Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah: 'Ground Zero'

Yesterday's vigil did not grow in numbers, but it was clear from the people who turned out that it is growing in moral prestige. During the week, J Street issued a statement of support. The world press has begun to take notice. CNN put it well, calling Sheikh Jarrah "ground zero." More important, perhaps, this week's demonstration drew two new supporters, the novelist David Grossman and the head of the Peres Center (and Oslo negotiator) Ron Pundak. Larger scale mobilization is at hand.

And how could it not be? Throwing out Jerusalem Arab families from their homes of more than 50 years, and making way for Jews affiliated with Ateret Kohanim, could not be more revealing of the ethical autism Israelis in Jerusalem have suffered from and the political dangers we are sliding toward. The demonstrations against this are the most perfect way to oxygenate the embers of the peace process.

What other issue so exposes how the security rhetoric justifying military occupation of Palestinian territory since June, 1967 eventually came to cover for a romantic scheme, whose signal event was the annexation of Jerusalem in June, 1967, and the quadrupling of its municipal boundaries? What other stand focuses on the collusion between the Jerusalem and national police and settlement organizations? What stand so dramatizes the importance of East Jerusalem, Palestine's largest city, and its historic commercial hub, as the capital of a Palestinian state? What stand so reveals the pathos of refugees losing property on both sides during this awful century of war, and the importance of moving forward with a sense of reciprocal fairness--the importance of not opening up pre-1948 land claims on either side of the green line? The demonstrators may be a minority in Jewish Jerusalem, but their views still command a majority in Israel as a whole, and they have the world at their back.

EARLIER IN THE week, another event in Jerusalem reinforced the urgency of mobilization. About 100 people came out to the Van Leer Institute to hear a panel of Palestinian entrepreneurs and managers, who explained their frustrations trying to build sustainable businesses under the strictures of occupation. But perhaps the most chilling thing said in an otherwise engaging and cordial exchange between panelists and audience was the point made by both Basim Khoury, the CEO of Pharmacare, and Sami Abu Dayyeh, the CEO of Net Tours: that East Jerusalem is slowly being reduced to another Gaza.

Half the city is under the poverty line, unemployment is unimaginably high among young people, who are dropping out of school in large numbers; street gangs are forming on Mount of Olives neighborhoods; educated people, the sons and daughters of the traditional merchant class, or leaving for Jordan and Dubai. Little by little, Israel is turning the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem into an unexploded bomb looking for a blasting cap. And the explosion, when it comes, will quickly spread to the Israeli Arabs of the Little Triangle, and sweep away the people who were talking to us, by providing Hamas the perfect conditions to grow.

So the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah are about many things. First and foremost, they are calling for sanity.