I wanted to take issue with Mort Zuckeman’s recent piece in the WSJ, “Obama Doesn’t Get Jerusalem.” He’s got a bit more detail than the Elie Wiesel ad, so I feel like it warrants a bit more of a substantive response (plus, there have been a number of well thought-out responses to Wiesel, the best among them from the Sheikh Jarrah activists).
Objecting to any building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final status talks with the Palestinians even begin.
From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term—”settlements”—to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this administration really understands the issue.
“Settlements,” according to international law and almost everyone other than the US and Israel for the past 40-some years, is not a question of size or function. The illegality of these settlements is based on location and location alone – whether or not they are built on land occupied in 1967. It’s not “ambiguous use of [a] loaded word,” it’s specific and correct application of a technical term. On this basis, I also find the economic/ideological settlement distinction to be a deterrent from the real conversation. To paraphrase something I once heard George Rishmawi, one of the Palestinian founders of the ISM, say – all settlers are engaged in structural violence against the Palestinian people, whether they’re the extremists of Yitzhar, or the suburb-dwellers of Maaleh Adumim, who may have only moved there for purely financial reasons.
Israel’s claim over Jerusalem does not spring from 1948 or 1967. Rather, it signifies the revival of historic rights stemming from biblical times.
While ultimately I agree with Douglas Rushkoff, who writes that the “need to interpret Torah in a literal fashion reduces covenant to a real estate contract. It conflates the sacred space created by divinely inspired allegory into the flat, mundane time line of political history,” Mort is continuing to try to find frames for his argument that are removed from international law and the modern political conversation as a whole, as well as the consensus of most of the worlds’ governments. The US government is finally coming around to realize things that most of the rest of the world has known for 40 years, and while I see it as a small step in the right directions, I don’t feel the need to jump up and down with joy over President Obama arriving at what has been consensus amongst almost everyone else for such a long time. I also don’t see the Torah as a legitimate modern political document. Are we going to go back to “an eye for an eye” in its literal sense? Stoning rebellious children? Polygamy? Ethnic cleansing? If we’re basing our claim to Israel totally on the Torah, what’s the significance of Yom HaAtzmaut? Does it not matter at all that the same UN that is saying these settlements are illegal also once decided that we should have a country at all?
Freedom of religion in Jerusalem should not be compromised by American policy.
Here’s my problem with this – I can’t abide an argument that freedom of religion at the kotel is the reason Jews should have control, when Jews who demonstrate for freedom of religion, even within different streams of Judaism, get arrested and assaulted for simply trying to practice their religion at the kotel. I also have Christian friends who live in Bethlehem who may or may not be able to reach their holy sites in Jerusalem depending on the whim of the Israeli permit-granting authority on any given day. To say that there is freedom of religion in Jerusalem now seems a selective read – to say that freedom of religion means freedom of religion only for us (and a very limited us at that), is like saying never again means never again only to us.
Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and rockets a few miles from Israel’s Parliament. And Jewish neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.
I am not in favor of Palestinian violence. Those voices I support within the Palestinian community are against this kind of violence. That being said, Gilo is one of the best examples of what I cited above – dividing settlements into various categories in ways that are not supported by international law. The illegal settlement of Gilo is built on the land of the families of Beit Jala. There are those who would argue that those families have a right to defend their land.
The official Palestinian position is that the ’48 borders are here to stay. I’ve heard many Palestinians recognize that the Jewish state isn’t going anywhere, not to mention having heard directly from the Negotiations Support Unit that the negotiations are based on international law, and therefore the ’67 line, not all of historic Palestine. IMHO, removing the occupation (and, according to international human rights law, recognizing the right of return of those Palestinians who were forced from their homes), the desire on the part of the Palestinian population to launch attacks on Israel would be severely diminished. And Gaza is still by definition occupied, based on the fact that Israel controls everything that goes into or out of Gaza, so the whole “we left Gaza, and look what we got” argument rings false to me.
The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared—not divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords, said in 1995: “There are not two Jerusalems; there is only one Jerusalem.”
I live in Jerusalem. The city appears to me to be pretty divided. Very few of the Jews I know ever venture into Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (thankfully, some attend the Sheikh Jarrah protests, but it’s a very small percentage). There are two seperate bus systems. If you stand at the Tayelet, you can see the dividing line between Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian neighborhoods by the color of the water tanks on the houses (the Palestinian needs additional water storage for those times when the Israelis decide to cut off their water supply).
In acknowledging that which has been clear to much of the world and to the major bodies which decide issues of international law, President Obama has not, as I see it “given the Palestinians every reason not to negotiate.” He isn’t doing anything other than acknowledging the reality of the situation, and calling a spade a spade. Outpost building and building in Ramat Shlomo are equally illegal according to the fourth Geneva convention. I give president Obama credit for finally bringing some common sense to the situation, and in doing so, I hope he’s going to give Israel the push it needs to save itself.