Today on Jerusalem Day, I remember my first experience of Jerusalem Day, when still a new immigrant to Israel, in 1982. I attended a Hebrew language school in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, which participated with thousands of other Israelis in the 40 km national hike to Jerusalem through hills and forests, culminating in a parade down Jaffa Street in the centre of West Jerusalem, where we released white doves. The school principal, Shulamit Katznelson, was regularly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, so her gesture was typical _ and indeed our studies were accompanied by Palestinian lawyers, teachers, doctors or housewives from the West Bank, or Druze from the Golan, all of them past students still devoted to her.
Of course, they werenat present on Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday celebrating Israeli conquest of Jerusalem, a day considered by Religious Zionists as even more important than Independence Day; but there is a day echoed in the Palestinian community called International Day of Quds, an annual day of protest on the last Friday of Ramadan, which opposes Israeli control of occupied Jerusalem.
Since the a80s, Oslo happened and Jerusalem and Israel have changed drastically as a direct result, since those heady early Oslo days of doves and olive boughs, paraded then by Palestinians through the streets of East Jerusalem, totally baffling the Israeli Border Police. For example, settlements have doubled, both in number and demography. Not only that: Religious Zionists are increasingly militant, having been massively supported by all governments since the 70s _ indeed, Israel is an _ethno-security system_ rather than the usual concept of a democracy – so all those bodies — government, settlers, security authorities — have worked together to increase settlement of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in order deliberately to prevent a viable Palestinian state from emerging. And nowhere more so than in Jerusalem, the Jewel in the Crown so coveted.
So itas a historical fact that the more peace has been discussed (yet deliberately delayed), the more facts on the ground speeded up, as the rightwing militated, determined not to allow Jerusalem to be shared (they would say _divided_). Itas obvious, especially in retrospect, that those settlers have become a far more powerful minority, not least in their political impact as evidenced by the murder of Yitzchak Rabin, and have quite literally grabbed every hilltop, obedient to Ariel Sharonas urging in 1998. And nowhere more so than in Jerusalem, the Queen secured by sacrificing the Gaza Pawn, when settlers were evacuated in 2005.
Therefore what I remember as a day of hope, of release of white doves in a call for peace, has now become a Jerusalem Day of nationalist hysteria to be avoided, best illustrated by this photograph by ActiveStills co-operative, with whom I worked to produce JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED _ the photo exhibition on display [outside this hall]. The exhibition highlights our tours of East Jerusalem and surrounding settlement cities such as Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, part of Greater Jerusalem, increasingly linked to it once a 12 sq.km tract of land between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (called _E-1_) has been filled in with 3,500 housing units _ which will completely deny the Palestinian state viability, since it will prevent Palestinians from having East Jerusalem as their capital, or having use of the Ramallah/East Jerusalem/Bethlehem economic salient which normally represents 30-40% of the Palestinian economy, due to tourism there; it will prevent Palestinians from having the last remaining open green space on which to expand and will slice the West Bank in that region into at least two _cantons_ _ a southern canton isolating Bethlehem and Hebron from the northern _canton_ of Ramallah and the communities north. There are already two huge police stations and two massive highways on E-1, and the entire Maale Adumim _bubble_ is due to be surrounded by the Wall, which will also quite literally cement the region to Jerusalem, and stifle the Palestinian neighbourhoods left fragmented inside East Jerusalem.
You can see for yourselves the nationalist icon that the Israeli flag has become, in these photos and as it stands triumphantly over every militant settlement in the Holy Basin around the Old City or inside it. The message is _This is exclusively Israeli,_ while all efforts are directed at forcing Palestinians out of the city, in what we call _The Quiet Transfer_, not least by the cruel, bureaucratic policies of home demolition, aimed almost exclusively at dispossessing Palestinians in a way that is clearly racist.
Scenes such as these are also very much part and parcel of Israelas current slide into fascism, represented by the election as third largest party in our Knesset of Avigdor Lieberman, a man whose main policy plank is transfer of Palestinians out of Israel (one may safely call such a policy ethnic cleansing) _ such politics resulting in the predecessor Kach political party led by Meir Kahane having being banned from the Knesset as a terrorist organisation. Again, an example of how far Israel has moved from its original socialist Zionist roots. Now we will have as foreign minister Lieberman (under investigation for corruption), who has openly threatened to bomb the Aswan High Dam to wipe out millions of Egyptians living in Cairo and its delta; who called for all Hamas parliamentarians in Israeli prisons to be drowned in the Dead Sea and who has campaigned on a ticket demanding that all voters (Israeli Jews and Palestinians) take an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel or be forced to surrender their citizenship. He has also predicted that he will win the next elections. He was previously Netanyahuas chief of staff, and together they are both determined not to allow a Palestinian state to be created and to continue expansion of settlements. Lieberman himself is an ideological settler.
Currently, there are some 190,000 Israeli settlers living illegally under international law in Palestinian, Occupied East Jerusalem, as against some 240,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians. Those East Jerusalemites suffer huge discrimination on all fronts. Municipal budgets are not invested in their welfare or services, so even though Palestinians pay their taxes and rates, and represent 34% of the cityas population, they receive on average less than 10% of the municipal budget so in many places live without services, including sewage pipelines, running water, street lighting, street cleaning, garbage collection, clinics, libraries, playgrounds, parks or swimming pools, postal deliveries, tarred roads, pavements, community centres, enough classrooms, etc. Whilst there are 36 municipal swimming pools in West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem settlements, there are none in Palestinian East Jerusalem, as just one example of the obvious, raging discrimination.
This discrimination is not a fiction of the imagination of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions or other Israeli peace activists. Only last month, the EU Heads of Mission Special Report on East Jerusalem was leaked to me, having been previously leaked to me in 2005, as it was obvious to caring, concerned diplomats that its recommendations were to be ignored. It states in December 2008 that:
_Long-standing Israeli plans for Jerusalem, now being implemented at an accelerated rate, are undermining prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a sustainable two-state solution. Although Israel has legitimate security concerns in Jerusalem, many of its current illegal actions in and around the city have limited security justifications. Israeli _facts on the ground_ _ including new settlements, construction of the barrier, discriminatory housing policies, house demolitions, restrictive permit regime and continued closure of Palestinian institutions _ increase Jewish Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, weaken the Palestinian community in the city, impede Palestinian urban development and separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Israel is, by practical means, actively pursuing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem._
The report continues to underline that:
_The daily creation of _facts on the grounda in the city undermines the credibility of the Palestinian Authority and weakens popular support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In addition, these on-going actions will further complicate the already delicate final status arrangements for the City. More Israeli settlers _ and fewer Palestinian residents _ in East Jerusalem will only make eventual Israeli concessions on Jerusalem much harder. Furthermore, the current pervasive Israeli presence in East Jerusalem will make Israeli-Palestinian separation much more convoluted and difficult to achieve in practical terms. Thus Israelas actions in and around Jerusalem constitute one of the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peace making._
And the report continues to detail all the various ways in which Israelas ongoing policies of judaisation of Jerusalem _ i.e. its landgrab for purely Jewish, nationalistic benefit _ are undermining the possibility of Jerusalem being a shared capital, or even for Palestinians to have free access to their holy sites, staffing by priests at their churches, and so forth. The report says categorically that _the vitality of smaller religious communities and institutions disclose issues that transcend those of religious freedom, as important as this might be. The decline of the religious minorities in Jerusalem is threatening its historical diversity, legacy and its iconic significance as a place where civilizations meet rather than clash._
And what do the settlers themselves say? Those who are deliberately taking over Jerusalem?
In a Jerusalem Report article of November, 2004 (entitled HOUSE BY HOUSE), journalist Matti Friedman quotes settlers of Ateret Cohanim, a nationalist Religious Zionist organisation with an agenda, together with another settler organisation, El-Ad (which is largely focusing on Silwan next to the Al Aqsa Mosque), to take over the entire Old City and surrounding Holy Basin, all of which are currently predominantly Palestinian but under Israeli occupation, (as opposed to the large settlements in East Jerusalem occupied by mostly secular economic settlers, who represent 85% of all settlers). Ateret Cohanim settler Nadav Fisher says:
_If I told you that in 20 years this whole neighbourhood will be filled with Jews,” Nadav says, gesturing out toward the Arab houses that surround us, “you’d think I was crazy. But reality isn’t something that can be predicted. Everything changes, and I’ll leave that up to God. We see ourselves as part of a divine act. A small part. Knowing this is what gives us strength to move forward,” he says. “Slowly, slowly.” And Asaf Baruchi, the Ateret Cohanim planner, says: “I don’t know anything about the future, I just know my job in the redemption. I know that Jerusalem is the heart of the struggle. The heart. One house, another house, and another. The number will continue to grow.”
Ateret Cohanim, he says, isn’t doing anything that contradicts stated Israeli policy since 1967. “Every single Israeli government has declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, and not one has ever done anything about it,” says Baruchi, 29, who has a wispy blond beard and a goofy smile. “They could have, but they didn’t, so we shouldn’t be surprised that people are talking about the division of the city. We won’t let that happen. Forty families wanted to move into the Yemenite Village,” he says. “They were fighting over spaces. And the village is the most difficult, complicated place in all of Jerusalem, because it’s in the middle of such a dense Arab population. But the residents know that their presence is guarding Jerusalem. They come, and then the police come, and the army. It works,” he says with a smile. “The parts of Jerusalem where we’ve settled are safer for Jews now than they were 20 years ago. The security situation always gets worse at first, and then gets much better once people calm down, once the neighbours see that we’re not violent, that we’re not crazy.” (Actually, there is a current municipal and national plan to demolish over 80 homes in Silwanas Bustan neighbourhood, which is actually provoking talk of a Third Intifada; this threat has been taken seriously even by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who referred to those demolitions as _unhelpful._)
The article continues: _Still, Baruchi says, beyond the rational explanation for Ateret Cohanim’s activities – making any division of the city impossible by extending Jewish presence all over it – is one rooted in the movement’s messianic ideology. “It’s not that we’re settling to achieve a goal,” he tells me. “Settling is the goal. It’s a stage on the way to deliverance.”a These are messianic, somewhat psychopathic people, whose inability to share Jerusalem or renounce covetousness, seems to threaten the future at the least, and at the most to prevent Jerusalem from ever being decided in Final Status Negotiations. The Shas political party, for example, caused Tzipi Livnias downfall recently, refusing to enter into a coalition, since she was intent on negotiations to avoid the impending demographic reality that will make Palestinians a majority from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and therefore a potential threat for them if the only option becomes a one state solution _ which they certainly donat want, and are trying to avoid.
Quite soon after that article was published in 2004, the 2005 EU Special Report on East Jerusalem was leaked to me. It stated that:
_Clear statements by the European Union and the Quartet that Jerusalem remains an issue for negotiation by the two sides, and that Israel should desist from all measures designed to pre-empt such negotiations, would be timely. We should also support Palestinian cultural, political and economic activities in East Jerusalem._ Those clear statements were never made, definitely not loud and clear in public. On the contrary, the Bush Administration (not to mention the EU) has been conspicuously silent for the past 8 years and certainly no pressure, leverage or effective threats of sanctions have been made to stop these pre-emptive judaisation policies. Nor have the EU or the Quartet or the American Bush administration supported Palestinian cultural, political and economic activities in East Jerusalem. While European diplomats (including EU decision-makers) have told me on numerous occasions that they believe they can achieve more as _friends_ than as enemies, I believe the effect has been appeasement _ as witness recent moves to upgrade the EU-Israel relationship, which Israel then touted to prove that the world approves of Israeli policies. George Bush, has been, in my opinion, disastrous as to the future of Jerusalem and its ability to remain a shared capital.
Other recommendations in 2005 were far reaching, including:
_ Phase One of the Roadmap calls for the re-opening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, and in particular the Chamber of Commerce. The re-opening of these institutions would send a signal to the Palestinians that the international community takes their concerns seriously, and is taking action.
[No surprise to note that they all remain closed to this day!]
_ Request the Israeli Government to halt discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially concerning working permits, building permits, house demolitions, taxation and expenditure.
And even these recommendations:
1. The EU might consider and assess the implications and feasibility of excluding East Jerusalem from certain EU/Israel co-operation activities.
2. Organise political meetings with the PA in East Jerusalem, including meetings at ministerial level.
3. Initiatives (statement letters, contacts, meetings) focused on issues like access, building permits, the consequences of the barrier, etc.
4. In view of the Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for 25 January 2006, encourage the parties to agree on the terms and substance of their co-ordination to allow for satisfactory elections to take place in East Jerusalem, referring to the partiesa obligations under the interim agreements and the Roadmap (PA to hold elections and Israel to facilitate them).[..]. Offer 3rd party technical assistance and monitoring capacity if required and adequate.
Tragically and ironically, where the Reportas recommendations were implemented, the result has been disastrous, since the EU chose to condemn the legitimate election success of Hamas and facilitated the split between Fatah and Hamas, which has developed into the colonialist policy of _divide and rule_ to undermine the already terminally ill body politic of Palestine. The 2005 recommendations continued:
_ The Jerusalem Masterplan that is currently in the approval process should undergo a technical assessment followed by a decision as to how to evaluate the plan in terms of legal implications, public awareness etc. The plan currently exists only in Hebrew (the plan should be translated into Arabic and English).
It still is not available in English. Some of its plans involve huge new settlements, such as Givat Yael in East Jerusalem _ 13,500 new housing unit; others call for a thinning out of the Palestinian population in the Old City. No surprise that Israel is currently negotiating, according to Peace Now Settlement Watch, a further 73,300 housing units, to increase the settler population in Jerusalem and the West Bank by some half million settlers, bringing the full number up to 1 million — in a country of 6 million Jews, albeit over a million of those Israelis are living abroad, for a variety of reasons, not least the hopelessness of the current ethno-security system which fosters conflict and short-lived, volatile coalition governments _ all of which agree on settlement expansion, but some of whom (such as Tzipi Livni and Kadima) have pretended to be involved in a peace process, even though she refused to discuss Jerusalem, being unprepared to share it on any equitable basis. Even the Clinton Parameters (which called for what is Israeli to remain Israeli, what is Palestinian to remain Palestinian) are now irrelevant, due to the excessive settlement development during the Bush administration (I note that Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State forced Netanyahu to freeze Maale Zeitim settlement in Ras al Amud _ the same settlement now doubling in size, soon to take over a police compound, since those El-Ad settlers have built that $10 million E-1 police station.
No surprise that increasingly analysts question the viability of the 2-state solution, something we have been warning about for the past 7 or 8 years. So we see the current configuration of land as only offering a Bantustan, a cantonised version of Swiss cheese that cannot deliver a viable, normal Palestinian state.
Whilst what I am describing is somewhat bureaucratic and perhaps tedious, itas no coincidence that Ilan Pappe, the Israeli revisionist historian whose most recent book was entitled THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE, is currently working on a book entitled THE BUREAUCRACY OF EVIL. In this context, Iad add that whilst most West Bank Palestinians are prevented from access to their holy sites, hospitals, churches and other institutions by the Closure Regime, including checkpoints and permit system, for the past many months only East Jerusalem Palestinians over the age of 45 can go to the Al Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayer. Soon, once the strategically placed Ateret Cohanim and El-Ad settlements _ City of David in Silwan, Maale Zeitim in Ras al Amud, Choshen and Beit Orot on the Mount of Olives and Shimon HaZaddik in Sheikh Jarrah _ (all of them bestraddling the access roads to the Holy Basin) have increased as currently planned _ not even East Jerusalem Palestinians over the age of 45 will be able to gain free access without running the gauntlet of settlers, who will no doubt practice similar policies as those same people have done in Hebron, where the Worshippersa Way has been cleansed of Palestinians who no longer have any viable foothold or ability to live in Hebronas Old City or even travel through it or regularly pray in its holy sites.
I recommend that you study the photo exhibition, visit our website (www.icahd.org) and read our publications which are available in full there (including Jeff Halperas well-known thesis: THE MATRIX OF CONTROL). You can even screen JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED if you go to ActiveStillsa website and use the powerpoint presentation of it there.
Finally, I strongly recommend that you visit Israel-Palestine (especially East Jerusalem where facts on the ground speak for themselves), guided by critical Israelis, so you get away from the regular tourism sites and meet with average Palestinians to see life under closure from their perspective and then report back to your communities, especially your churches to let them know that Jerusalem is being cruelly configured so it can never be shared, but is becoming an exclusively Jewish, nationalistic city, denying Judaism its moral, ethical code in that celebration of hubris. And I firmly believe that just as friends donat let friends drive drunk, so a true pro-Israel friend is one who calls for Israel to be restrained for its own good and for tough love to be the best advice.
So Iad like to end with some more concrete suggestions as to what we as civil society, together, especially as part of Swedenas EU Presidency later this year, could advocate as to Jerusalem on the one hand, bearing in mind the need to save it for the world as a shared city and as part of the worldas spiritual heritage, to prevent it from being ethnically cleansed of its indigenous Palestinians _ and on the other hand, suggestions as to Gaza which recently suffered the intensely disproportionate Israeli military policies of An Eye for an Eyelash.
This discussion is tardy or even too late. The world increasingly understands something has gone awfully wrong with the modern State of Israel, settlements being the main problem. Increasingly, people are beginning to question _ rightly _ whether Israel is serious about wanting peace. And there is, I believe, a gulf on that issue between Israelis and our governments _ most Israelis want to end the Occupation, and are in favour of the 2-state solution with the Green Line as border, but held ransom by corrupt politicians such as — oh the listas too long _ most of them, I feare.
We should therefore urgently consider:
1. Ending the siege on Gaza, by pressuring Israel to immediately open the borders and sea-lane to goods and people (including a ferry service), to recognise Palestinian democracy and to empower the EU and governments to engage with the Hamas in order to progress towards peace.
2. Ending the arms trade with Israel, to prevent complicity with war crimes, so that respect for international law should be upheld, as called for recently by Amnesty International after its investigations into Gazan war crimes by Israeli soldiers.
3. Pushing for war crimes trials to be instituted, so that Israel becomes a normal country, and not the exceptional state that has allowed it increasingly to flout international norms with impunity. Hamas war crimes should also be addressed, if investigations warrant that treatment.
4. Working for the suspension of the EU-Israel Trade Agreement, based on the human rights clauses which Israel has always flouted, as well as participating in non-violent campaigns of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, especially of settlement goods, to raise public awareness and express disapproval of Israeli government policies, especially the systematic and ongoing policies of dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from their lands, including by settlement expansion, home demolition, military evictions, annexation of land for roads, etc.
5. Insisting on Israeli financial participation in the rebuilding of Gaza, and Israeli compensation to Gazans who have suffered deliberately inflicted losses for no security purpose (such as every single factory systematically demolished in order to completely destroy the Palestinian economy there).And finally:
6. Insisting on a total freeze on all settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs, in conformity with international law, to protect the final vestiges of the 2-state solution, which is fast sliding into the bog of a 1-state solution or an apartheid state. Neither could deliver peace or bring justice to the Palestinian cause.
This way, psychological closure may ultimately be granted to Israel, after 60 years of living without borders or limits to its traumas, covetousness and exceptionalism, so the benchmarks of international law and international institutions will be safeguarded, for our mutual benefit. We may even start to benefit from a revitalised United Nations, which has been so undermined by its inability to deal even-handedly or neutrally with Israel.
I believe when Israelis are pressured into accepting a border on the Green Line (again, there are no equivalent landswaps, thatas a non-starter for peace), theyall be surprised at how simple peace or sharing Jerusalem is. The alternatives — never-ending militarism and occupation, fascism and fragmentation _ are no solution, they are simply an invitation to more cycles of violence, suffering and hell. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone else must die for all this nonsense _ Is it because we are silent? Scared to speak out? Threatened by predictable and deliberately preventive taunts of anti-semitism? We must tear down the walls and teach traumatised human beings with patience, humour and common sense that those on the _other side_ are human beings just like us. That the world cannot ever be divided, because it is one fully-integrated planet. We are all one and normalcy is even preferable. Life is so rich intrinsically, thereas no need to be stolen into messianic missions that see deliverance in landgrab, because we are all already part of a divine act, just by waking up breathing in the morning. Just by being blessed to be born.