Trump’s latest decision on moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is ignorant and destabilizing and dangerous on so many levels. After flinging red meat to Adelson (Thanks for the millions) and the evangelical Christian right and their orthodox and less religious Jewish compadres (Thanks for the vote. You know I keep my promises), one of the responses that feels particularly irresponsible and devoid of context that is making me more outraged than usual goes something like this:
“So Trump, blah blah blah, Jerusalem. Israelis claim a united Jerusalem as their eternal capital (they did win that war and it was 50 years ago, so really…). But the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state (even though the Jews really have a historical claim that dwarfs everyone else’s). Do you think the protesters will turn to violence?” Gasp, horror. Underlying thought: Israelis (i.e. the 80% of them who are Jewish citizens and the only ones who count in this conversation) are peaceful folk and the Palestinians (the good ones in the West Bank and the bad ones in Gaza and the ungrateful ones in East Jerusalem) are really violent terrorists.
So here are my complaints. First, there are a collection of international laws and UN resolutions that the entire international community (except you know who) respects, whereby East Jerusalem is recognized as occupied territory which is not allowed to be colonized by the occupying force, i.e. Israel. All of the peace processes, as bankrupt and ineffectual as they have been, recognized that should there be a two-state solution (which you can argue has finally met its fatal blow), East Jerusalem would be the capital of that future Palestinian state. This matters.
Moving on to the question of violence, consider this. One-third of Jerusalem residents are Palestinian and they receive 10% of the municipal budget although they pay the same taxes as their Jewish neighbors. This means that the provision of services to their part of the city is grossly unequal: less benefit offices, health centers, mail carriers, road maintenance, garbage collection, sewer pipes, electrical connections, parks, schools, etc. Three-quarters of the city’s Palestinian population now lives below the poverty line. Since 1967 no new Palestinian neighborhoods have been built and restrictive zoning prevents Palestinians (who continue to marry and have children and try to live their lives) from building legally, which means that 93,000 residents live under the threat of home demolition. Over half of the land in East Jerusalem has been designated unavailable for development, over a third is for Jewish settlements, and the Palestinians are left with 13%, most of which has already been built on. The separation/apartheid wall snakes through East Jerusalem. Three-quarters of East Jerusalemite Palestinians find themselves on the “Israeli side” and one-quarter are now on the “West Bank side” which means they endure long lines and have to wait at checkpoints to access their schools, hospitals, work, educational institutions, and family. The Israeli authorities are also always looking for new ways to revoke East Jerusalem IDs, and the bar is extremely low.
This past year, fanatic right wing Jews demanded to pray on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary and they arrived armed and with police protection, despite the rabbinic injunction against praying on that site. This was clearly not a religious gesture, but a nationalistic, political incitement with fascistic overtones at one of Islam’s holiest sites. There has also been a steady expulsion of East Jerusalemite Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers, using bogus legal claims, physical removal, and outright hooliganism.
In the West Bank, settler attacks increased 144% from 2009 to 2011 and 90% of investigations into “price tag attacks” are closed without indictment. Additionally, if you look at the military laws that govern the occupied territories, protests are illegal, so if Palestinians do want to call attention to these grave injustices, they have no legal mechanism to do so. Once arrested, they are often caught in endless administrative detention. If they come to trial there is a 99% conviction rate in military courts.
I would argue that this is all a form of violence: functionally, institutionally, politically, emotionally.
And the IDF is responsible for the vast majority of deaths, not to mention all the tear gas, skunk water, stun grenades, tanks, drones, and a host of other sophisticated weaponry, often produced or funded by the US and aimed at Palestinians, including children.
There is a context in which desperate people do desperate things, but what always amazes me, is that the vast, vast majority of the Palestinian population faced with daily brutal violence from Jewish Israelis, is totally peaceful. Angry but peaceful. They are focused on work, education, family, and building a future against overwhelming odds. And when they call for protests in the street or a boycott of Israeli products they are the ones accused of fomenting violence.