If there were only one place I could visit in Palestine, it would be Damascus Gate. Going down the tall steps to the gate is like going down into a living theater of history. You are enveloped by a grand but not overwhelming architectural space, and the awareness of the flows of human beings come here in belief and humility makes your life seem purposeful and capable of transcendence.
Before you the high wooden doors lead into the Old City and on to the stones Jesus walked in the passion. To the east you can see cypresses on the Mount of Olives and to the north the busy commercial neighborhoods of Wadi al-Joz and the American Colony. And west, uphill, you can make out Jewish neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. You are at the center of the world, and civilization has a deep root here. Magnificent structures rise from rock, and storytellers stand at the gate’s periphery, to contemplate the many traditions and seek to explain our social mysteries.
Then a cartman almost runs you over shouting– for he has a load of spices to bring to the marketplace.
So it was shocking today to see that Israel, an occupying nation, has disfigured the Damascus Gate. Ma’an news reports that Israel has erected a steel watchtower near the center of the gate, so as to police Palestinian activities more vigilantly. Look at this steel wen on the gate’s fine face.
It tries to present itself as a gazebo or a bandshell to hide its identity as a watchtower. It wants us not to think of the awful military cylinders that rise over Qalandia and Bethlehem but it is just more grotesque due to the pretension. It is obvious that only soldiers will have access to this tower, so they can target the Palestinians walking by. Because of course it’s all for security, the security of settlers and soldiers.
And there’s no outrage, no report in the Western press– apart from this dispatch at Middle East Monitor. And this comment from the US Campaign::“Israel continues to escalate surveillance and targeting of Palestinians with installation of watchtower checkpoint at Damascus Gate.”
No official is exercised over the disfigurement of a Palestinian architectural gem (the Old City of Jerusalem is listed as a site “in danger” on the World Heritage Sites). No, it goes to the same account as the looting of the Herodium in the West Bank to justify Jewish occupation, or the coins-and-earrings kitsch of the City of David excavation in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem, again in an effort to establish Jewish sovereignty over this many-peopled-place. Or the destruction of an ancient Palestinian burial grounds to erect a Museum of Tolerance. No one with any power is going to do anything in the end about Israeli encroachments on Palestinian areas, even as they can’t stop resuscitating the two-state solution.
And of course no Palestinian was ever consulted. Imagine an occupier sticking a military guardhouse in Grand Central Terminal, or in the Piazza San Marco, and think what the New Yorkers or Venetians would do. But Palestinians have to suck it up. Their case is always different. And it only gets uglier at every turn.
H/t Allison Deger, Adam Horowitz, and Scott Roth.