The eter­nal beauty and en­trenched big­otry in Jerusalem

The National - News - The Review - - Round Up - Antony Loewen­stein

House de­mo­li­tions oc­cur reg­u­larly in East Jerusalem, well away from the tourist path. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, Is­rael de­stroyed 190 Pales­tinian homes in 2016 and dis­placed thou­sands of peo­ple. It was the high­est fig­ure since 2000.

I’ve wit­nessed Pales­tinian fam­i­lies thrown out of their own houses, some­times im­me­di­ately re­placed by rad­i­cal, Jewish set­tlers, or stand­ing in front of crushed, con­crete struc­tures with nowhere to go. Last year, a few hours af­ter a Pales­tinian home was de­mol­ished in the neigh­bour­hood of Wadi Joz, I ar­rived to find a soli­tary man sit­ting un­der a large, green plas­tic sheet. He had 12 chil­dren and a wife and all his pos­ses­sions, in­clud­ing couches, fridge, ta­ble, crock­ery and cut­lery, were ex­posed to the el­e­ments. “The Pales­tinian peo­ple don’t help me”, he said. De­spite his sit­u­a­tion, he gave me a cup of hot cof­fee and then be­gan call­ing friends to see where he could sleep with his fam­ily.

The of­fi­cial pol­icy of Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat is to make Jerusalem the “united cap­i­tal”. In prac­tice, this means the ap­proval of thou­sands of Jewish homes in West Jerusalem, but noth­ing in the East where Pales­tini­ans live. Up to 20,000 Pales­tinian homes have been built with­out ap­proval, giv­ing Is­rael the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to de­stroy them, but ob­tain­ing per­mits is al­most im­pos­si­ble. It’s a daily re­al­ity faced by a Pales­tinian com­mu­nity that for­eign­ers and Is­raeli Jews al­most never wit­ness nor want to.

To a Jew grow­ing up in Aus­tralia, this Jerusalem is vastly dif­fer­ent to the fan­tasy Jewish city de­scribed in my youth, al­though it re­mains a sparkling and beau­ti­ful place. I’m pre­par­ing to leave af­ter liv­ing here with my part­ner for more than a year. Dur­ing this time and in the course of many vis­its over the past decade, I con­stantly mar­vel at the shim­mer­ing Al Aqsa Mosque, cob­bled streets in the Old City and the green and brown hills of the Mount of Olives. With few tall build­ings and its famed cream-coloured stone, the city has a spir­i­tual feel­ing that is per­haps un­ri­valled in the world.

How­ever, the bru­tal politics of di­vi­sion sucks away any inkling of nos­tal­gia. The ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence of armed and ag­gres­sive Is­raeli sol­diers and po­lice ha­rass­ing Pales­tini­ans in­creas­ingly de­fines it. Many sec­u­lar, Jewish Is­raelis hate Jerusalem and try to avoid com­ing. For them, the com­fort­able bub­ble of Tel Aviv is prefer­able, where the oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine is al­most com­pletely in­vis­i­ble. They like it that way, away from Pales­tini­ans and the ul­tra-Ortho­dox, Haredi Jews who ghet­toise them­selves in iso­lated neigh­bour­hoods.

As Is­rael pre­pares to cel­e­brate 50 years of con­quest and oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, since the 1967 Arab-Is­raeli war, this holy city has rarely been so an­gry and volatile.

Re­cently re­leased doc­u­ments re­vealed that Is­rael knew from the be­gin­ning of its oc­cu­pa­tion that it was il­le­gal and wor­ried about in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion. Is­rael an­nexed East Jerusalem three weeks af­ter the 1967 war and sent a tele­gram to its am­bas­sadors around the world ex­plain­ing that this wasn’t “an­nex­a­tion” but “mu­nic­i­pal fu­sion” to guar­an­tee run­ning ser­vices. Is­rael needn’t have been too con­cerned, though, be­cause facts on the ground af­ter 50 years have be­come per­ma­nent.

As a jour­nal­ist in Jerusalem, it’s a strange ex­pe­ri­ence and al­most guar­an­teed to bring cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. It’s pos­si­ble to spend time in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem dur­ing the day, wit­ness­ing suf­fer­ing and oc­cu­pa­tion and be safely back at home in the evening. Con­sid­er­ing what sur­rounds us, Jerusalem is per­haps too com­fort­able for for­eign media.

For Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in East Jerusalem, the city can be a dark ex­pe­ri­ence. I live in Sheikh Jar­rah, a Pales­tinian neigh­bour­hood in East Jerusalem that’s slowly be­ing taken over by ex­trem­ist, Jewish set­tlers. There are plans to build a re­li­gious school, a 10,000-square-me­tre com­plex in the heart of an Arab area, and ac­cel­er­ated moves, backed by the Is­raeli Supreme Court, to evict even more Pales­tini­ans from their homes. The clear Is­raeli aim, used over decades, is to make Pales­tinian lives so mis­er­able that they sim­ply pick up and leave. Some agree, most re­sist. There may be no check­points sep­a­rat­ing East and West Jerusalem, un­like through­out the West Bank, but the di­vides are clear. The vast ma­jor­ity of Jews here have no in­ter­est or knowl­edge of Pales­tinian his­tory be­fore the 1948 Nakba.

Is­rael is push­ing for mil­lions more tourists in Jerusalem in the com­ing decades, but this can only be achieved by iso­lat­ing and si­lenc­ing Pales­tinian res­i­dents, many of whom lost res­i­dency un­less they reg­u­larly proved that this city was their “cen­tre of life”.

Jerusalem will se­duce even the most jaded trav­eller, but only the blind can ig­nore the racial and po­lit­i­cal dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der­taken in the name of Zion­ism.

Antony Loewen­stein is a Jerusalem-based jour­nal­ist and au­thor, most re­cently, of Disas­ter Cap­i­tal­ism: Mak­ing A Killing Out of Catas­tro­phe.

Getty Im­ages

A Pales­tinian with his belongings af­ter his home in East Jerusalem is de­mol­ished.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.