Dispossession

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Yesterday, the Knesset passed legislation in its first reading (two more readings are necessary before it becomes law) to evict 40,000 Israeli Bedouin citizens from their homes and to destroy their villages.  I have written about this issue several times in the past, most recently last month, where you can learn more about this travesty.

This is just another step in what Gershom Gorenberg, in his book “The Unmaking of Israel”, describes as the infiltration of the West Bank settler ideology into Israel, creating in its wake a society infused with injustice, xenophobia, and racism.

Another recent example of this is a headline in today’s Haaretz describing the incarceration of the children of African refugees. As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported, legislation passed last year by the Knesset “authorizes the extended detention of children who come here illegally [NOTE: African asylum seekers fleeing war, torture and genocide are barred from entering Israel “legally,” no matter how desperate their situation.] even if they have suffered exploitation, torture and trafficking… Some of the children were taken into custody in the middle of the night under extremely stressful circumstances [NOTE: This experience is a common occurrence for West Bank Palestinian children, many hundreds of whom are arrested each year in terrifying middle of the night army raids.].”

But back to the Bedouin. I will end this column by pasting in below a first-person account of yesterday’s Knesset debate written by Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights. As background, 43 Knesset members voted in favor of evicting the Bedouin and 40 voted against.

43 in Favor of Destroyed villages and a Destroyed Way of Life; 40 Against

 I don’t know whether we will be tried in this world or in another, or by history.  But if this isn’t stopped, we will be tried.  There will be no need for outside commentators or experts or facts or witnesses. It won’t be a matter of a hostile outside world.  Tonight’s Knesset transcript will be sufficient.  Every word spoken by those who rose to defend or decry this legislation will be a fiery witness for the prosecution.  Those in support revealed their true colors, while the words of those opposed ensure that we will not be able to say that we didn’t know or weren’t warned.  We will be tried according to our own words, and found guilty.

I take comfort in our public opinion poll, for which we will be lifting the embargo this morning, our time.  Our hope is that the majority of average Israelis, when the disinformation is stripped away, recognize the fairness in recognizing the historic claims of the Bedouin to a mere 5.4% of the Negev.

Most of the Arab MK’s tore the law up from the speaker’s platform. All expressed anger. Some pleaded not to push the Arab population to the wall, asking “What do you want from us?”

Jewish MK’s from Meretz and the Labor party spoke of the dangerous anti-democratic nature of the legislation, and said that the only way forward was to sit down with our fellow citizens as equals and come to agreement. Their pain and anger was also palpable, as they confronted the imploding of everything they believe in as Israelis and as Zionists.  They asked that the land issue be put aside and that the issue of development and infrastructure be put first. It will be easier to talk about thorny issues after some trust is created.  Michal Rozin said, “First, stop the cruel demolitions.” (She happened to witness demolitions on the day she was on tour with us and our coalition partners.) Almost everything we might have said was said.  Micky Rosenthal and others practically repeated the words of Theodore Bikel when he asked, “How can we do to others what was done to us.” (All MK’s received the Bikel video and our background/position paper)

It was theater of the absurd, as Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein repeatedly expressed his dismay at the violation of Knesset decorum, expelling Arab MK after Arab MK. While many of those opposed spoke of how this was a dark day for the Knesset and Israeli democracy, going beyond the pale of legitimate debate, Edelstein  displayed no empathy, and seemed impervious to the pain, desperation and dismay being expressed.  For him, those emotions were all theatrics, and this was just another Knesset debate that had to be conducted according to the rules. Amid my streaming tears, I reflected on how Chaim Herzog was seen as a hero for tearing the “Zionism is Racism” resolution in pieces while standing on the speaker’s platform at the UN.

The right wing spoke lies about criminal squatters and Orit Struck said bluntly, “It is our land. They don’t have rights.”

Then, there were the “Moderates.” Ruby Rivlin (Likud) and Meir Shetreet (Tnuah) spoke for passing the law and then continuing the negotiations. But they and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid)  made it perfectly clear that the Bedouin would have to change their way of life. They paternalistically maintained that little urban boxes with electricity and running water would be good for the Bedouin.  They glossed over the fact that plenty of Jewish Israelis enjoy electricity and running water in rural settings, and certainly didn’t breath a word about the fact that “Changing their way of life” included dispossession from their land.  The opposition pointed out that there was no necessary connection between the issue of where the Bedouin should live and their ownership of their lands. 

MK Issawi Freij (Meretz)  summed it up best.  This bill says, “We will give you water if you give us your lands.” 

Ya’akov once said to Esau, “I will give you food if you give me your birthright.”  He thought he was being clever, but the price was anger, enmity, and twenty years of exile and estrangement from his brother.

Not only will we be judged if we do not pull back from what we did this evening, but we will pay a terrible price. Please stand with us, and be our mirror.

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Destroying the Lives of 40,000 Bedouin Israeli Citizens

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“I truly believe that history will judge all of us on how we act in the coming days. The enormity of the impending moral disaster is perhaps greater than any I have dealt with in the 18 years I have been working for Rabbis For Human Rights.”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Rabbis for Human Rights, May 5, 2013

The government of Israel wants to advance a bill in the Knesset that will forcibly expel 40,000 Bedouin, all citizens of Israel, from villages on their ancestral lands. In past centuries, the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate recognized the land as belonging to these Bedouin. Israel, with new laws passed since the founding of the state, has unilaterally taken away these ownership rights and the government, echoed by the media, now publicly calls the Bedouin “squatters” as if they have no historical and legal connection to their homes.

The plan is to demolish the Bedouin villages and force residents into artificially created towns where there are no jobs, no hope, and crime and drugs are rampant. Experience has shown that their social structures will collapse when separated from their land and traditional way of life. Besides the moral implications, this is a dangerous strategic move for Israel — destroying the lives of 40,000 loyal (until now) Muslim citizens.

As background, I posted two columns about this last year.  Click here and here (scroll down a bit).

A Ministerial Committee is meeting Monday, May 6, to decide if the plan will be forwarded to the Knesset for approval. If you want to help stop this action, please sign this petition – and forward this on to others who might be interested in stopping this legislation. We only have 24 hours. Click here for a history of how this particular plan was developed.

I have pasted in below selections from a column by Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights which describes how this plan is a violation of the ethical and moral foundations of the Jewish tradition – and mirrors the policies that were used to oppress Jews in the past.

From the moment that I first understood our government’s intentions, I have not been able to get out of my head the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof,” as the Jews of Anatevka are expelled from their homes. Watch it for yourselves, starting at 2 hours and 36 minutes.

I imagine the residents of El-Araqib saying goodbye to the generations buried in their cemetery, and the residents of numerous villages giving one last longing look at their lands. I imagine the Bedouin soldier serving in the IDF returning his uniform after taking a furlough to help his family pack. At least as likely, I imagine 40,000 Bedouin battling the special police force to be created to enforce this plan, and eventually being forcibly herded into the “Pale of Settlement,” where they will be allowed to live. I see the hatred in young people’s eyes, rising incidents of skirmishes between Jews and Bedouin, and the headlines mourning declining investments and rising unemployment for Jew and Arab alike. As we are warned in this week’s Torah portion, “If you reject My Laws and spurn “My rules,….I will wreak misery upon you…” (Leviticus 26: 15-16)

The bottom line is that successive Israeli governments have desired for years to move the Negev Bedouin out of villages where they have lived before the creation of the state, or in some cases from villages into which Israel had forcibly moved them during the first years of the state. The goal has also been to take over their lands. Fear mongers have told the Israeli public that the Bedouin are criminals who will take over the Negev if they are not stopped. The truth is that, if the Bedouin were granted a fair opportunity to prove their land claims, and were they to win every claim, they would hold on to 5.4% of the Negev.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is scheduled to vote on Monday whether or not to send the latest plan to the Knesset to make it into law. Our ask is very simple. “Don’t approve this, or any other proposal that steals land and hope. Build a better future together with the Bedouin” Beyond the enormous moral implications almost impossible to grasp, there is self interest as well. The additional tension, strife and social problems will drive away investments, and discourage people from living in the Negev.

When Sheikh Sayekh al-Touri [from the demolished Bedouin village of Al-Arakib] watched that scene of the Jews of Anatevka being expelled from their homes. He exclaimed, “They did to the Jews just what the Jews are trying to do to us!” However, I was always taught that we are a people commanded to learn from our own oppression how NOT to treat others, and how NOT to repeat history, “For you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And so, I also have an alternative vision in my head. It is one of Jews and Bedouin working together for the good of theNegev. It is one in which we will merit the blessing of this week’s Torah portion,”You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security, the land shall yield is fruit and you shall eat your fill…”(Leviticus 23:18-19), because we will remember that even the Covenant between God and the Jewish people does not mean that the land belongs to Arab or Jew, “For the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.”(Leviticus 25:23) If we act fairly and justly to Jew and Bedouin alike, we will be truly living the Torah’s command:

“You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for ALL its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10)

Please act now. Your decision at this moment could influence whether Israel ignores the moral lessons of our own history and perpetuates strife, or whether Israel acts according to the precepts of justice and fairness at the heart of our Jewish tradition, and promotes a better future for both Jews and Bedouin in the Negev.

Singing to the Soldiers

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There we were, standing on the edge of the ledge facing a line of armed-to-the-teeth Israeli soldiers 15 feet away from us, as if our scraggily band of middle-aged folks with a sprinkling of 20-somethings posed any threat to their bulging muscles, semi-automatic rifles, and the other weaponry in their hands. They had just roughly pushed us up the rocky incline from the lower field where our group had been busy planting olive tree saplings in honor of Tu B’shvat, the Jewish new year for trees. We had regrouped in a small upper field littered with stones. A few hundred yards behind their line the sun was highlighting the red tile roofs of the settlement of Talmon. We didn’t know if they were preparing another advance on us or perhaps were going to hit us with a volley of tear gas and stun grenades, which we heard they had done to a few brave souls earlier in the day, the residual scent just barely floating on the air.

To read the rest of this post, go to http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/singing-to-the-soldiers

Hope and Reconciliation

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This past weekend there were two things I encountered that gave me hope – hope for the future of a peaceful Middle East.

Hope #1 – Friday’s Haaretz Magazine had a story about teaching the philosophy of Abraham Joshua Heschel in Israel. See http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/change-of-heart-1.410878

The reporter interviewed Dror Bondi, a teacher at a Hesder Yeshiva in the West Bank (students at a Hesder Yeshiva combine army service with Torah study). Surprisingly, Heschel is not well-known in Israel and is seldom studied. Bondi’s mission is to change that.

Bondi grew up in a West Bank settlement, a child in a right-wing religious Zionist family. He attended demonstrations in the 1990’s protesting Yitzhak Rabin’s peace initiatives. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995 Bondi entered a multi-year crisis during which he challenged his previous beliefs about the land, God, and politics. I am not a philosopher so I will let Bondi’s words speak for themselves in the article but I will say he reminded me of the essence of the religious calling – which ironically can so easily be forgotten here in Israel – and he filled me with hope. (Note: for those readers not familiar with Heschel’s life, the middle of the article offers a brief biography but the beginning and especially the latter half of the article deals with his religious thought and its relevance to Israel.)

Bondi also reminded me of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, another beacon of hope in the Orthodox landscape here (see my December 23, 2011 post). Although both are in the distinct minority, perhaps a time will come when they will change the conversation in the Orthodox Jewish community.

For those who are Jewish educators interested in re-framing the conversation about Israel within a religious context, Rabbis for Human Rights, with branches in both Israel and North America, also has material to assist with this.

Hope #2 – This weekend I traveled to Susya in the barren looking hills near Hebron on the West Bank. This is an area with active Jewish settlements and local Palestinians who are clinging to their land, living in tents that get demolished over and over by the Israeli army. The government’s goal is to remove all the Palestinian farmers from the district. As in other areas of the West Bank, this is bare-faced ethnic cleansing with the Army repeatedly loading the residents onto trucks to transport them away. But the farmers keep coming back to their land, setting up new tents to replace those demolished, never surrendering no matter how bad conditions get. I hope to write more about Susya in future posts but the following article by David Shulman, a professor at Hebrew University, will give you a visceral experience of the local Palestinians’ encounter with their Jewish neighbors. It is one of the best descriptions of what it is like to confront the occupation face-to-face. See http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1799

Palestinian farmer's home in Susya. The families live in tents because their dwellings are slated for demolition by the government.

But that is not why I am writing this post – although the courage and tenacity of those farmers is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Rather, I am writing to tell you about Combatants for Peace (see http://cfpeace.org/), an organization composed of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, individuals who had fought but now work for peace, non-violence, and an end to the occupation. They have about 200 active members who belong to five regional groups, each one pairing an Israeli city with a Palestinian city, for example, Tel Aviv and Nablus. Each group meets monthly in the Palestinian cities (the Palestinian members cannot enter Israel) to plan activities, tours for the public, and events.

To give you an idea of how and why these former fighters became involved in this organization, the following links are brief life stories of two members of the group, one Palestinian and one Israeli. They illustrate how this conflict has deep and long roots on both sides but how reconciliation can emerge. Both accounts are very moving and provide the kind of insight into the occupation that only personal testimony can do.

1 – http://cfpeace.org/?cat=6&story_id=667

2 – http://cfpeace.org/?cat=6&story_id=970

(Others accounts are available on the website and are worth reading.)

Combatants for Peace organized the bus from Tel Aviv that took me to Susya. All 50 seats were taken, many by former Israeli soldiers who were devoting the day to show solidarity with the farmers in the Hebron Hills.  We were all instructed to remain non-violent and passive if the nearby settlers come to harass and attack.

We spent the afternoon at a newly built school that serves 35 children, grades one through four. For much of the last decade, children did not attend school because road closures made it impossible. A few years ago the community set up tents for a school. When a powerful storm blew the tents away they built the new concrete structure. Since there is no electric power or water hookups provided to Palestinians, the school uses solar power and water is trucked in. Until recently there were no bathrooms at the school.

Of course, since Palestinians in this area cannot obtain building permits, the school already has been served with a demolition order from the government – just like all the Palestinian dwellings in the area. One day a bulldozer will show up unannounced, accompanied by soldiers. It will quickly reduce the school to a pile of rubble, perhaps along with some Palestinian tents in the area. (The farmers live in tents which are easier to reconstruct than buildings after they are demolished.) Such is life for the residents of Susya.

The new school in Susya. Note the solar panel on the roof that provides electricity. The building will be demolished by the army at some point.

But on this weekend Israelis and Palestinians celebrated the school by planting sabra cacti on the hillside in front of the school building. It was a fitting symbol. The school’s principal mentioned in his welcoming remarks that the sabra is historically emblematic for both Israelis and Palestinians – another thing we could fight over if we chose to. But the truth is, just as we are all visitors on this earth, so too with the sabra in Israel and Palestine. It turns out it is a native plant of Mexico and was introduced to the Middle East only during the Ottoman Empire. So much for historical myths!

Local Palestinians and Combatants for Peace planting sabra cacti on the hill overlooking the new school.

Palestinian-Settler Interactions in East Jerusalem, Part 2

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While I was on a tour this past December in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem with Rabbis for Human Rights we stopped in to visit with Ahmad Qarae’en, a respected neighborhood leader. We met in a small community and youth center located on the main street of Wadi Hilweh, a neighborhood abutting the Old City walls. The center was in an old house fronted by a jerry-built structure that felt like it was part tent and part exposed walls – an addition that was clearly built by local residents. We sat on hard benches and chairs in front of Ahmad as he told us what it was like to live in Silwan.

Ahmed was using crutches and by the way he efficiently moved around with them it was obvious he did not have a temporary injury. I assumed he had some kind of a disease from childhood or a long-term genetic condition. That was until he recounted the story of how he had been shot in both legs outside a Jewish settler compound while trying to protect his son from being beaten by a settler. You’ll be able to read his story below.

This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the interaction between the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian residents whom they want to displace. Most of the material that follows comes from a report produced in 2010 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). You can access the full 59 page report, titled “Unsafe Space,” at www.acri.org.il/pdf/unsafe-space-en.pdf . Please keep in mind that I have chosen just a sampling of testimonies to illustrate some points below. These are representative of what thousands of Palestinians experience as part of their daily lives.

Armed Security Force

The cost for security to protect the Jewish settlers in the Arab neighborhoods close to the Old City of Jerusalem ballooned in 2011 to 81 million NIS (New Israel Shekels), or over $20 million. The Israeli Ministry of Housing pays for these private security services. A recent article in Haaretz reported that part of this money to protect settlers was diverted from social needs such as public housing in Israel. Keep in mind this is the government paying for security services for private residences, just one of the myriad ways that the government supports the settler NGOs who work to evict Palestinians from their homes.

As the ACRI report states, the private security guards “…employ verbal and physical violence, and even make use of loaded weapons. Moreover, according to residents the security guards are “quick on the trigger”, and perceive themselves as holding the ultimate power to serve as arbiters of daily life in the neighborhood.

Unlike police officers, whose ability to use force is limited by the strict guidelines established by law and police procedure, private security guards are not subject to these laws nor are they obligated by the basic rules that guide the police in carrying out their duties. Security guards do not undergo the same training as police officers, nor are they under the supervision of a publicly administered body. The result is that the security guards employed in East Jerusalem are not reined in by any clear working definitions, a situation which invites the abuse of power.”

Just one example of this was the killing of an unarmed father of 5 children by a security guard in 2010. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/the-guards-just-shoot/.

The guard claimed it was self-defense but here is Israeli TV coverage of the same incident which provided video evidence that challenged the security guard’s story. But, as usual, the head of the Jerusalem police accepted the guard’s account. No charges have ever been filed for this killing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb8pq9qrfRQ.

There are multiple such examples of these private guards using violence and live ammunition against Palestinian residents. They also affect the more mundane aspects of daily life as explained by this 14-year old boy in Silwan who described what it is like to play in a neighborhood with no playgrounds or parks and under the watchful eye of hostile guards: “Every time we play ball and the ball lands near the guards, they stop us from playing. They take the ball and throw it to the bottom of the wadi [valley], and so we’ve lost the ball and can’t get it back. The problem is that we, the children of Silwan, have nowhere else to play. I come home from school, eat lunch and prepare homework, and then I go to play in front of our house with the neighborhood kids, but the settlers don’t like that and neither do their security guards. They always accuse the little kids in the neighborhood of throwing stones at the settlers’ houses, but that’s not true. They don’t want to see us play. The police always believe their claims.”

Settler Violence:

It is the day-in and day-out threat of violence by the settlers that wears down the Palestinian residents. An example is this woman’s account of living next to a settler house. “The settlers’ house doesn’t have a permanent family living in it. There are only men there who are always accompanied by security guards, and they are all armed. In the evenings when they arrive at the apartment, there is a lot of noise, shouting, singing and prayer, and this generally lasts about an hour. I knock on their door so they’ll understand that they are making a lot of noise, then they come out, yelling at me and pushing or hitting me, and it develops into a confrontation…. The situation is even worse on the weekends, on Friday and Saturday, when there is much noise. They always knock on our door to deliberately taunt us, they sing at full volume, they shout. From the moment the Jewish Sabbath begins until it ends, it is impossible neither to sleep nor sit and relax.

Last week, Padi, my 12-year old boy, was walking in the corridor [between her house and the settler house] when at the same moment a settler passed by. He pinned my son’s body against the wall slammed his head into the wall — for no good reason, just to intimidate and harass our kids. One day I arrived at home and saw that my granddaughter was crying. I asked her what had happened and she told me that a settler from across the hall had passed her as she was sitting on the stairs and hit her for no reason.

We had another incident, one time when the children and I were sitting in the stairwell. They came, passed over us and began beating my little boy to a pulp. I couldn’t stand by, I got up to protect my child, and five of them jumped me and hit me on the head.”

Impunity from Prosecution:

Settlers act with impunity against Palestinian residents with no fear of police action. The ACRI report cited one woman who filed 20 complaints against violent settlers and not once was any action taken by the police. Other Palestinians report that the police refuse to accept their complaint forms alleging settler attacks or, even worse, when they try to file complaints they are themselves arrested as the instigators of the violence. A typical example follows.

During a neighborhood party of Palestinian residents, a local woman reported “10-12 settlers came out of the al-Kord family house in the direction of the second house under their control. One of the settlers was holding a video camera and he filmed me and all the girls [with me] in a very provocative manner: he pointed his camera at me and approached to within a foot. I shouted at him and asked him why he was filming me? He gave no reply and continued to shoot until finally I moved his camera aside. In response, he punched me in the face. As a natural reaction I defended myself, pushing him backwards, but he wouldn’t stop hitting me all over my body.” Police, who were nearby and witnessed the event, did nothing to stop the beating. This woman was so badly beaten she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. When she went to the police station afterwards to file a complaint, she was arrested for starting the fight. Ultimately she was given a three-month restraining order from her neighborhood and a 700 shekel fine.

This woman continued, “What really hurts, deep in my heart, is that it’s always the Arab residents who are blamed in every situation. I went to file a complaint with a broken nose and a body full of cuts and scratches, and the police arrested me! With the settlers, it’s the opposite: they harass us and beat us, and nothing is done to them, which only leads them to abuse us more”

An even more telling story was related by a mother in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood whose 17 year-old son was attacked by a settler. Her son was arrested when he filed a complaint at the police station. His mother gave this account. (Bold highlight is my emphasis.) “All my photographs, the three witnesses I brought, and all the evidence in favor of my son amounted to nothing. On the contrary, the investigator ignored it all and extended the remand of my son for another 24 hours. The investigator also said that he regretted that nothing could be done for my son and that he believed our story, but those were his instructions from above. When we asked about what happened to the settler who created this mess, he said that the problems in our neighborhood are endless and that he has no cause to arrest him.”

Repression of Non-violent Palestinian Leadership:

Unfortunately, Palestinians often resort to stone throwing out of a sense of helplessness and rage. They feel totally trapped in a system of violence and oppression that is rigged against them. At least part of the cause for this is that other, non-violent means of protests are met with disproportionate violence from the police or army: tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets. Community organizers who espouse non-violent protest are persecuted and banned, leaving no other outlet for the anger. In 2011 the police made a concerted effort to destroy the community organizations that oppose the settler activities in East Jerusalem by targeting the leaders. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/police-silwan/.

Next to Last Words:

The ACRI report sums up the settler violence and repressive government policies by pointing out that eventually all of society suffers.

“Selective and discriminatory enforcement of the law by the police, which turns the Palestinian residents into readily-available victims and permanent suspects; the arrest of minors in the middle of the night; the free reign granted to security guards, who use force broadly without even minimal supervision; the unequivocal and unacceptable preferential treatment shown towards Jewish needs in the neighborhood when it comes to planning, building and developing, to the point of taking control of precious land resources; the sweeping violations of freedom of movement, and more – in all these, the authorities systematically favor the needs and interests of the Jewish settlers over the basic needs of the Palestinian residents, while making daily life in these neighborhoods intolerable.

The results…are catastrophic in all that pertains to the preservation of human rights, and it undermines the basis for the existence of a well-ordered society and government.”

Final Words: The shooting of Ahmad Qarae’en in Silwan:

I began this post by describing a tour sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights where we met with Ahmad Qarae’en, the community leader who was shot and crippled. As a fitting end for this post I have included below his account because it ties together so many of the threads that were discussed above.

“My injury occurred on Friday, September 11, 2009. At 5:45 p.m. I returned from prayers [on the Harm al-Sharif/Temple Mount] and I was very tired from the fast, as it was the middle of the month of Ramadan. I was lying on the sofa, when suddenly I heard shouts. I put on shoes and went down the street to see what had happened. A neighbor’s son told me that a settler had hit another neighbor’s children. The boy pointed him out to me, and said it was over now and that everything was OK. I turned to go home, and suddenly I heard the screams of my little boy, and when I turned back I saw my oldest son coming to protect him from the settler. It was then that the settler pointed his rifle at the chest of my eldest son.

I came straight at the settler and shouted “Why are you beating up kids?” He raised his M-16 and said: “I’ll shoot you, too,” and he started walking backwards. I kept asking him: “Why are you hitting them?” When he reached the sidewalk, he tripped and fell to the ground. His friend who was with him told him: “Get up and shoot him,” and he got up and shot my right leg in the thigh. I fell and started shouting ‘Ambulance, ambulance!’ Suddenly I heard another shot and then I saw a little 13-year old boy named Amir Farouk screaming ‘My leg, my leg!’ The settler had shot him too. He then returned to me as I was lying in the street and my oldest son Wadi’e was hovering over me, crying. He shot me again, this time in my left knee.

One of the guys called an ambulance, but since I was bleeding a lot and the ambulance hadn’t arrived, the guys loaded me into one of their cars to drive me to the hospital. We had not yet left the neighborhood, when a border policeman stopped us near the Muslim cemetery. They removed the driver and handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest. All attempts to explain to him what had happened were to no avail. After a few long minutes, a border policeman opened the door of the vehicle and when he saw me bleeding, he did not react at all. He shut the door and stood next to us while talking with his superiors. After three minutes, a regular police unit arrived and released us. We had barely traveled another 10 meters when the border police stopped us again for another 3-4 minutes. This time, drivers who witnessed our first arrest and were stuck in traffic began shouting at the police that we were wounded, until they were convinced to let us pass.

They took me to the hospital on Mount Scopus, where I received about 7 units of blood. Before I even entered the emergency room, a police investigator arrived and asked the medical staff to stop my treatment so that he could question me. He collected my testimony, while the medical staff treated the second child who was wounded along with me. The hospital closed the entrance to the emergency room and didn’t allow anyone to enter and visit me other than my wife. Police were stationed at the entrance to the hospital.

After two days I underwent surgery, and as I came out of the operating room, still under the influence of anesthesia, two police officers arrived and demanded to question me. My two brothers who were in the room with me tried to explain that I had just come out of surgery and was still in intensive care, but they threatened to arrest my brothers if they didn’t leave the room. The officers accused me that I jumped the soldier and tried to wrestle away his weapon. Until that point, I didn’t know he was a soldier, I thought he was a settler, because he was in civilian clothes and looked just like the rest of the settlers in our neighborhood, and those who come to visit them. The investigators took DNA evidence from me and stated that they also wanted to question my two children.

The summons for the questioning of my two children arrived at my hospital ward after about a week. On the fourth day after the shooting, they questioned my youngest boy for about 3 hours. His mother, who was present at the questioning, told me that the questions seemed designed to make the child feel that it was his fault for what happened to his father, that if he hadn’t gone out to play in the street, then his father wouldn’t have fought with the settler and wouldn’t have been shot. They asked him repeatedly why I went out into the street, what happened to your father, and so on. During the investigation of my oldest son, they shouted at him in Hebrew all the time and he did not understand a thing. Two investigators questioned him at the same time, while another typed into the computer.

I was hospitalized for 20 days. A month later I received a call from the Russian Compound from “Room 4” (the Investigations Unit which deals with cases from East Jerusalem.) They told me to come down for further questioning. I told them that I can’t walk, but if they wanted they could come to my house and question me there. My attorney, Michael Sfard, wrote them a letter that I cannot come in for questioning, and since then they never called me again. Recently I learned that the prosecutor closed the case against the man who shot me. He was arrested for a total of 24 hours and then he went home as if nothing happened.”

A Tale of Two Cities

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“The day Jerusalem was liberated was the day that the city heaved a sigh of relief and began to spread its wings, for the benefit of its Arab and Jewish residents alike….We will never again allow Jerusalem to become a separated, bleak and divided city.“ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

When Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke those words at the Jerusalem Day ceremony in 2010, he was already too late. Unbeknownst to his audience, Jerusalem had already become bleak and divided.

This is a tale of two cities, one rich with parks, well cared for neighborhoods and tourist attractions; the other impoverished and deprived of even basic services. And as for a united Jerusalem spreading its wings for the good of Jews and Arabs alike, well, you decide below on the efficacy of that claim.

As background, as I covered in a post on January 16, A Virtual Tour of East Jerusalem (I urge you to “take the tour” if you haven’t done so already), Israel annexed in 1967 all of what had been East Jerusalem plus 28 nearby villages and incorporated them into the municipality of Jerusalem.

Fast Forward to 2012:

Let’s see how the Palestinian population has fared 45 years later when compared to Jewish West Jerusalem.

Population: There are 303,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, one-third of the population, out of a total of 835,000 people in the Jerusalem municipality (2009 data).

Poverty: 65% of Palestinian families live under the poverty line as compared to 31% of Jewish families. (This is 2008 data. Economic conditions in East Jerusalem have gotten much worse since then so these figures have deteriorated further.)

Children:  74% of Palestinian children live under the poverty line compared to 45% of Jewish children. (Also 2008 data)

Schools: Average class size is 32 students in East Jerusalem versus 24 students in West Jerusalem. School buildings are neglected, often run down. The Jerusalem municipality’s own statistics listed 50% of East Jerusalem’s classrooms to be sub-standard in 2009 (704 out of 1,360) including 221 that were deemed unfit.

In addition, due to an estimated shortage of 1,000 classrooms in the municipal schools there, an estimated 11,000 Palestinian children (12% of school age children) did not attend school for the 2009-2010 school year due to lack of space. Tens of thousands of others were forced to attend private schools, which posed a severe financial burden on the mostly impoverished population. In 2008, the per-student budget allocation for elementary school children in Jewish West Jerusalem was 400% higher that in East Jerusalem: 2,372 NIS (New Israel Shekels) per Jewish student versus 577 NIS per Palestinian student.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that there is a 50% drop out rate for Palestinian children compared to 7.4% in the Jewish sector.

Several recent court rulings have ordered the Jerusalem municipality to build more classrooms and to increase the East Jerusalem school budget. How these rulings will be implemented is a question that will unfold over time.

Pre-school: There are roughly 15,000 three and four year olds in East Jerusalem. Despite the importance of early education on child development, 90% of them are not enrolled in a pre-school educational program. This is not for a lack of interest. There are only 2 municipal pre-schools in East Jerusalem compared to 56 in West Jerusalem.

Land: One-third of the land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated by the Israeli government from Arab owners since 1967.

Housing: As of 5 years ago, over 50,000 housing units for Jewish residents has been built on this expropriated land. That number is larger today. No housing has been built for Palestinian residents.

Housing density for existing homes in East Jerusalem is almost double what it is for Jewish residents: on average, 1.9 people per room versus 1 person per room. It is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits to construct new houses or to repair existing ones due to discriminatory policies. The result is massive illegal construction without safety inspections and the constant threat of demolition by the government.

View of East Jerusalem neighborhood

Municipal Services: There are minimal municipal services provided to East Jerusalem residents. A simple walk through neighborhoods will reveal decrepit roads and sidewalks, and few public parks or playgrounds. Hundreds of streets are not provided with trash collection services that results in trash piling up everywhere.

Street scene in East Jerusalem

Water connections: 160,000 Palestinian residents, over half the population, have no legal connection to the water network. Either they jury-rig connections to the water mains or they use stored water in containers.

Sewage: Estimates state that East Jerusalem is in need of 50 kilometers of new main sewage lines. Entire neighborhoods still use cesspools, not ideal for densely packed urban neighborhoods, and existing sewage facilities are antiquated and poorly maintained. It is not unusual for sewers to overflow and for sewage water to run above ground close to homes.

NOTE: These last few items pose a risk to public health from infectious disease but they continue to be ignored by municipal authorities.

Postal service: 10 post offices serve Palestinian areas compared to 42 in West Jerusalem. Mail delivery is only partial and sporadic making commerce more difficult.

In addition, Palestinian residents face the ongoing menace of home demolitions and eviction, especially in the neighborhoods directly abutting the Old City where the government works closely with several ideological NGOs to evict Palestinians and replace them with Jewish settlers (For details, see my posts of January 2 and January 10).

Home in East Jerusalem shortly after being demolished. Note pile of rubble in the background.

The construction of the Separation Wall, as noted in previous posts, has disrupted the flow of commerce by severing neighborhood from neighborhood and all of East Jerusalem from the nearby commercial centers of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the rest of the West Bank. This has caused massive economic dislocation and impoverishment.

Separation wall in Jerusalem. Note how it splits this neighborhood in two, severing all connections.

The data above is just a sampling of the comparisons between Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem. For those interested in more details, you can read a full report that was produced by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an organization that fights for the rights of all Israelis. (For more details, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/31806771/Report-May10-ACRI-Human-Rights-in-East-Jerusalem-Facts-and-Figures Scroll down to page 38 for English). A preface to the report sums it up as follows:

“Israel’s policy for the past four decades has taken concrete form as discrimination in planning and construction, expropriation of land, and minimal investment in physical infrastructure and government and municipal services. As a result, East Jerusalem residents suffer severe distress, and their conditions are worsening.”

“Life in East Jerusalem can be described as a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty, and shortages. These, compounded by construction of the Separation Barrier cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank, have led to the social and economic collapse of this part of the city. A large majority of East Jerusalem residents do not receive, and cannot afford to buy, the most basic services.

It seems to me that the facts on the ground in East Jerusalem belie the claim that Jerusalem is indivisible. East and West Jerusalem are like two separate worlds, one a modern urban environment, a magnet for visitors, and the other a neglected and impoverished backwater. The demand for a unified city which has been made into a roadblock for peace, the city that tourists are shown with reverence, is a Potemkin Village hiding the truth.

Update on recent Bedouin Home Demolitions:

Two days ago I linked to a late breaking story about a middle of the night demolition of several Bedouin homes. Unfortunately, more details have emerged that make the situation more distressing. In all, six houses were destroyed making many more families homeless than was originally reported. See this update to read what the experience was actually like: http://972mag.com/idf-commits-price-tag-attack-against-activists-resisting-home-demolitions/33866/

Salim Shawamreh's house before it was demolished. See the link above for the view afterwards.

Profoundly disconcerting in the above link was when one of the Israeli soldiers yelled at Rabbi Arik Aschermann, director of Rabbis For Human Rights in Israel who had rushed to the scene, to take off his skullcap because “he was a disgrace to Judaism.” This while the soldiers were escorting a bulldozer from house to house, demolishing them without any advance notice. In the dead of night, entire families – men, women, children and babies, bewildered and disoriented – were evicted into the cold winter rain with no shelter and just the clothes on their backs.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. (Justice, justice shall you pursue.) Deuteronomy 16:20

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