Saturday, April 17, 2010

Elie Wiesel's Jerusalem

The week-end International Herald Tribune brought us two statements, the first, a full page ad by Elie Wiesel, explaining his (and presumably every Jew's) attachment to Jerusalem, and second, a column by the Times' Roger Cohen, explaining his (and presumably every decent person's) attachment to facts. Just who paid for Wiesel's fancy musings on Jerusalem--an earlier version of which Christopher Hitchens eviscerated years ago--the ad does not say. Rumor has it that Bibi Netanyahu asked Wiesel to intervene, and that Ronald Lauder, who took out an ad of his own yesterday, is covering the costs. Anyway, Netanyahu's brazen use of Diaspora big shots--whose love of Jerusalem transcends love in Jerusalem--commands a certain awe. My wife, Hebrew University literary scholar, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, has written about this before. In the following letter to the IHT, she responds to Wiesel:

In the same issue of the IHT (April 16, 2010), there appeared a full page ad (“For Jerusalem”) signed by Elie Wiesel, and Roger Cohen’s column, “The Clutches of the Dead.” Nothing could have illustrated Cohen’s point about the slim purchase that the “minority,” the Living, have over the “majority,” the Dead, better than Wiesel’s sentimental claim over all of Jerusalem on behalf of some misty-eyed notion of three thousand years of Jewish belonging.

Neither man lives in Jerusalem, my city, but Cohen articulates that very value for which many of us hoped Wiesel—who won the Nobel Prize, not for literature, but for peace—would be our spokesperson. After representing so eloquently the victims of history’s injustices in Nazi and then Soviet Europe, Wiesel would surely, we assumed, turn to the injustices perpetrated by his own people, and cry out against the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people. Instead he tells us, with no evidence on the ground, that “Jews, Christians and Muslims are allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.”

I defy Mr. Wiesel to find three Muslim families in all of West Jerusalem. The delicate balance between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods in this city has never been realized in city planning and infrastructure. Now it is being flagrantly undermined by acts that will almost certainly push the Palestinians into the hands of the extremists and kill any chance for peace between the two peoples.

Cohen reminds us that Jerusalem’s poet, Yehuda Amichai, called his city the “only city in the world where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.” As a growing group of Jerusalemites, Jews and Palestinians, stand in protest every Friday afternoon in the parking lot in Sheikh Jerrah across the street from where Jewish settlers have brutally displaced Palestinians based on some doubtful claim to Jewish ownership prior to 1948, we are taking a stand in the name of the Living and Life Itself.

Not only do the settlers here and all over the West Bank undermine the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence (if Jews have a right to land owned across the Green Line before the War of Independence, then surely so do those thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from West Jerusalem—including, presumably, the very house from which I write these words), but they consign all of us, sooner rather than later, to join the phalanx of the dead who died because people like Wiesel prefer mythical references to History and Eschatology over the real people who want to live together in peace:

“You see that arch from the Roman period?” asks the putative tour guide in Amichai’s poem "Tourists": “It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem