Through this past week, I was lucky to have a few days off. This meant that when two alerts came in from the Displacement Working Group (DWG), my team mates responded while I was away. We are finding our way as a team, with members coming and going on placements and days off.
When I arrived in Tel Aviv for my break, I was thankful to sit on a rocky wharf by the beach to meditate on the sight and sound of the Mediterranean Sea…to try to make sense of the intensity, particularly of the home demolitions, of the past week and a half…and of the inhumane checkpoints…and of wide ranging degrees of optimism that we are hearing from Palestinian and Israeli people who stand against the occupation…
On Tues., 28 Dec. 2010, we attended an Alternative Information Centre evening with Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy. I heard him speak in Edmonton earlier this year about his new book, The Punishment of Gaza. This time, he spoke on the role of the Israeli media in the Occupation. His perspective, which he admits, is rather bleak, for example:
“The Occupation is totally not on the Israeli agenda.”
“No one in Israel wants to tell or wants to know this story [about the Occupation].”
“The Israeli media shapes those concepts [the lack of attention about the Occupation and what is covered, is covered “in a very twisted way”].”
“The only effective, active group in Israeli society is the settlers.”
“The Israeli Left collapsed totally and dramatically ten years ago… . In the Oslo years, there was no price to pay for speaking about peace… .” He did acknowledge the ongoing courageous efforts of Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and Machsom Watch. Note: EAPPI has contact with these groups, standing with them toward a just peace.
Levy reflected on how he perceives the Palestinians and their “basic sentiment, to live together [with Israelis] as two peoples”. He also appears troubled by what he sees as Israelis’ approach: “Let’s separate so that they [Palestinians] won’t be in front of our eyes.”
In the larger context, Levy regards the Middle East as “endangering the world” and that “the world is doing nothing”. He is hopeful that, much like the fall of the Berlin Wall and South African apartheid, change will come; however, the presence of 300,000-400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank is discouraging.
“There is no discussion about where we are going [in the future].” (See Levy’s article in Haaretz on 26 Dec 2010).
As you might imagine, this evening session with Gideon Levy was sobering…
Yet, the day before, on 27 Dec. 2010, the Jerusalem Team and the Bethlehem Team met with Meir Margalit, an elected, left-leaning (Meretz party), Israeli member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council. He also published a book in 2010, Seizing Control of Space in East Jerusalem. Meir was able to describe part of our context in East Jerusalem regarding the 2020 Jerusalem Master Plan, initiated in 2000. Apparently, the municipality perceived that Palestinians were becoming the majority in Jerusalem and had the potential to elect a Palestinian mayor. Meir said, “This possibility makes the Israelis crazy.” The Master Plan is intended to “freeze the demographic situation” and has become a tool for denying licences for Palestinian construction of homes in Jerusalem. Another tool is home demolitions “to make life so hard for them [Palestinians], that they’ll leave Jerusalem”.
Meir works with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein (see my posting from 17 Dec. 2010) and Jeff Halper at the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Licences for home construction are “almost impossible” for Palestinians to obtain. Members of ICAHD help families to rebuild.
Regarding his work as “fighting the Occupation from within the municipality”, Meir believes that the next year or two will be critical for resisting settlers’ seizing of East Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (see my posting from 25 Dec. 2010). From Meir’s perspective, one critical response is for international support for Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) [See Naomi Klein’s 2009 article]. In response to one EA’s question, “What can we do?” Meir responded by encouraging us to be in the most vulnerable East Jerusalem communities on a daily basis “to send the message to the Israeli government that we [the international community] won’t let this [ongoing effects of the Occupation] happen”.
Reaching further back into last week, on the morning of 27 Dec. 2010, the Jerusalem Team embarked on a walking tour of the Old City with Mahmoud. He was born and raised in the Old City in the African area. His family came from Chad before he was born.
To our collective surprise, Mahmoud clarified that Jerusalem is “less than 1 km2 , but it is the most problematic area in the world.” Roughly, 35,000 people live in the Old City with about 23,000 Muslims, 8,000 Christians, and 3,000 Jews. Mahmoud’s vision is for:
- Jerusalem to be the “capital of the universe with free access to the city, as world heritage.”
- The Old City to be “a small model of the universe because people would come from all over the world.”
Mahmoud observed that, even now, people have moved from all over the world to the Old City. And, yet, they typically identify themselves as: “I am Jerusalemite.”
I heard hope here.
And, yet, on my days off, I wondered, what can I do…
Then Sune Fahlgren’s (Director, Bilda: Swedish Christian Study Centre, Old City) focus on “cultural freedom” came to mind…from our meeting with him on 22 Dec. 2010.
And Mahmoud’s heads-up about the protection of the Old City and his vision of it being for all…his reference to UNESCO doing its best to protect this endangered World Heritage Site.
And, then I looked to myself…who I am, what I’ve been trained to, what fascinates me…meaning making in terms of place and identity…
And, I picked up a small shell and remembered Margaret Mead’s often quoted observation…
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead American anthropologist (1901 – 1978)
Happy New Year, All…I see a way forward into this next phase of Ecumenical Accompaniment as a member of Jerusalem Team 38… stay tuned…