“Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic point of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”
–W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939
I think, first and foremost, of Najmi. I haven’t seen her in months, We used to work for Yesh Din. She’s shy, soft-spoken, with a keen, sharp mind. She lives in East Jerusalem. Will she be alive in two days? How about Muhaned, fierce and unbowed?
Dammit, will I? I already dodged two suicide attacks. And for all the jokes about the Petah Tikva being the equivalent of Nebraska in its non-existence, several attacks took place here. Are we back to 2001-2002?
As these words are written, I have no idea just what sort of proclamation Trump will issue today regarding Jerusalem. But the signs are not good. He is likely to proclaim Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, making no distinction between the West and East cities, not knowing that you can easily discern them: the streets without pavements are those where the Palestinians live.
But I do know the State Department issued warning to its embassies in the Middle East, and I know the IDF is on high alert. And I know the police confidently said there are no reports of planned violence. And I remember that the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada is in three days.
There was no warning then, either. Nor was there one when the Second Intifada broke out. Our secret police prides itself on its penetration and fragmentation of Palestinian society; but while it may be good at identifying any formimg Palestinian attack squads (one reason we see so many solitary attackers – it is simply too dangerous to form a cell), it has a particularly lousy record when it comes to predicting events.
So, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and the day after that. But, frankly, I’m afraid. Perhaps it’s the traumatic legacy of the Second Intifada: of the years of endless terror, when you went to work silently calculating the odds that this bus ride will be it, that it may be time for you ticket to be punched; when you prayed in the morning for the sun to set, and at night for it to rise again. (And yes, I know: Palestinians had it much, much worse; but while I can know and understand it, even relate to it, I didn’t feel it.)
We can do the whole megillah of the tormented history of modern Jerusalem, of the 1947 resolution which is still in force which sees the city as corpus separatum. We can mention the mystic numbers 181 and 242 and mumble them as an incantation; when all is said and done, whatever Trump says tonight, there will be blood. Innocent people will die. Some are walking among us, still not knowing that there’s already a bullet (or a bomb fragment, or an artillery round) with their names on it. And oh, our gunmen are so much better at killing people when given an excuse.
My government is about to be given a surprise gift by Trump, and it does not care that dozens are likely to die. One does not conquer the mountain, goes the old Irgun song, unless there’s a grave dug downhill. They think those stones and a presidential proclamation is worth it. There’s actually no discussion. The myth of the “united Jerusalem” is so strong, even the opposition supports Trump’s move. Precious few dare to say that between ancient stones and human lives, you should choose life.
And of course, most of the dead will be Palestinians. Most Israelis don’t know any and hence can’t think of them as anything but a stereotype, as one of those human-shaped targets in IDF gun ranges. I do know. I think of Najmi and I am afraid.
Dona nobis pacem.