If I talked (or typed) for days I could not capture everything I have been thinking about Jerusalem. Of all the places to see in Palestine, Jerusalem is the most painful. When I first arrived in Palestine a friend from DC was in Jerusalem for work. I spent a few nights in Jerusalem with her, far from the old city, but constantly looking out in the distance hoping to get a glimpse of the Dome of the Rock– that sight which really solidified being in Palestine for me last year when I came for the first time. Mostly my friend and I hung out with folks in East Jerusalem’s bars, talking about Palestine. It was her first time witnessing Israeli Apartheid. And it was the beginning of my trip here– my eyes teared up a lot at the conversations we had.
A few weeks later I went back to Jerusalem with another friend. We traveled around the old city this time. East Jerusalem (occupied since 1967) is overflowing with video cameras and Israeli soldiers. This is a control mechanism, to keep watch over the Palestinians and to show them without a doubt that they are constantly being watched. Reading this cannot reveal how terrifying the reality is– you need to see it to believe it. In the West Bank anyone you mention Jerusalem to grows very sad at the thought of how close the city is yet how impossible it is to get there. Palestinians with West Bank IDs cannot enter Jerusalem, although the city means so much to Palestinians. Palestinians inside Jerusalem have Jerusalem IDs– they can go in and out of the occupied territories and the 1948 territories (“Israel proper”). This is apartheid– it is systemic separation and differentiation, not only between Palestinians and Israelis but between Palestinians as well.
While Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, at the same time it is the most depressing. There is a sadness over the city, and after I leave it that sadness manifests itself into a depression in me that lasts for several days. The second time we returned to Jerusalem we wandered around East Jerusalem, not in the Old City. By chance we stumbled into the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and into a protest there against the forced expulsion of the families from their homes (again!).
We hung around the demonstration for a while, speaking with the families. There were lots of Israeli Jews as well, and I realized that this was the peace movement– Israeli Jews who do not necessarily acknowledge things like the Right of Return for Palestinian Refugees, or who do not acknowledge that they are colonizers living on stolen land. It is also bizarre that when the protest is over they get into their buses and go back to their first world homes in West Jerusalem– land stolen in 1948 rather than in 1967.
While we were among the protesters Haneen and I found the families who were expelled from their homes and spoke with them. They were extremely sad, but somehow still hopeful. They are still fighting in the courts, knowing that they will probably fail to get their rights back in the colonizer’s legal system. Of course their neighbors from the neighborhood are also in danger of eviction.
I saw two things that day that I need to recount here. While we were speaking to the residents in the demonstration I noticed that there were three groups of Israeli enforcement authorities standing across the street: soldiers, police, and private security detail. The soldiers were sitting atop a small hill across the street carrying guns and video cameras! Nothing takes me aback more than those video cameras that are everywhere in East Jerusalem. Mind control– Big Brother is Always Watching!
Second incident, while Haneen and I were waiting for the bus going back to Ramallah we watched a young Jewish Israeli settler walk by us and turn into the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which is now closed by a checkpoint on Fridays because the Palestinians are “causing disturbances” (because apparently being kicked out of your home is not reason to be upset). At the checkpoint, the man who was dressed clearly like an Israeli Jewish settler because of his religious dress walked right through, waving at the soldiers on his way in. Minutes later a Palestinian man crossed the street to go to his home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, from which he will also be expelled soon, and was stopped by the soldiers and had to present his ID. Reader, please remember that the Jewish settler is now living in someone’s evicted home and at the same time is being protected by the state. The soldiers and the settlers illegally came to this Palestinian man’s neighborhood and now have the right to check his ID upon entering or leaving. In his own neighborhood.
If this is not apartheid, what is? The Judiaization of Jerusalem is a reality in Israel’s attempt to unilaterally make it the capital of the Jewish State and to ban Palestinians from the right to reach Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a microcosm of Palestine– it is being cantonized into Bantustans and slowly being confiscated but more rapidly than the whole of Palestine.
I will have a post only about the Qalandiya checkpoint next (main checkpoint separating West Bank and Jerusalem). It deserves its own section. Believe me.