The demonstrations I just left near the new American embassy in Jerusalem were a dismal object lesson in Jewish sovereignty. The police beat up Palestinians merely for holding Palestinian flags and chanting that Palestine would be free. The police crumpled the flags, while women on an apartment balcony four floors up were spraying water on the Palestinian demonstrators.
Thankfully, there were also Jewish demonstrators here to protest the embassy, most of them from America. I did not see any of them roughed up.
A half dozen different demonstrations went off at once, two blocks north of the new embassy, as official cars could be seen flashing on the hill in the distance under a surveillance balloon. The police pushed the demonstrators back so that they would not be visible from the embassy, and at times separated the Jewish protesters from the Palestinian ones, and roughed up the Palestinians.
They also took down a Peace Now banner saying that Jerusalem must also be the capital of a Palestinian state; the banner had a Palestinian flag on it. Any “incitement” would not be tolerated, said Micky Rosenfeld of the Israeli police.
Every big street in Jerusalem is now plastered with Trump Make Israel Great and Trump is a Friend of Zion signs. Often there are two of the same messages in one intersection. It rings in your head like a mosquito. Do they know how despised Trump is in the world? Well yes. And Israelis feel despised too.
“Trump’s speech [on Jerusalem] was written in Netanyahu’s office,” says Ahmad Tibi, the Palestinian legislator, at the embassy demonstration today.
Yanki Farber, a 38-year-old Israeli, wears a tshirt saying Israel Loves Trump on the hill across from the embassy.
When I ask him how many Israelis feel the way he does, he says 75 percent. Not the Palestinians, and not the extreme left, he says. The left, he says, is jealous that Netanyahu got this political victory. But the rest of Israel is behind it. Brian Reeves of Peace Now, who has come to protest the embassy move, can’t argue with those numbers. “I’m clearly in the minority,” he says. “It’s very hard for people to understand that something like this can hurt Israel’s national security interests. We’re here to try to clarify that.”
But even the messaging at the rallies underscored the polarization of this society. “Jews Are Not Free Until Palestinians are Free,” said a sign held by the anti-occupation collective All That’s Left. Another said, Kvetch, Organize, Repeat. It seemed a little weak on a day when Israel was carrying out a massacre in Gaza, and everyone near the Embassy was getting updates. The protesters chanted, “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the Embassy Has got to Go.”
But the Palestinian messages were more direct. “Gaza, Gaza,” they chanted. “Israel is a terrorist state.” “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”
The police have to shut that down. Their tactics seem pathetic and brittle. Israel seems to lack confidence in its ability to endure. After 70 years it has still not figured out any way to live with its neighbors, and it feels more isolated than ever. It hears the criticisms coming from Europe and the Palestinian solidarity movement and it is frightened. The only answer it has now is, Trump.
“BDS is doing damage to Israel- now companies don’t want to come here,” says Yanki Farber. “I think they are going to rot in hell. And there are a lot of Jews who are for BDS. But you know there were Jews who helped the Nazis too They are fake Jews. People who betray their own nation.”
These kinds of statements are common among Israelis. The separation has worked. I’ve been coming to Jerusalem for 12 years and the politics have never seemed so tragic as they do today. The government has fully won the mind of the Jewish people, and the Jews are utterly separated from the Palestinians and regard them with contempt.
There is no center here, no sense of shared space—just two peoples, with one completely in command of the other. And that one celebrating things that the other finds hateful. At Jerusalem Day yesterday the Israelis held a commemoration of soldiers killed taking East Jerusalem in 1967. Even as they said the mourner’s kaddish and sang Jerusalem of Gold, they were surrounded by soldiers on point with semi automatic rifles. Because they were in occupied Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinians are being evicted, and they are fearful. The Nakba never ends and neither does the Israeli insecurity. The country lives on fear.
The new embassy is on a ridgeline in the south of the city with a view of occupied territory. Right around the corner is the house of S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli Nobel prize winner who wrote about Eastern Europe and this very hillside. It was desert in his time, he heard foxes barking at night. Now it is filled with modern buildings, including a hotel with another of the huge posters, Trump Make Israel Great.
It is frightening to see what Trump has done here, encouraged the very worst in Israeli society. While the Palestinians were being beaten up, Israelis with Jerusalem syndrome were holding forth to reporters about God giving the land to the Jews.
America has never been an honest broker, Ahmad Tibi said. That has not changed. “But Trump has made it more aggressive.”
Tibi also told reporters, before the police attacked the demonstration and he was moved off, that he feels more optimistic amid the despair. I guess that is because the contradictions are clearer than ever. Because America’s role is clearer than ever. Because the apartheid is clearer than ever. Maybe that means that a crisis is upon us. In the meantime, this place is completely dispirited.