Flags over the crowds going to pray at Al-Aqsa
I’m no stranger to Israel and Palestine, still what shocks me about coming here is how blatant the system of unfairness is. Why is this not utterly familiar to me? I wonder. Why don’t Americans see this every day in the news? What kind of fairyland image are we getting of this place, and why? Or as the Canadian Christian pilgrim said to me last night leaving Qalandiya checkpoint, “What endless humiliation. And why is it such an open secret back home?” So everything here brings me back to the American denial, our blindered media, and to American Jewish identity and the lies that American Jews have told one another for generations.
A few impressions of the blatancy. I flew into Ben Guiron from Newark and my flight was mostly Jewish. There were no Palestinians or Arabs on the flight, as far as I could see. The sense was reinforced at Ben-Gurion. I saw no women wearing hijab, the customary form of dress in this part of the world. The shuttle I rode into Jerusalem had ten passengers, mostly American Jews, two binational Israeli American girls, a Christian tourist and an international aid type. This last passenger was dropped at Qalandiya checkpoint to go on to Ramallah. “Is this a hospital?” the orthodox girl in the front row asked. A reminder that the Palestinian reality is sealed off from Israelis, and also that Qalandiya is a vast bureaucratic complex in benign disguise, a border crossing that keeps the subject population Over There. “A lot of the Arabs throw rocks, that is why they put this up,” an older Jew who fought in the 48 war explained to his wife as we passed along the wall.
After I checked into my hotel in the Old City, I ran into Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He pointed out the flags above on a dwelling in the Muslim Quarter and said that I was witnessing the process of the Judaization of the Old City and of East Jeursalem generally, Jews cordoning off the holy city. My picture is of Muslims going to the Al Aqsa mosque to pray under these flags. They are reminded of who is boss at every turn.
I have been through Qalandiya twice in the last day and cannot convey what a dreary oppressive experience this is. Long lines of people made to walk in a wide muddy circle past the neverending re-arranged concrete walls, one of which has Fuck You as an eloquent graffiti. The soldiers stand at huge concrete cubes that the bulldozers have placed just so, a couple-hips’-width apart, and stop us at three points on our way in. Women and men are separated, in a fashion that has ghoulish echoes of the worst moments of Jewish history.
Oh but now we have power, now we are in history. This is what thrills American Jews and neocons, our moment. Powerful people do screwed up things.
But all the while my heart is with the Palestinians around me. The men are all gleaming and bathed and fresh. It is Ramadan. They wear nice clothes. They meet your eyes in a welcoming fashion but no one is ingratiating. It is too humbling for anyone to say anything, where are you from? Welcome, which they say in ordinary circumstances. While in the Old City, in the Ramadan crowds that inch packed and dangerous toward the mosque, there are always men at the side spraying water on as you walk by. Tossing it from bottles, spraying it with sprayers, to cool you down. A lovely gesture of community, in which I am included.
I know there is a strong Jewish community a few hundred yards away. It has its own beauties and fellowship and loving embrace. But pardon me if I can’t find my way there right now. I was raised as a Jewish outsider in America, and my spirit gravitates toward the outsiders here.
The largest impression of all: These people have no freedom of movement. It takes hours to make a 10 mile trip, and none of the thoughtful city planning that Jews get in West Jerusalem is extended to the Palestinians. No, they must be constrained at every turn, and choked, so they want to fly away. I would fly away. I’d move to the Gulf, I’d go to Europe, I’d give up.
And again what I find staggering is that we have so little understanding of this reality in the west. I am witnessing apartheid. I cannot think of any other term that so describes the systematic separation of people by race /ethnicity/religion, and the subjugation of one ethnicity to another. Whatever the glories of Zionism in Jewish history, a case I’m more than willing to make, this is where it ground itself out, a boot in the face of a civilized people.
So yes I blame the media. I blame the Times for running Richard Goldstone’s farcical claim that apartheid is a slander rather than Stephen Roberts’s cleareyed piece in the Nation that this is apartheid on steroids. I blame the Israel lobby for enforcing blindness to these conditions, I blame the politicians for accepting the blinders. I blame the Phildelphia Inquirer for saying the other day that a one state future is “untenable,” when what is happening before our eyes is atrocity on atrocity. I blame the Jewish community for lying about what is happening here endlessly, destroying our intellectual inheritance, in the belief that it is good for the Jews. It is a disaster for Jews. It is a disgrace that Americans will one day have university courses and museum exhibits to try to explain to one another when the next generation wakes up to this madnesss and responds with appropriate fury.