[Marxism] NYRB: Two Marches, Two Futures for Jerusalem

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Fri Jul 8 16:32:12 MDT 2011

Two Marches, Two Futures for Jerusalem
David Shulman 

One of the oddities of life in Jerusalem is that everyone knows where the
future border will run between the Palestinian East and the Israeli
West-despite the tiresome insistence of the Israeli government that the city
will never again be divided. For example, north of the Old City the line
will correspond more or less to what is now called Road Number One, a
four-lane road that runs roughly north to south until it reaches the Walls
of the Old City, where it turns sharply west just before the Damascus Gate. 

I drive this road several times a week on the way up to my office at the
Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, and the dividing line between Palestinian
and Israeli neighborhoods couldn't be more clear. On the left side of the
road, heading north, are the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods Me'a Shearim and
Beit Yisra'el; across the street, on the right side of the road, is the
well-known Palestinian neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah and the principal
Palestinian shopping street, Salah ed-Din. The communities on the two sides
of the road receive vastly different levels of investment in education,
transport, social services, and other infrastructure. 

Despite the government's continuing attempts to evict as many Palestinians
as possible from East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and plant
colonies of fanatical Jewish settlers in their place, the line is still very
clear. It was thus not by chance that on June 2-Jerusalem day, and the
forty-fourth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day
War-the municipality sponsored and largely financed a mass march in favor of
further Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem (and, indeed, throughout the
occupied West Bank). With police protection provided by the state, tens of
thousands of marchers followed Road Number One south and west into Sheikh
Jarrah and then into the Old City. 

The very idea of dividing the city is anathema to those who organized and
took part in the march-although most know very well that there is no hope
whatever of achieving any settlement with the Palestinians without such a
division. The march was clearly meant as a statement of the right-wing goal
of asserting and cementing Israeli sovereignty over the entire city by
pursuing the settlement project in Palestinian neighborhoods. As it happens,
the marchers also called out aggressive and overtly threatening messages
aimed at the Palestinian population and at Israelis who support Palestinian
independence that should not be minimized or overlooked. 

Most of the marchers were young people, and probably a majority of them were
settlers. (The police estimate of the turnout was 25,000, almost certainly
on the low side; others estimated over 40,000.) For much of the way, this
huge crowd was chanting slogans that, I think it's fair to say, Israelis
have never heard at such a pitch-slogans such as "Butcher the Arabs" (itbach
al-'arab) and "Death to Leftists" and "The Land of Israel for the People of
Israel" and "This is the Song of Revenge" and "Burn their Villages" and
"Muhammad is Dead" (the latter with particular emphasis outside the mosque
in Sheikh Jarrah and then again as the march entered the Muslim Quarter of
the Old City). 

It's one thing to hear such things occasionally from isolated pockets of
extremists, or from settlers in the field in the South Hebron hills, quite
another to hear them from the throats of tens of thousands of marchers
whipping themselves into an ecstasy of hatred. The slogans call up rather
specific memories: I couldn't help wondering how many of the marchers were
grandchildren of Jews who went through such moments-as targets of virulent
hate-in Europe. Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim
Quarter of the Old City watched in horror, but there were no attempts to
meet the hatred with violence. 

And yet the peace camp is not dead. A joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative
is planning a counter-march-under the banner "Marching for Independence"-on
July 15 of possibly historic significance. The numbers will be much
smaller-maybe 2,000 or so, if the organizers are lucky-but the meaning of
the event will certainly transcend the bare numerical count. 

Something quite new is under way in Palestine. September is getting closer,
and with it the possible proclamation of the Palestinian state at the U.N.
General Assembly in New York. Even if the United States casts its veto in
the Security Council against Palestinian independence- a paradoxical move,
given the official and long-standing American support for a Palestinian
state in the 1967 borders- the reality on the ground may begin to change. . 

Many, from Ehud Barak, Israel's Minister of Defense, down to the grass-roots
Palestinian activists I meet in the territories, expect to see in September
a Palestinian version of the "Arab Spring." No one knows exactly what form
it will take, but dress rehearsals have already begun-for example on May 15,
Nakba Day, when mass demonstrations of Palestinians from Syria managed to
break through the fence at Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. 

On that same day more than a thousand demonstrators-among them Palestinians,
young Israelis, and International supporters-who marched at the Qalandiya
checkpoint separating Jerusalem from Ramallah, and were pinned down for
seven hours by a barrage of teargas and other aggressive crowd control
measures by the soldiers at the checkpoint. Although it received far less
attention in the press, it was the demonstrations at Qalandiya that, in my
view, most clearly pointed to what lies ahead.

A Mediterranean variant of Gandhian-style mass protest has by now taken root
among Palestinian communities in several parts of the West Bank: Ma'asara,
Nabi Saleh, Dir Kadis, Na'alin, and Bil'in, to mention only a few. There is
by now a clear awareness among many that non-violent resistance is far more
likely to be effective against the Israeli occupation than violence; and
these days the humane principles of Gandhi and Martin Luther King are
frequently and clearly articulated in Arabic by grass-roots Palestinian

An eloquent statement of the philosophy and method was delivered on June 5
by Bassem al-Tamimi, one of the leaders of the Nabi Saleh protests, at his
trial at an Israeli military court for organizing demonstrations.
Al-Tamimi's text will, I am sure, someday be taught in schools, maybe even
in Israel; it is remarkably reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi's famous statement
to a now forgotten British judge in Ahmedabad in 1922, when the judge
sentenced him to jail for six years. 

Non-violent resistance is also the official policy of the Palestinian
government in Ramallah. Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister, spoke in the
village of Bil'in on June 24th, where the non-violent protest sustained by
the villagers for over seven years against the appropriation of village
lands by the Separation Barrier was finally crowned with some success (the
Army has begun to move the Separation Barrier at Bil'in slightly to the
west, in partial compliance with an Israeli Supreme Court Ruling from 2007. 

The village will, however, still lose about a third of its lands to the
Barrier): "The results of popular resistance may be slow," Fayyad said, 
but they are guaranteed, and the whole world is with us. This [the success
of popular resistance] is something that is inevitable. It's not over by any
stretch of the imagination - this is just the beginning, but it's a good
beginning. It took a long time.[The moving of the Wall] underscores the
immense power of nonviolence.

No one would claim that all Palestinian factions have renounced violence,
but spokesmen for the government in Ramallah have argued, with some justice,
that the recent Fatah-Hamas rapprochement reflects a recognition by Hamas
that they have failed and that the non-violent strategy of the moderates is
working. The Jerusalem march on July 15th is another important step. For the
first time ever, all of the Palestinian factions that have organized
protests throughout east Jerusalem, including the highly effective
neighborhood committees and various NGO's active in Palestine, are joining
with Israelis, under the aegis of the Solidarity movement in Sheikh Jarrah,
for political action. It's also important to note that young people are
taking the lead. In a way, the march is expected to mark the triumph of the
mode of non-violent protest in Palestinian Jerusalem, in line with what is
happening elsewhere in the West Bank. 

East Jerusalem, caught between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line,
its lands annexed to Israel in 1967, has been demoralized and more or less
neutralized politically for the last several years; what we are seeing today
is an attempt on the part of the some 300,000 Palestinians who live there to
reclaim the political weight that should naturally be theirs. The fact that
this is happening in close cooperation with young Israelis from the left is
a promising development. For those that have been mobilized, there is
clearly a firm common ground. The Solidarity website states unequivocally:
"There is no choice for anyone advocating an end to Israeli control over the
Palestinians other than supporting the only realistic way left to achieve
this goal: recognition of an independent Palestinian state." 

Here, then, is the other future for Jerusalem, the alternative to the
settlers' program. On one side, we have a violent, mystically charged racism
with its vision of brute domination of one people by another, and of an
endgame of perpetual disenfranchisement and dispossession. On the other
side, we have the prospect of a free Palestine, with its capital in East
Jerusalem, the end of the Occupation, and the realistic hope of an agreement
based on compromise and mutuality, an agreement whose details are by now
common knowledge and broadly acceptable to a majority on both sides of the
Green Line (it is one of the paradoxes of Israeli politics that Israelis
consistently elect governments far to the right of their own positions,
while polls continue to show that about two-thirds of Israelis support an
agreement along the lines everyone knows are feasible). You'd think it would
be an easy choice. 

The images by William Parry are drawn from his recent book Against the Wall:
The Art of Resistance in Palestine. 

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