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  ''If I Forget Thee, Umm Touba...''
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PERSPECTIVE ON JERUSALEM:

"If I Forget Thee, Umm Touba..."

by Uri Avnery
A fact that should be remembered in any discussion about Jerusalem: there is no resemblance between the Jerusalem of the Bible and the "Jerusalem" of the current Israeli map.

In one of the most beautiful songs in the Bible, the poet vows: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, / Let my right hand forget her cunning. / If I do not remember thee, / Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; / If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy!" (Psalms 137:5)

For some reason, the poet did not write: "If I forget thee, O Umm Touba!" nor "If I forget thee, O Sur Baher!" nor "If I forget thee, O Jabal Mukaber!" nor even "If I forget thee, O Ein Karem!"

A fact that should be remembered in any discussion about Jerusalem: there is no resemblance between the Jerusalem of the Bible and the "Jerusalem" of the current Israeli map. The object of the yearning of the exiles who wept by the rivers of Babylon was the real Jerusalem—more or less within the boundaries of the Old City, whose center is the Temple Mount. One square kilometer, that's all.

The redefined municipality of Jerusalem after the 1967 annexation comprises a vast area, some 126 square kilometers, from Bethlehem in the south to Ramallah in the north. This area has been clothed with the name of "Jerusalem" in order to bestow a religious-national-historic aura to what was nothing but an act of land-grabbing and settlement.

The planners of this map, including the late General Rehavam Ze'evi, nicknamed "Gandhi," the most far-right officer in the Israeli army, had a simple purpose: to annex to Jerusalem as many areas as possible that were free of Arabs, in order to set up Jewish settlements there. They were haunted by the demographic phantom that is still terrorizing us today: they aimed to expand the Jewish and to reduce the Arab population—in Jerusalem and throughout the country.

In order to achieve this, the planners were compelled to add some nearby Arab villages. Not only the Arab neighborhoods near the Old City, like the Mount of Olives, Silwan and Ras-al-Amud, but also villages located at some distance—such as Umm Touba, Sur Baher and Jabal Mukaber in the east, Beit Hanina and Kafr Aka in the north, Sharafat and Beit Safafa in the south.

The demographic phantom that haunted "Gandhi" then is now pursuing us through the streets of Jerusalem, riding a deadly bulldozer.

Until the 1949 war, Jerusalem was indeed a mixed city. Jewish and Arab neighborhoods were interwoven.

The demographic map of Jerusalem became engraved in my memory during a personal experience. A year or so before the war, some of us, young men and women of the Bama'avak group in Tel-Aviv, decided to make a trip to Hebron. At the time, only very few Jews went to the southern town, which was known as a nationalist and religious Muslim stronghold.

We took the Arab bus from Jerusalem and went to the town, walked around its alleyways, bought the blue glass for which Hebron is famous, visited the Gush Etzion kibbutzim on the way and returned to Jerusalem. But in the meantime something had happened: one of the "dissident" underground organizations had carried out an especially serious attack (I think it was the bombing of the officers' club in Jerusalem) and the British had imposed a general curfew on all Jewish neighborhoods throughout the country.

At the entrance of Jerusalem we alighted from the bus and crossed the city on foot from one end to the other, taking care to move only in the Arab neighborhoods. From there we took an Arab bus to Ramle, and another one to Jaffa, and then found our way to our homes in Tel Aviv through backyards and side streets. Not one of us was caught.

Thus I became acquainted with the Arab neighborhoods, among them elegant quarters like Talbieh and Bakaa, which became the centers of Jewish Jerusalem after the 1948 war. In that war, the inhabitants fled/were driven to East Jerusalem and settled there—until these neighborhoods, too, were conquered by the Israeli army and annexed to Israel.

The annexation of East Jerusalem created a dilemma. What to do with the Arab population? They could not be expelled. The destruction of the Mugrabi quarter opposite the Western Wall and the brutal expulsion of the Arab inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City had already caused much negative comment throughout the world.

If the government had indeed intended to "unite" the city, they would have accompanied the annexation with some immediate measures, such as conferring automatic citizenship on all the Arab inhabitants and returning their "abandoned" properties in West Jerusalem (or, at least, paying compensation.)

But the government did not dream of doing so. The inhabitants were not awarded citizenship, which would have given them the same rights as the Arab citizens of Israel in Galilee and the Triangle. They were only recognized as "residents" in the city in which their forefathers had lived for over a thousand years. That is a fragile status, which accords Israeli identity cards, but not the right to vote for parliament. It can easily be withdrawn.

True, in theory an Arab Jerusalemite can apply for Israeli citizenship, but such an application is subject to the arbitrary decision of hostile bureaucrats. And the government, of course, relies on the Arabs not to do so, since that would mean recognizing the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation.

The truth is that Jerusalem has never been united. "The city that was reunited, the capital of Israel for all eternity," was and has remained a mantra that has no bearing on reality. For all practical purposes, East Jerusalem remains an occupied territory.

The Arab inhabitants have the right to vote for the municipality. But only a handful—city employees and those dependent on government favors—exercise this right, because this, too, means recognition of the occupation.

In practice, the Jerusalem municipality is a city government by Jews for Jews. Its leaders are chosen by Jews only, and see their main purpose in Judaizing the city. Years ago, Haolam Hazeh magazine disclosed a secret directive to all government and city institutions to make sure that the number of Arabs in the city did not exceed 27.5%, the exact percentage that existed at the time of the annexation.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the elected democratic mayor of West Jerusalem is also the military governor of East Jerusalem.

Since 1967, all mayors have seen their job in this light. Together with all the arms of government, they see to it that Arabs living outside the city do not return to it, and that Arabs living in the city move out of it. A thousand and one tricks, large and small, are employed to this end, from the almost total refusal of building permits for rapidly growing Arab families, to the cancellation of residency rights for people who spend some time abroad or in the West Bank.

The contact between Arab Jerusalemites and the inhabitants of the adjoining West Bank, which had been a closely woven fabric, has been totally severed. Jerusalem, which served as the economic, political, cultural, medical and social center, has been completely cut off from its natural hinterland. The building of the wall, which separated fathers from sons, pupils from their schools, tradesmen from their clients, physicians from patients, mosques from believers, and even cemeteries from the newly deceased, serves this purpose.

In Israel, people say that the Arab residents "enjoy the benefits of social insurance." That is a mendacious argument: after all, the insurance is not a free meal—it is paid for by the insured. Arabs, like Jews, pay for it every month.

Arab residents have to pay all municipal taxes, but receive in return only a fraction of the municipal services, both in quality and in quantity. The schools lack hundreds of classrooms, and their standard is inferior to the private Islamic schools. Trash removal and other services are beneath contempt. Public gardens, youth clubs, gardening—cannot even be mentioned. The inhabitants of Kafr Akab, located beyond the Kalandia checkpoint, pay municipal taxes and receive no services at all—the municipality says that its employees are afraid to go there.

The Jewish public is not interested in all this. They don't know—and don't want to know—what is going on in the Arab neighborhoods, some hundreds of meters from their homes.

So they are surprised, surprised and shocked, by the ungratefulness of the Arab inhabitants. A young man from Sur Baher recently shot pupils of a religious seminary in West Jerusalem. A young man from Jabal Mukaber drove a bulldozer and ran over everything that crossed his path. This week, another youngster from Umm Touba repeated exactly the same act. All three of them were shot dead on the spot.

The attackers were ordinary young men, not particularly religious. It seems than none of them was a member of any organization. Apparently, a young man just gets up one fine morning and decides that he has had enough. He then carries out an attack all by himself, with any instrument at hand—a pistol bought with his own money, in the first instance, or a bulldozer he drives at work, in the two others.

If this is indeed the case, a question presents itself: why is this being done by Jerusalemites? First, because they have the opportunity. A person who drives a bulldozer at a building site in West Jerusalem can just crash into a passing bus in the next street. The driver of a heavy truck can run over people. It is relatively easy to carry out a shooting attack, like the recent event at the Lion's Gate, the perpetrators of which were not caught. No intelligence service can prevent this, if the attacker has no partners and is not a member of any organization.

From the utterances of the commentators this week, one can gather that they cannot even imagine the anger that accumulates in the mind of a young Arab in Jerusalem throughout the years of humiliation, harassment, discrimination and helplessness. It is easier and more amusing to go into pornographic descriptions of the 72 virgins waiting for the martyrs in the Muslim paradise—what they do with them, how they do it to them, who has enough energy for them all.

One of the main contributing factors for the stirring up of hatred is the demolition of "illegal" homes of Arab residents, who are quite unable to build "legally." The dimension of official stupidity is attested to by the demand of the Shin-Bet chief, voiced this week again, to destroy the homes of the attackers' families, for the sake of "deterrence." Apparently he has not heard about the dozens of studies and the accumulated experience, which prove that every destroyed home becomes an incubator for new hate-driven avengers.

This week's attack is especially instructive. It is quite unclear what actually happened: did Ghassan Abu-Tir plan the attack in advance? Or was this a spontaneous decision in a moment of excitement? Was this an attack at all—or did the bulldozer driver run into a bus by accident and try, in a state of panic, to escape—running over his pursuers, becoming a target for a shooting spree by passersby and soldiers? In the atmosphere of suspicion and fear that pervades Jerusalem now, every road accident involving an Arab becomes an attack, and every Arab driver involved in an accident will in all probability be executed on the spot, without a trial. (It should be remembered that the first intifada broke out because of a road accident, in which a Jewish driver ran over some Arabs.)

And again there is the question: what is the solution to this complex problem, which arouses such strong emotions, feeds on deep-rooted myths and causes such moral dilemmas for millions around the world?

This week, a lot of proposals were presented, such as building a Berlin-style wall through the middle of Jerusalem (in addition to the one going around it). To punish whole families for the acts of their children, much like the Nazi "sippenhaft." To expel the families from the city or to cancel their resident status. To demolish their homes. To take away their social insurance benefits, even if they have paid for them.

All these "solutions" have one thing in common—they have been tried in the past, here and in other places, and found wanting.

Except one, clear solution: to turn East Jerusalem into the capital of the State of Palestine, to enable its inhabitants to set up their own municipality, while keeping the whole city as an urban entity united under one super-municipality in which the Arabs will be equal to the Jews.

I am glad that during his visit with us this week, Barack Obama repeated almost word for word this plan, which Gush Shalom published some ten years ago in cooperation with Feisal Husseini, the late leader of the Jerusalem Arab community.

The attacks are the result of despair, frustration, hatred and the sense that there is no way out. Only a solution that will remove these feelings can bring security to both parts of Jerusalem.


Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: avnery@counterpunch.org. This story is published in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.


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This story was published on July 28, 2008.
 



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