A billboard advertising the Nof Zion settlement in East Jerusalem. This photo is from 2007. (Photo: Flickr/elterwater1)
Editor’s Note: Alice Rothchild is traveling to Israel/Palestine with a group of African-American civil rights leaders, theologians, scholars, activists, feminists, and fellow travelers organized by the Dorothy Cotton Institute. For more information about the delegation see here.
Ruth Edmonds is the daughter of a Jewish mother and English father. She came from a political household; both parents were environmental activists. Now 29, she is the high energy, fast talking staff person with ICAHD, (the 26 year old Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), who is going to take us on a tour of East Jerusalem and the surrounding Jewish settlements. Her body language and ebullient speech has the urgency of someone with too much to do and not enough time. She is active in Anarchists Against the Wall, Active Stills, Boycott from Within, and ICAHD. Her youth and her commitment jolt me with a ray of optimism. Her tee shirt reads: “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”
After a review of Middle East history and armed with useful websites and a yearning for lots more details, we board our bus and set out for some stark reality. This is my third ICAHD tour of East Jerusalem and the surrounding Jewish settlements, but I am never quite prepared for the stunning beauty of the hills, the visually seamless “unification” of Jerusalem since 1967, the malignant intricacies of what Jeff Halper describes as the Matrix of Control, and the outrage that gradually grips my body. Jeff has drawn what he calls the prisoner analogy. In a prison the majority of the space is claimed by the prisoners: the dorms, the cafeteria, the library; while the guards and the prison authorities only control maybe 5%, but that includes the corridors, the locks, the watchtowers; in other words, they control the prison. This is how Palestinians increasingly find themselves in the ever expanding borders of the Jerusalem Municipality and the West Bank. And the guards are armed with continuously more sophisticated US armaments and “crowd control” devices that are “field tested” on the backs of the indigenous people and their supporters.
We pass a tall curving white Peace and Tolerance monument that overlooks the Jewish settlements. The irony is stunning. Stopping at Jabal Mukabar, Ruth explains that before 1967 the area around the Old City was Palestinian agricultural land but it has been largely transformed into an urban setting. We see a family arriving to pick olives at this popular lookout as we survey a spectacular panorama that includes West Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives, and Ramallah in the distance. The grey concrete separation wall meanders between clusters of white houses, black water towers sprouting like mushrooms on the roofs. Jewish homes do not have these tanks as they have a reliable water system. Perhaps the easiest way I can share the impact of this tour is with some of the most disturbing pieces of information — In 1967 according to Ruth, after the war with the Israeli unification of the city, Palestinians present in East Jerusalem were offered Israeli citizenship if: 1. They declared loyalty to the Jewish State 2. They passed a Hebrew proficiency test 3. They gave up other passports (this is not required of Jewish Israelis) 4. They could prove that they were willing to migrate to Israel within the 1948 borders. Needless to say, the majority chose permanent residency status and now they have to continuously confirm their right to that status by proving that Jerusalem is the center of their lives (work, school, activities, etc, etc).
When a child is born, rather than receiving a birth certificate in the hospital like Jewish children, the parents have to go to the Ministry of the Interior to prove their residency status. The bus drops the new parents off at a steep hill with no stairs down to the Ministry. They pay the same taxes as West Jerusalemites but get a fraction of the urban services. Their children have overcrowded crumbling schools, rare playgrounds, and cannot inherit property. At checkpoints, the soldiers have access to whether Palestinians are up-to-date on taxes, fines, etc and act accordingly. This system was created by our own Hewlett- Packard. If East Jerusalemites are absent for 3-8 years (not clear) they lose their IDs. This does not happen by chance. The Israeli government has a policy of maintaining a 70/30 split between Jews and Palestinians and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that, one Palestinian at a time.
The Israeli government has an extensive policy of “green zoning,” ostensibly taking, (buying, stealing, seizing) (Palestinian) property and converting it into public spaces. In reality these spaces are often made into Jewish settlements or are at least off limits for direly needed Palestinian housing. Only 9% of East Jerusalem is currently zoned for the ballooning Palestinian population, creating a false house shortage and another silent bullet leading to passive transfer of the population. The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan with its controversial archeological site and park, The City of David, (find evidence for a Jewish presence, thousands of years ago and throw out the rest), has extensive green zoning and growing numbers of the most right wing Jewish settlers. It is easy to see the large blue and white Israeli flags provocatively flapping between Palestinian homes. It is quite clear who is welcome here and by whom. Meanwhile Palestinian schools are short by 1000 classes and 40% of the children drop out. 17,000 children are never even registered. A group recently had to take their case to the Israeli Supreme Court to get a permit to build a girl’s school. A school? (Did I mention that the educational system is totally segregated in the city of peace?)
The settlement project is alive and well; for example, with a plan for Kidmat Zion a new settlement of 230 units at the heart of the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis. Ruth explains this will be the furthest eastern Jerusalem municipality settlement and will effectively cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank and be just another nail in the two state coffin, should that not already have met an untimely demise. We also pass the faded billboard advertising sites (call that 1-800 number now, homes still available!) for Nof Zion, a gated Jewish settlement with a dubious financial history, now owned by a major developer, Rami Levy. Passing the lovely tree lined trees and well paved streets, when Nof Zion ends, the potholes and bits of garbage and plastic bags hanging onto the tumble of weeds announce the end of urban services.
Between the current citizenship and changing family reunification policies, the Israeli state functionally dictates where a Palestinian can live, who he/she can love and where they can work. For example, if a West Banker falls in love and marries an East Jerusalemite, they cannot make their residency in East Jerusalem (where services, health care, education, and the standard of living are better). Not only does this translate into untold family suffering, separation, detentions, etc, but it is estimated that of the 350,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, many thousands live there illegally, risking imprisonment for attempted family unification.
Jerusalem is a microcosm of what is happening in Area C, the area of the West Bank that is under Israeli civil and military control. There have been innumerable attempts to make life so unbearable that Palestinians will leave and now 150,000 are left. It is rumored that the Israeli government is preparing to officially annex Area C to Israel proper and then may offer the remaining Palestinians Israeli citizenship as their numbers are too small to affect the demographic war. One of the delegates shakes her head and says, “This looks like Alabama.” Welcome to the only democracy in the Middle East. ________________________________________
Reports reflect the views of the individuals writing them and do not necessarily represent the Dorothy Cotton Institute, the Center for Transformative Action, Interfaith Peace Builders or other delegates or the organizations with which they are affiliated