At the edge of Jabal Mukaber, on the border of the settlement of East Talpiot, a luxurious Jewish building project is taking shape, eventually covering 170 dunams comprised of housing, a sports center, a park, a kindergarten, a synagogue and a commercial center.
The project being built, `Nof Zion`, is a private project, purely a business venture with no political subcontext. Given that, the project contractor’s attitude reflects the same attitude often found in the Israeli establishment in matters of establishing jurisdiction over land in East Jerusalem. The elegant brochure prepared for marketing the project to the target Jewish population puts particular stress on its description of the area surrounding the new neighborhood. For emphasis, it also includes a sketch of the project and the view seen from it.
The sketch, in an oriental style common to the beginning of the century, shows a romantic scene, both calm and pastoral. The site is crowded with Jewish homes, surrounded by greenery, and with public buildings on a grand scale, full of light and tranquil pastel colors. At its foot is an undeveloped area, also pastoral, where a few small Arab houses are scattered – distant and unthreatening. These are the homes of Jabal Mukaber. The drawing is deliberately false; both in the coloration and its intentional distortion of reality. In the rendering, the village does not exist, only a number of solitary houses, far away from the Jewish area, unthreatening, but the dominant colors in the drawing – shades of green-blue-gold-maroon – different from the characteristic grey of the local architecture. In a brushstroke, the village disappears, its reality is erased, its homes gone as though they never existed, and the view is entirely nationalized to serve the Jewish neighborhood which will arise.
A different sort of manipulation appears on the next page, where the view seen from the neighborhood’s houses is depicted. Since it is a photo, it is impossible to erase the village homes, but the manipulation has two dimensions: the first is the insertion of a broad band of calm blue sky, and the second is the pastoral horizon line which is almost entirely composed of Jewish sites. In the background one sees the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, Mount Moriah, the Western Wall, the City of David, Mount Zion, the King David Hotel, the Sheraton Hotel, the Plaza Hotel, the East Talpiot Promenade and the neighborhoods of Talbieh and Rehavia. The only non-Jewish site appearing in the picture is Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is incorrectly labelled as the building designated is actually the Pater Noster church, not Augusta Victoria. However, whoever looks at the whole picture cannot help but notice that an Arab village lies right next to the Jewish site, exactly beneath its balconies. The village of Jabal Mukaber is present in the picture, but not in the mind of the observer. Not only that, but on the very ridge where only Jewish sites appear, there are actually a number of other Arab villages, which are also conspicuous by their absence. If they point out Talbieh and Rehavia, why not the neighborhoods of A-Tur, Sawaneh, Sheikh Jarrah or Wadi Joz, which are also situated on the same horizon line; or Sur Baher, to the right in the picture, also within sight of the observer? The view seen in the picture states clearly that the village seen at the foot of the Jewish neighborhood is an optical illusion, it actually doesn’t exist, one can ignore its existence, its annoying presence, the voice of the muezzin and the sounds of its life. The nearby neighbor is of no importance, but instead the focus is on the ridge seen from a distance. The message of the picture is: Notice that the Western Wall is not far away, even if you can’t quite see it; however, the neighbor, across the street, does not exist even if you do see him.
Nof Zion is only an example of the operative code of the settlement movement as a whole with regard to the Arab presence in the West Bank and particularly in East Jerusalem. We have a modern version here of the classic Zionist statement, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” However, if, in the nineteenth century, this was said out of ignorance, today it is said out of wickedness. This is an effort to erase the Arab presence, to take over the space, together with the land, the view, to “judaize” East Jerusalem by a combination of Jewish building projects and the erasure of the Arab presence. Some can be physically erased, that is, it is possible to demolish Arab buildings down to their foundations. Who remembers that in the area where Jewish neighborhoods were constructed in East Jerusalem in the ‘70’s there were Arab buildings bulldozed off the face of the earth? Another part can be erased simply by ignoring its existence, wiping it from our consciousness and attention. These are areas where not only has no Jewish foot ever trod, but they are not even seen, nor have they ever been heard. The Jewish settler has learned to skip over Arab villages, to look above them rather than at them. He does not look at them directly since their presence is a nuisance, an irritant, and he is anyway contemptuous of them, looking at them from above, not at eye level – the glance of a master at his servants. For the settlement movement, the Arab village is an annoyance which, if one cannot wipe it out, one can at least ignore.
The same approach applies not only to buildings, but also to the human landscape. On his way home, the Jewish settler will pass many Arabs who live nearby, but will not be aware of them, will ignore their existence because for him, they do not exist. At best, they are absent-present, shadows of inferior creatures. A great effort is also made to erase the history of the area, the story preceding the Jewish neighborhood. The Jewish resident does not show curiosity about how the lands ended up in his possession, who lived there before, if anyone was harmed by the construction. The Jewish resident, who generally displays a huge interest in his city’s history, prefers in this instance not to ask too many questions and not to understand the past. The Jewish discourse is always national, in constant amazement at the impressive accomplishment of building a luxurious Jewish neighborhood, taking great pride in the redemption of the land for the people of Israel.
The only problem with this situation is that reality has a way of rearing its head, sooner or later, and claiming compensation for having been insulted.
Dr. Meir Margalit is the field coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the author ofDiscrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. For larger versions of the pictures above please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.