Last Tuesday, they took us Americans (the American rab students at my school, that is) on a tiyul to The Wall, ie the thing that Israel’s building that’s caused so much controversy. I really do hand it to the school for not pussyfooting around the fact that we’re in, shall we say, a politically complicated place. A few weeks back they brought in (on different days, natch) a settler from Gush Etzion and a Palestinian to hold forth on their opinions and experiences. Sadly, that was during my little run with the flu, so I missed them both, though I heard that neither was really so great as a speaker.
So anyway, the wall. We went first to Gilo, which is a decidedly Jewish neighborhood, and could see a chunk of the wall and where it stops–there’s a bit over there that is wall-less, which both has to do with Israel’s concerns about access to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) and about a court case 120 Palestinian families are bringing against Israel because they do not want to be walled with their land into Jerusalem (which they would be if Israel went around Kever Rachel). We could also see where some Palestinans fired on Gilo in 2000. And they say that the bomber who bombed the bus in front of the Prime Minister’s house (right by me, incidentally) go in through that hole.
They also took us to a spot in the far north of Jerusalem where we could see the Kolandia checkpoint. We talked about how it took a court case for people to have access to water while they waited there. We talked a lot about how the government made decisions about where the fence would go and why–and how cities like Kfar Ekv wound up getting divided, with 20,000 people now technically in Jerusalem and 5-10,000 in the West Bank. We talked about Palestinians who want to be included inside the wall so that they can have access to jobs, hospitals, mobility, access roads, (the wall will separate 100,000 Palestinians from these things) and others who want to be outside the wall because that’s where their land is and the problem is that now they’re locked inside and can’t get out to where it is. We talked about the post ’67 municipal boundaries and Green Line–I hadn’t realized until I saw a map with it all spelled out that French Hill and Hebrew University (Har HaTzofim) are technically outside the Green Line. (French Hill is where, like, the Conservative Jews live, and Hebrew U is Hebrew U–neither place someplace I’d exactly consider a “settlement.” Come to think of it, the Old City is also outside the Green Line. Just more with the complicated.) We talked about how Palestinians who are in Jerusalem get an ID card whose number marks them as Palestinian (terrifying that this is the practice), about the 230,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem and refuse do vote in municipal elections in protest, in refusal to validate Jerusalem. The woman leading the tour (from an organization called Ir Amim) observed that if all of those Palestinians voted, the local political representation could be 1/3 Palestinian.
We talked about the refugees: questions of short-term humanitarian issues versus long-term political goals (that is, for them to live in their own state.) How not all the people who live in refugee camps want the same thing re: where the wall would go, or anything else. We talked about what to do with the wall and the settlers in places pretty far east of Jerusalem. We talked about the questions of how to navigate the tension between Israel’s need to keep its citizens safe and its obligation to human rights for everyone. How can we have both of those things happen at the same time?
The woman leading our group argued that if we handled the bigger political issues better, perhaps the wall wouldn’t be necessary, and implied quite strongly that it had the potential to do more harm than good. I don’t think she’s wrong about those things. And I find–well, right now, as I write this, I find that I don’t have a lot of clarity about any of it. It’s hard and it’s messy and at this point I’m not sure what the right answers would be if there were any.
I sat next to one of the deans of my school on the bus. He’s a sweetheart, and was explaining different things about the map and helping me understand where things were and how they related to each other. And then he pointed to one of the holes in the wall, very close to his neighborhood of French Hill. He talked about the gap and the possiblity that they might draw a border basically right next to his house. He got very agitated, clearly freaked out by even the prospect. He said that he’d gotten along with his (Arab/Palestinian) neighbors for years. But now….
I said, “I’m hearing you say that you would like them to build the wall over there?”
He paused, and his voice got very quiet. “I know about all of the issues,” he said.
This, I think, was his way of saying that he doesn’t know what the right answer is. In the big picture he (I gleaned from our conversation, but it’s inference) sees the wall as being very problematic, and in the small picture (this was clear) he’s concerned about being safe in his home, and that concern is not unrealistic. I think he, like all the people I know around here who do any thinking, see a lot of sides of this, and it gives him great pain.
Great pain. There’s not any other response, really. The tiyul ended right around 4pm, so we all ran into the beit midrash to daven mincha before it was too late. And during the Amidah, and I found myself sobbing. And praying. And sobbing.
Tuesday I’m facillitating a discussion on all this with my friend Geoff. I’m looking forward to it as a chance to crystalize some of my own thinking, to see if I can come up with anything more than a lot of questions and a deep, deep sense of grief.
Of course French Hill is across the green line and so is Ramot Eshkol, Gilo and Ramot. There are today more Jews living across the green line in “East” Jerusalem than there are living in “West Jerusalem”. Mt. Scopus, by the way, is technically not over the green line since it was an Israeli enclave between 1948-67.
The Jerusalem situation is very complicated and not only because the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are intermingled in such a way that no wall could possibly weave its way between them.
It’s also complicated because international law sees the “occupation” of Jerusalem as distinct from the occupation of the West Bank. The UN’s 1947 partition resolution, which proposed a Jewish state beside a Palestinian state, also called for the internationalization of Jerusalem. That never materialized, but the zone that was meant to be internationalized spanned from Ramallah to Bethlehem.
After 1948, most of the intended “international” lands (and the territory with the most religious significance) came under Jordanian rule, but Israel also controlled part of that land in West Jerusalem. That is why, since 1948, many in the international community have viewedd Israel’s presence in West Jerusalem as an “occupation” of sorts. Israel is supposedly occupying land in West Jerusaelm that was supposed to be UN-administered. The controversial status of West Jerusalem is the reason why no countries (aside from a few banana republics) have their embassies in Jerusalem.
I know it’s not like you have nothing to read, but…
Michael Okun’s book,
Six Days of War : June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East was absolutely fascinating to me. Lord knows you and I have different tastes in history, but I would be fascinated to hear your perspective on it, and hear what you took from it, given that you’re actually living in and around all the landmarks that I have to squint at a map to figure out.
I heard him interviewed on NPR, and the thing that was most striking according to him was how hard the Israelis tried *not* to enter East Jerusalem. The implication was that they knew once all of Jerusalem was under Israeli control, that was it, the international community could do what it wanted, but Israel would never leave the Old City. Until that point, an international settlement could possibly have included some sort of partition/internationalization of Jerusalemn, but not afterwards.
Anyway, I’ll send you my copy if you’re curious, but it is definitely my kind of history book–lots of troop movement, lots of diplomatic letters. What my Eastern European Historical Literature prof would have called “Big Guy History”. Except I feel like Golda Meir makes an appearance.
Er. That is of course Michael Oren. I went to college with Michael Okun.
Hmmm, interesting. I might be curious in fact to check this book out sometime. Maybe I can borrow your copy when I’m back in CA?
Generally, tho, gotta say I’m pretty skeptical of historical accounts, since everybody has their biases (and on this issue more than most) and I always feel like I have to read almost all the accounts in the universe of one event to be able to sift through everybody’s BS. (Going to lectures and the like is the same thing, but it’s less of a time investment. 😉
Heh. His joke on NPR about that was that both sides have both invited him to speak and criticized him harshly, so, you know, he must be doing *something* right.