November 4th, Day #3

Political Tour of Jerusalem with Yaniv Mazor of Ir Amim (“City of Peoples”) – Israeli Civil Rights Organization.

Yaniv Mazor, Israeli human and civil rights guide with Ir Amim

Yaniv Mazor, Israeli human and civil rights guide with Ir Amim

“Let us make no mistake. Even if in a week, two weeks, a month, a year, the concrete barriers are removed that are now blocking the entrances and exits of the Palestinian neighborhoods and separating them from their Jewish neighbors and from the city that is their only home – we will no longer be able to erase the stinging memory of the concrete barriers that we set up between us and them, which turned their home in the heart of the city into a series of shunned and isolated ghettoes. These walls have already built unseen fences of hatred and will continue to live in our midst as a malignant poison. And where we have built walls, we will have to build even higher and higher walls. After all, a decade ago we already built a barrier and turned eight Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem into enclosures of humiliation and poverty, and rendered their residents displaced in their own city. Now we are building a barrier between one barrier and another, and between these barriers and the barriers to come, and in the end we will know only more and more fear.” – Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director, Ir Amim, Nov 4, 2015


Reflections from Joel Berman:

Yesterday’s highlight was our bus tour of East Jerusalem. What our 34 year old Sabra (native Israeli)  guide Yaniv showed us was in large part why I came back to Israel – to see what I didn’t see on our 2014 trip – the real estate on the other side of the concrete walls and barbed wire that we passed on our way to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Galilee – to see “the other” Jerusalem and “the other” Jerusalemites. For years, I’ve been reading about the ever-expanding Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that are crowding out Palestinians. But seeing it yesterday was worth a thousand newspaper articles. Unlike the photos I took on days 1 and 2, these pictures are not pretty.

Yaniv’s company, Ir Amim (City of Peoples), views the geopolitical realities of East Jerusalem as a microcosm of the larger Israel-Palestine dilemma. Read about its mission at Check out its staff, board, supporters, and maps.

As we entered East Jerusalem, Yaniv pointed out that although his Google Map showed us crossing the Green Line (the line separating Israel from the West Bank), there is nothing on the ground that acknowledges this – no sign, no landmark, no street marker – an investment in fulfilling the government’s vision of creating a Jerusalem that is “the eternal, undivided capital of Israel”. As to lines, some of you know of my late-in-life recognition that the map of Israel on the wall of my temple classroom, where I taught 6th graders about the history of the modern state of Israel, displays no Green Line, or any reference whatsoever to the existence of the West Bank as a separate entity. The Ir Amim map doesn’t make that error. It depicts not only the Green Line, but three others: the Jerusalem Municipal Boundary line, the current Security/Separation Wall line, and the planned Security/Separation Wall extension line. Each has geopolitical significance, but that’s beyond the scope of today’s log.

Our first stop was Gilo, an attractive East Jerusalem community of mostly secular and some Haredi Jews. From the prevailing Jewish perspective, there is nothing unusual about it. It’s a nice, clean residential  neighborhood of about 4000 with a lovely view to the north overlooking the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa and beyond, West Jerusalem. In the eyes of most of its residents, and most Israeli citizens, it’s perfectly legal. In the eyes of the international community, including the United States, its existence is a violation of international law, as are all the Jewish communities on the West Bank side of the Green Line.

Our next stop was the Jewish settlement of Har Homa, a few kilometers east of Gilo and farther into the West Bank. Built in 1997, it’s another lovely looking suburban community. A number of Yaniv’s friends – some of them left-of-center political activists – live here and see no contradiction in doing so. What motivates them to live here is economics, not ideology. Government subsidies make housing prices are far cheaper here than in Israel proper, where a typical housing unit costs 140 months of an average salary. To most Israelis, living in Gilo is perfectly legal. To the Palestinians Har Homa has displaced, and to every country other than Israel, it’s another violation of international law.
Ir Amim’s map is particularly helpful here. It reveals Har Homa as a wedge physically separating Palestinians in East Jerusalem from Palestinian in Bethlehem to the south. This has major strategic significance; ie, how can Palestinians build a country that is physically separated from its capital, East Jerusalem? I can only conclude that Har Homa was no accident.

In Shuafat, Yaniv pointed out that the black water tanks atop buildings are the quickest way to distinguish Palestinian residences from Israeli ones. They serve as practical markers of the disproportionate distribution of water (as well as electricity, garbage pick-up, educational resources, and other municipal services) that are allocated to Israeli settlers in the West Bank compared to Palestinians, who generally get 10% of what Israelis receive.

View of Palestinian area isolated behind the security barrier (the Wall) with few services, garbage on hillside...

View of Palestinian neighborhood isolated behind the security barrier (the Wall) with an estimated 10% of the services that Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem receive

As to names, is the wall a security barrier or a separation barrier? Having driven along a representative segment, I can say it’s undeniably both. As everyone knows, It has virtually eliminated suicide bombings in Israel proper. If that were its raison detre, it would only be 300 km, the length of the internationally recognized Green Line. But its current and planned route is 800 km long. Its crazy quilt of twists, turns, and deep penetrations into Palestinian territory have been built (or planned) to create protective barriers around the ever-growing settlements in the West Bank, creating facts on the ground that will be very hard to reconfigure in future border negotiations. One might reasonably conclude that more than half of the barrier is a “land grab”, to secure West Bank land for settlements that are walled off from their Palestinian neighbors. In the longer term, that threatens rather than strengthens the security of the Israelis who live inside those enclaves, as well as the Palestinians who live outside them.

Yesterday’s tour was a visceral learning experience, rather than an intellectual or emotional one. It was a graphic, gut-wrenching, heart-aching confirmation of Ari Shavit’s conclusion that the settlements have put Israel’s neck in a noose – and that the Israeli government’s policy of “natural growth” of the settlements is steadily tightening the noose and slowly strangling any hope of a two-state solution.

This was not an easy entry to write – nor, I anticipate, for many of you to read. It’s not a flattering portrait of the policies of the governments of Israel since 1967. And it’s not a hopeful portrayal of the future, for either Israelis or Palestinians.

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