathies of east Jerusalemites are definitely with the Lebanese. "We feel for them. What is happening there is horrible, all the loss of innocent lives and suffering of the simple people. We are really sorry for the Lebanese and for their beautiful land. The situation there and the suffering are very similar to the suffering of the Palestinians." What about the victims of Hizbullah rockets in northern Israel? Farrah says that although she sympathizes with the families in the North, "This is not at all the main issue. Naturally, we are concerned about them but the situation there is not really comparable with what is going on in Lebanon." In a statement last week, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, also drew a connection between Lebanon and Palestine. "What is happening now in Gaza and South Lebanon is simply inhuman, whatever the causes alleged for its justification... We condemn the abducting of an Israeli soldier... in Gaza and of the others in South Lebanon. We wish that they will return safely home to their parents and loved ones... "But we condemn at the same time, and as much, the taking of Palestinian prisoners by the Israelis, as well as the keeping, for years, of the tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisons. They too have parents and beloved ones waiting for their return..." But 32-year old Samir, who lives in the Old City, believes that the war in Lebanon is completely separate from the war in Palestine. Furthermore, he says, "This war is not between Israel and Hizbullah. This is the war between the USA and Iran and the victims are innocent citizens who suffer from these atrocities." He says he fears for family members in the North, then adds that he sympathizes with "all the innocent victims of this conflict, wherever they may be." Syria, he believes, is responsible for the ongoing fighting that has caused so many deaths and pain to both peoples. Referring to Bashir Assad, ruler of Syria, he says, "Some stupid doctor in Damascus wishes to make us into his chess pieces and simple folks, like you and me, are dying." A poster in a minimarket in Beit Hanina proclaims, "Today - we are all Shi'ites." Throughout the eastern suburbs, Jerusalemites reject the idea that there is any equality between the parties and place the blame for the fighting solely on the Israeli political and military leadership. According to Abu-Ahmed, a driver from Silwan, Arabs in Jerusalem are as media-crazed as Jews, but in addition to the Hebrew channels, they also watch al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya and al-Manar. With tears in his eyes, Abu-Ahmed says that after seeing the images of dead and injured Lebanese children on the Arab satellite channels, he has come to realize that, "the sole purpose of the Israeli operation in Lebanon was not the security of Israelis, but the extermination of Arab people, wherever they are. "These channels tell us the true story of this war," he says. "They show us the suffering of our brothers in Lebanon. The Israeli channels do not broadcast the harsh images of the injured and dead, so that the Israeli public won't feel that something immoral is going on in Lebanon." Abu-Ahmed also says that many of his neighbors in Silwan and other quarters in east Jerusalem are proud of the Hizbullah fighters, "because they really put up a serious fight. They are famous for their steadfastness and zeal. They are true men. We didn't care much for Nasrallah before, but today many think of him as a hero." Since Lebanon is a mixed country, where Christians live side by side with Muslims, many Christians says that although they previously viewed Hizbullah as an Islamic organization, they now view it as the defender of the Arabs, Christian and Moslem alike. "It is Arab honor that is being defended in Lebanon," proclaims Khaled, a teacher in the Old City. "I am a Christian, but I am also an Arab. I cannot separate these identities."