Session IV: Contemporary Realities and Plans to Share the City
Chair: Dr Imad Karam (BP Trustee)
Keynote Speaker: Daniel Levy
Panellists: Ariel Caine, Rula Salameh, Yudith Oppenheimer
Conference on Jerusalem
Contemporary Realities and Plans to Share the City
Dr Imad Karam:
Let’s start by me welcoming everybody: good afternoon.
Welcome to the fourth session of today’s conference. We’ve looked at the history of Jerusalem. We’ve looked at international law and human rights. We’ve just had a session on religious perspectives. Now we want to look at the contemporary realities and plans to share Jerusalem.
My name is Imad Karam. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project and I am based in London. Needless to say, the future of Jerusalem is paramount to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, between jews, muslims, and christians in the region and beyond. The recent actions by the US administration, including recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or the more recent normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries is no substitute to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or resolving the issue of Jerusalem. Sharing Jerusalem in an acceptable way to all sides is essential to gaining a lasting peace.
In this session we want to look at the current realities and also the future prospects to share the city of Jerusalem. Before we move into the session and before I introduce our keynote speaker, just a few points of order if I may. For those who have been with us today, you will know that there will be no questions and answers at the end of this session, but we will have a dedicated question and answer session at the end of the day at 5:20pm or thereabouts UK time. However, please do feel free to type your questions in the chatbox. We will keep an eye on it just in case it helps us with the conversation afterwards. To remind you that this conference and this session will all be recorded and will be available on the Balfour Project website by the end of the week. An email will go out to all of you who have registered once the recording is available.
My next point is to ask you, if you can, to please donate to the Balfour Project. As you may know, we run mainly on volunteers and donations. We have multiple events lined up and we would really appreciate your support. A link on how to donate will be put in the chat, so please look out for it. It can also be found in the conference brochure.
Finally, just to remind you of the order of the session. We will start with a keynote speech by Daniel Levy for about 12 to 15 minutes, followed by our three panelists. We’ll start with Yudith Oppenheimer and then Ariel Caine, and we’ll finish with Rula Salameh. Each speaker – each panelist – will have about eight to 10 minutes. In whatever time we have left, we will have a conversation and a discussion amongst all the speakers.
Now, it’s really my pleasure to introduce Daniel Levy, our keynote speaker for this session. Daniel is the President of the US – Middle East Project. From 2012 to 2016, he was Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to that, he was a Senior Fellow and Director of the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force based in Washington DC, and also a Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation. Daniel was an advisor in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office and to the Justice Minister, Yossi Beylin during the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak between 1999 and 2001. He was a member of the official Israeli delegation to the Israeli – Palestinian peace talks at Taba under Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Also, he was involved in the Oslo peace talks under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin between 1994 and 1995.
There is a much longer biography of Daniel. He’s a very interesting and impressive personality, but for the sake of time, I think I’ll stop here, Daniel, and I’ll hand over to you. Thank you for offering us this speech.
Thank you very much, Imad. It’s good to – virtually – be with people and thanks to the organizers. As you say, I know this is all done voluntarily, so kudos for pulling a whole day together. It’s a pleasure to be here with this group of panelists and thanks everyone for joining us wherever you are. Whether you’re just joining this session or whether you’ve been here all day, your presence is appreciated.
Let me start by saying: I want to try and set up a big picture of the contemporary realities and possible plans. I’m not a Jerusalemite, I’m not living in Jerusalem. Others on the panel are and I’m hoping they will go into the granularity of some of the options. But what I wanted to try and do is establish a canvas; a backdrop against which some of those contributions might be able to position themselves. Hopefully that will be a useful pivot. I don’t have a detailed plan for the city; spoiler alert!
I’m tempted to suggest that the title might read better as Contemporary Realities Versus a Plan to Share the City because I don’t think we’re in a space right now where constructive plans of any nature have breathing space. To be honest, if I did have a fabulous plan, this is not the time I would be putting it on the table. Timing does matter. We need to get to a place where the respective publics, where the political actors, especially those in Israel – and I say that because we should never lose sight of the power dynamics or of the asymmetry of power in this conflict – where the different actors actually have to make choices between different plans.
We’re an awfully long way from that today. So I want to talk a little bit in a moment about that picture in terms of what might need to happen to create an environment more conducive to poring over the merits of different plans. Before I do that, let me make at least an attempt to address the second half of the exam question. If we can envisage a moment where – especially – Israel is forced to make choices, where the Palestinians have implemented an effective disruptive strategy to the status quo that has brought us to a decision-making moment. Then I would imagine that on Jerusalem, we still have three options that have been with us heretofore in front of us. In a very distilled fashion, those three options are:
- If there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement predicated on hard partition, on separation, on a two-state hard border, that would also apply to Jerusalem. That is very difficult to do in a city, hugely disruptive of the fabric of city life and very complicated when it comes to the Old City. To be clear, I’m not talking about the unilateral separation of a wall or barrier. I’m talking about if we’re in a deal-making space. Simply put, one option is a hard divide in Jerusalem.
- On the other end of the spectrum, the second option recognises that we’re no longer in a partition paradigm. The one space reality that exists on the ground is, in fact, irreversible. It’s a shared political space and that is the premise on which we come out of this conflict. That probably best serves Jerusalem as a living, breathing city space. The same challenges would be there for Jerusalem as they would be for the rest of the one-state reality. Some more acute in the city. How would you move forward from a starting point of such great inequality; of such vast contrasts? One could say that in Jerusalem, more than other places that’s part of an already lived reality with lots of caveats.
- Then the third option unsurprisingly is somewhere in the middle which is the big picture is a Palestine-Israel dispensation based on partition, based on two states, based on a border, but there are different arrangements. Jerusalem is a sui generis; I’m tempted to say a corpus separatum. It has its own unique arrangements and there are lots of interesting ideas in terms of how that could work. We haven’t conferred in advance, so I don’t know if the panelists are going to go into that, but obviously, that’s something that people have thought long and hard about. I’d say it’s less on the agenda today because of where we are in the conflict.
There’s a question which is: does Jerusalem give us any important signals or clues as to which direction we’re going in? My conclusion is that I don’t think the end game will be defined according to what is possible or not possible, or what is happening or not happening, inside Jerusalem. I think there will be bigger dynamics in play. Jerusalem may have a larger claim to make on that end outcome, but I don’t think it’s going to determine things or drive things. I don’t want to go into what’s been said earlier in the day in terms of what is going on in the city. I think we’re familiar with that by now. What you see in Jerusalem is what you see writ large. The squeezed physical space for Palestinians. The displacement of the attempt to assert an Israel “victory project,” which is a control of the space, but it’s also control of a narrative, the historical narrative, with the attempt to very conspicuously and quite egregiously write Palestinian experience out of that narrative. You see that especially in, around and adjacent to the Old City and some of the not-for-profit organizations – often with Israeli governmental backing – that are operating there.
You also see what we see in the bigger picture, which is, I would argue, Israeli overreach in Jerusalem that has not really led to voter change. In other words, you could look at things and say: “Wow, with everything that’s going on, surely this is now bumping up against its limits, and we’re going to see a strong counter-reaction.” We haven’t seen that thus far.
Whether that’s to the Jerusalem embassy move, or whether that’s to the kinds of policies of de facto annexation or putting de jure annexation on the table… that has a lot to do with the international zeitgeist and with the US, but it has a lot to do with the dysfunctional, unfortunate state of Palestinian politics as well. So there’s not really a big challenge to Israel to change.
I’m also not sure whether Jerusalem has the answer for us on whether we’re heading for two states or one. I’ve been able to dip in and out during the course of the morning and early afternoon. I’ve heard both cases made: does Jerusalem prove that, actually, we still live very separate lives? Or is Jerusalem an example of the irreversibility of the blurring of that line? I tend not to favour getting too bogged down in the one-state versus two-state debate. Not because it’s not important, but because neither are on the agenda in anything like the foreseeable future. I prefer to focus on protecting the rights of people on the ground. Certainly, that is pertinent to a discussion of what’s going on in Jerusalem today and to the Palestinian predicament in that city.
One thing – and then I’ll close here and go to the big picture – one thing I’ll just throw in is elections. Occasionally, this question emerges of Palestinian participation in municipal elections in Jerusalem, which is something the Palestinians could avail themselves of. They haven’t. I don’t think they will – or should – absent a fundamental shift in Palestinian national strategy. So I’m throwing that in simply to put it on people’s radar screens.
There’s also the question of Palestinian participation in Palestinian elections. The uncertainty around if and when those take place in Jerusalem has been an obstacle. The Israelis control where the Palestinians can vote, whether it’s in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (part of the Oslo Accord Palestinian Authority), or to the Palestinian National Council (part of the old PLO structures that predate the Authority). I would say: of course Palestinians should be able to vote in East Jerusalem. There are ways of making that happen, and the more we hear a Palestinian leadership precondition progress towards elections on whether there’s a prior guarantee of physical voting booths in East Jerusalem, the more we should probably be suspicious that the election process is not actually moving forward.
Let me move on swiftly to some bigger picture thoughts. I want to touch on this: why is it that we’re so stuck? So stuck, in fact, that plans for the city – or for anything else – are on indefinite hold right now? Constructive plans, at least.
I would put three thoughts to you.
First of all, the peace process has become such a goal in itself that it has become an albatross. This means that things are not measured against criteria such as: how does this play out for people on the ground? Or, how does this play out for protecting the rights of Palestinians? Instead, the yardstick is: will this be good or bad for the peace process? That is a very problematic way of looking at things. I think we have to get beyond that. That is the first thing I hope we would try to do.
Secondly, and I think crucially, is the question of impunity; the absence of accountability for Israel, or for its actions. In many respects, Israel’s actions look rational politically when set against this factor of Israel being held to no cost or consequence for going with the lowest common denominator of where Israeli politics takes you. Impunity; absence of accountability; consequence-free, bad behavior is not helpful in any sphere of life. That applies here as well. If we want to challenge the contemporary realities, I think that must strongly enter the picture.
Finally, we don’t have a disruptive strategy on the part of the Palestinian leadership. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Palestinians in civil society, on the ground, in political structures working to challenge the status quo, but that is not the policy.
I think until we address those things, we will be stuck.
Let me close, therefore, with a comment on what the politics look like, both here and internationally, especially as we’re a week out from the US presidential election.
I want to start with the UK. I really worry that in a scenario where Trump is in power for four more years, this government could consider recognising the state of Palestine and moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem as a package deal, which I think would be a terrible move.
I think the recognition part is symbolic. I don’t think it moves the ball forward. If we want to challenge the status quo. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.
The alternative scenario of Biden winning, I’ll get to in a minute, but I would just caution that the divisions we see in Europe are not going to go away just because there is a change in America. If we get an American policy that is shorn of the most egregious elements of Trump, but is a return to the status quo ante-Trump, then that really is still an American policy that is not fit for purpose. It’s what helped get us here already. It’s what helped enable and empower Israeli hardliners and ethno-nationalist extremists in the first place. Which is not to say there’s nothing to look for under a Biden-as-president scenario, but it means we will still have to work very, very hard.
This is going to be about people on the ground, people internationally who want to see really different policies and real movement coming together to fight for that. There’s no great automatic policy shift on this issue, at least. On other issues? Very possibly and very hopefully, yes.
Finally, the region.
Normalisation has been used to try to squeeze the Palestinians and to try to isolate the Palestinians. Primarily though, in the politics of the region, it’s not about the Palestinians. For Israel I think it is about the Palestinians, because it demonstrates the efficacy in Israeli eyes of the Netanyahu approach. I think it’s been a huge boost to Netanyahu – not enough to overcome his other problems, but probably the best boost he’s had in some time. But for the states creating this normalisation, this is more about their own interest in the region; their own insurance policies. Sometimes, such as in the case of Sudan, they have simply been thuggishly blackmailed into normalisation. What I hope is that we can have a more effective counter-response to that.
This hasn’t been a particularly hope-enducing set of comments, but I do hope that I’ve at least set things up for the panelists to come in.
I do want to repeat something that Baroness Helena Kennedy said earlier, which is: I am an optimist. I’m an optimist because we can get behind the work that people are doing on the ground. There are great people doing that work on the ground and the panelists are among those people.
But it does mean stepping out of our comfort zone and challenging a lot of what has gone before.
Let me finish there. Thank you so much.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thank you so much, Daniel. Thanks for giving us this broader picture and also, for ending on a positive note, or an optimistic note, because we really cannot give up on optimism. Otherwise, we’re doomed to carnage and on a continuous path of suffering and bloodshed.
I’ve been noticing the chat now and then and I would encourage people to continue to have the exchange, but please let’s keep it decent or respectable despite our differences. The speakers in this session represent themselves, not any government or institution. They’re bringing their expertise and their perspectives.
Let me now turn to our panelists. We’ll start with Yudith. Yudith Oppenheimer is a long-time human rights activist, feminist scholar and educator. Before assuming leadership of Ir Amim in 2008, Yudith was a Fellow at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership in Jerusalem. From 2000 to 2006, she served as Executive Director of Kol Ha-Isha, the Jerusalem feminist center.
Yudith holds an MA in Development Studies from the University of South Africa. She’s also got a PhD and her doctoral thesis titled “Zion Square – a Hermeneutic Study of a Public Space” was written within the framework of the program for hermeneutics and cultural studies at Bar-Ilan University. That was done under the guidance of Professor Menachem Klein. An interesting part of her study was that it deviates from traditional perspectives applied in studies of Jerusalem, which are routinely subordinated to the city’s mythical and political meta-story. At the core of the study lies a question regarding the feasibility of a worldly urban space in Jerusalem and over terrestrial Jerusalem as a whole. Its comprehensive perspective paints a broad picture of the relationship between culture, society, and place in the Israeli space.
Thank you. Yudith over to you.
Thank you, Imad. Thank you, Daniel. Thank you for having me here.
I will read my words, speaking after the eloquent Danny!
The Trump plan announced in late January granted, for the first time, international recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Until this moment, the only area in the West Bank to be formally annexed by Israel. This unilateral recognition was accompanied by far-reaching measures of separation and annexation that aim to unilaterally dictate the final status of Jerusalem and to impose an irreversible reality that utterly dismisses the notion of Palestinian Jerusalem. The US plan marks the separation barrier as the border of Jerusalem. Effectively including within it, the three settlement blocs around the city, Ma’aleh Adumim, Modi’in Ilit and Gush Etzion. Thus, even without further steps towards formal annexation, the Trump plan recognizes the de facto annexation of these West Bank areas also known as Greater Jerusalem.
This understanding of the de facto annexation was immediately translated into practice with the promotion of the construction plan for the Ma’aleh Adumim E1 area, previously an international red line for construction, and, recently, with the promotion of thousands of housing units and accompanied infrastructure throughout those areas of Greater Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the US plans establishment of the separation barrier as the recognized Israeli border of Jerusalem facilitates and finalized the process undertaken by Israel over the past few years to formally cut-off eight East Jerusalem neighbourhoods which the barrier of separates from the city. These neighborhoods are currently home to 120,000 to 140,000 Palestinians comprising more than a third of East Jerusalem residents. Since the construction of the separation barrier over 15 years ago, tens of thousands of Jerusalem residents migrated to these neighbourhoods beyond the barrier as an escape from the long-standing planning discrimination, increased home demolition, and the constant threat to their residency status, should they fail to prove to the Israeli authorities that Jerusalem is their centre of life.
These residents have found themselves trapped between the necessity to provide a roof over the family’s head within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries and the concern that Israel’s ultimate objective is to sever them from the city as explicitly reflected in the Trump plan. It is precisely within these derelict enclaves – containing and representing nothing of Jerusalem’s symbolic assets – that the Trump plan wishes to establish a Palestinian capital as part of exhausting Israeli-American efforts to reinvent Palestinian-Jerusalem out of Jerusalem.
Through this the Trump plan directly contradicts its own declaration that: “Peace should not demand the uprooting of people, Arab or Jew, from their homes.”
While it is technically true that the residents of these neighbourhoods will not necessarily be displaced from their private homes, rather that they will be uprooted from everything that constitutes home in the broader personal and collective sense.
Indeed, during the coronavirus crisis we have witnessed several attempts to use the crisis as an excuse to close the checkpoints connecting these neighbourhoods to Jerusalem, further severing them from the city.
As we gather here today to discuss the future of Jerusalem, the question may well be, the future of whose Jerusalem? The accumulative effect of this grave situation, which I have laid out, may well lead to a state of affairs in which the majority of East Jerusalem residents will no longer be able to live within the city, while those who remain when will reside there as an ever more suppressed and subjugated minority.
This will not only lead to a severe humanitarian and communal crisis, this will automatically mark the end of Jerusalem as the present home and future capital of two peoples.
The survival of East Jerusalem lies not only in resisting – and this is very much in line with what Daniel said – not only in resisting settlement, building and annexation, but also in safeguarding the capacity of its residents to live in dignity within the city.
Therefore protecting residency status, freedom of movement, planning and building rights, the rights to unrestricted cultural and educational development, and freedom of association should all be placed at the centre rather than the periphery of international policy.
In parallel to this disastrous policy, in challenging its intentions, the past 10 years have actually seen growing inter-dependence between Israelis and Palestinians within the city across various municipal, economic, cultural, and even social issues. During the coronavirus crisis, the important roles held by Palestinian residents in essential work, from transportation to highly professional medical care, have become ever more evident. Jerusalem is the only place in the entire region in which Israelis and Palestinians – I don’t mean citizens of Israel – share an urban space. While incidents of tension often receive high levels of media and public attention, manifestations of delicate coexistence and even solidarity, in living under profoundly unequal terms are often overlooked.
Today, neither Israelis nor Palestinians view the future of the city as one that is physically divided; rather a sustainable political resolution to the city should employ complex strategies that bear in mind the everyday reality. A secure and stable life in Jerusalem can exist only out of recognition of the connections of both people to the city and when both are able to conduct their daily and public life in an independent and sovereign manner.
In the absence of a permanent solution in the foreseeable future, the two peoples will continue to share a complex urban reality. In this reality, the living condition of East Jerusalem residents, both within and outside the separation barrier, must be seriously and immediately addressed. Palestinians must be permitted to physically and socially develop the communities in the urban sphere, preserve the wholeness of the community and their physical surroundings, and conduct their affairs in the city through their own institutions without fear. Living conditions in West Jerusalem also require improvement while positive economic, social, and political channels for dialogue and cooperation must be established.
The residents of both parts of Jerusalem and their respective political leaderships, along with the support of the international community, must be full and equal partners in determining the political future of the city. This shared life in the city can and must constitute the basis for negotiation for a viable, sustainable solution, out of the understanding that in every possible political constellation these two peoples will live alongside each other in Jerusalem.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thank you so much Yudith, also for starting to paint the picture of reality and what might need to happen going forward.
We’ll turn now to Ariel Caine as our next panelist. Let me just introduce you, Ariel, if I may.
Dr Ariel Caine is a Jerusalem-born artist and researcher whose practice focuses on the intersection of spatial – that’s three-dimensional – photography, modeling and survey technologies, and the operation within the production of cultural memory and national narratives. Ariel completed his doctorate, his Ph.D., last year at the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is a Researcher and a Project Coordinator at the Forensic Architecture Research Agency. Ariel is also a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art and he also exhibits and publishes his work internationally.
Over to you Ariel.
Thank you very much everyone and thanks for inviting me. I’m speaking and standing in here for Professor [Eyal] Weizman.
I’ll jump right in as well and I’ll be reading as well from a text essay, only to keep it all on time.
Similar to a building, Israel’s architectural project of occupation was arranged in layers. If we look at the spatial reconfiguration of Jerusalem since 1967, but primarily since the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s, the process which promised incremental pathways to reconciliation, but ended up providing the skeletons of the existing geographical system of domination and control, we can see that the territory was in fact divided into a stack made out of three principle political areas.
The surface, landlocked pockets which were handed over to varying degrees of Palestinian control.
The subsoil, the underground, which includes water, mineral resources as well as the archeological strata.
And the airspace above Palestinian areas which was left in Israeli hands. Primarily the hands of its air force, but also different policing units.
An interpretation of the Ottoman land code from the mid-19th Century helped Israel take legal control over the uncultivated lands, which were located primarily on the barren hilltops, leaving the lower cultivated valleys in Palestinian hands. On these hilltops, which are also important for territorial control, Israel under its own legal “ok”, so to speak, constructed its settlements.
The two national populations, therefore, became intertwined and intermingled everywhere across the terrain.
The third population – less discussed, perhaps – within this conflict is that of the Palestinian Bedouin tribes and families, most of whom were living in either semi-nomadic or fully sedentary ways prior to 1948, primarily in the Naqab region in the South of Israel and Palestine. These tribes were forcefully displaced in the early 1950s. They lost access to their original lands and were forced into more arid areas such as the Southern Naqab, but, more relevant to our panel here, they were forced into areas such as the Judean Hills to the east of the area of Ma’aleh Adumim and down to the Dead Sea. The Palestinian Bedouin Nakba, which started in ‘48, continues to this day through the ongoing demolitions displacement, and dispossession, an example of which could be seen in the recent ongoing case in Khan al-Ahmar near Ma-aleh Adumim.
Hereto, physical dispossession is enabled by legal interpretations and legislation that undermines Bedouin sedentary existence by categorizing it as nomadic and therefore devoid of land rights. Looking on from the fragmentation of space into settlement islands on hilltops and at the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods necessitates a further degree of three-dimensional complexity.
The road network was set up connecting the hilltop settlements with bridges that span over Palestinian fields and with tunnels that burrow underneath them. Palestinian neighourhoods have been thus fully enveloped by Israeli space in three dimensions. If a Palestinian was to drive out of their enclave, they encounter a fence, a wall, or a checkpoint. If they want to dig a well, or they need Israeli permission to pierce into the subterranean volume, or if they want to fly outside of Israel, then it’s Israeli permission. This is what Professor Weizman called layered political structure. The politics of verticality. Verticality became a form and a force of separation.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, the separation is not only on the surface of the ground but also runs underneath it. Deep subterranean aquifers buried under layers of aggregate soil and rock, which run from the Jerusalem mountains towards the sea on the west and towards the West Bank, were unevenly partitioned in the Oslo Accord, with approximately 80% of the resources going to the Israeli side.
Another subterranean strata is that of archeology. The buried remains of the land’s historical occupants should be subject to impartial scientific study, but the Zionists and Israeli projects use archeology in some cases to construct an alibi for a Jewish return and they claim that its indigenous rights, the Jewish indigenous rights, are more fundamental and prior to the others.
One such site, as an example, is that of the City of David archeological excavation taking place at the heart of the Palestinian village of Silwan and the Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood. Excavations at this site were first carried out by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1860s. There have been multiple excavations throughout the 20th century as well, but since the 90’s, approximately, there’s been a shift in these excavations. Promoted by settler associations and organizations, excavation started without proper permits, searching for elements of the King David era-Jerusalem by boring tunnels through the hillside, underneath Palestinian homes and without informing residents or securing their consent, then refusing to stop despite implicit protests and several attempts to halt these works in the courts.
The underground works: first a haphazard collection of improvised tunnels, fortified with tons of steel and concrete; then a fully formalized and supported engineering project, were – and still are – done hand-in-hand with the archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority and promoted by the municipality for whom the site is one of the biggest tourist attractions.
The digs and the destabilization they produce moving up through the geological layers towards the surface, appearing and disappearing as they find lines of least resistance. Cutting through streets, homes, schools, mosques – such as the Ein Silwan mosque – digging for ruins of ancient Jewish archeology and producing layers of ruin in contemporary Palestinian life.
To conclude, archeology is politicized in other countries, drones are employed elsewhere in other countries, other countries still divide water, and equally. There is nothing inherently different in this situation. Only that here, these layers are woven into a complete system.
However, this layer arrangement, this politics of verticality, is rarely grasped in its totality. Each layer is presented as a haphazard, often really a functional solution to a separate problem. One layer makes sure hilltops are seized by the state. Another constructs the settlement. Another restricts the building around Palestinian neighbourhoods in the name of environmental rights regulations, clean air regulations, green areas or cultural heritage. Another restricts access to underground water.
So it is the perceived separation between these layers that make the politics of verticality so effective and so resilient. Moreover, it makes it an attractive model for other countries that seek to form this type of population control.
One way of responding and countering this reality of separation is through the practices and analysis that reconnect the strata across space, history, and most importantly, through civic collaboration and community-led practices.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thank you very much, Ariel. Especially for bringing in the architectural and archaeological picture of what is going on, and has been going on, in Jerusalem. Thank you for accepting to contribute despite the short notice. Very grateful for that.
Let me now move to our last, but not least, final panelist: Rula Salameh. Rula is the Outreach Director in Palestine for Just Vision. She is a producer and she has produced Budrus, Naila and the Uprising, and My Neighbourhood. She joined Ma’an News Agency in 2009 as a journalist, then she became Senior Producer and Project Coordinator. From 2011, she’s been a TV presenter for a weekly TV show at Ma’an satellite channel. Subsequently, she just did her TV show as an NGO in Palestine, and now that TV show is one of the best programmes in Palestine. Rula has an International Diploma in Computers and Business Management from Cambridge International College and studied sociology at Birzeit University in Ramallah. She’s based in Jerusalem.
Thank you, Rula: over to you.
Thank you for the introduction, and thanks to my colleagues. It’s really hard to have my speech to be the last person after these greats!
I want to give you an introduction of how it is to be a Palestinian or to be an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem. How to see everything, the daily life of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
To be based in Jerusalem is really very complicated. It’s hard to explain to anybody who does not have the privilege of living here in East Jerusalem; difficult to understand the very complicated situation here.
I’ll start by talking about my experience as a journalist who has tried for the last 10, nearly 20, years to highlight the complicated lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
For the last few years, the focus was on Jerusalem, especially when we decided to make one of our films in my neighbourhood in Jerusalem. We wanted to highlight the stories of the Palestinians who lived in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and who were kicked out of their homes.
Some of them have to share their homes with the settlers. Imagine the life of these families who moved from Jaffa and elsewhere in Israel in ‘48 to the Old City of Jerusalem and then to move to the Sheikh Jarrah. After more than 50, 60 years, they now have to move again from their homes, which is like all the stories about Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction is very complicated to explain for those who do not have all the details about the Sheikh Jarrah story.
I’ll just talk about it from my point of view, as a journalist, who really finds it very complicated erto explain it to the young generation about what it means to live in Jerusalem. First of all, we really experience the occupation every day – every hour – here in Jerusalem. Before coronavirus and during coronavirus, in winter and in summer, with the soldiers all over the West Bank and Jerusalem, with houses being demolished every day, with the experience of the police before coronavirus and now with coronavirus, running after people to get them to wear face masks, with the way they use violence against kids and against women here, especially in my neighborhood. I witness this many times every day: the violence against kids and against women, young women.
It’s hard to talk about what’s going on in Jerusalem and to explain it. There’s maybe 20 or 30 elements and I have to raise them all because I’m a Palestinian who has suffered from the occupation; a Palestinian who has had a very bad experience. I can use my own story to help explain.
I’ll share my story in just a few words as an example, because I am one person from the tens of thousands of Palestinian families who share this very problematic situation: if you get married to a Palestinian from the West Bank, or marry a Palestinian or Arab from any of the Arab countries or – in the worst case – from Gaza, you will not be able to register your kids. You won’t be able to get an Israeli birth certificate for them. Even if you were born and raised in Jerusalem, you are not allowed to register your kids, allowing them to get an Israeli ID in the future.
Imagine, like in my case, that your son was born in the United Arab Emirates and you had got married in the United Arab Emirates.
When I decided to have my son in Dubai, my Israeli lawyer advised me to return and give birth in Jerusalem so I can get a birth certificate and an Israeli ID number for my son. This did not happen. This is not the case for the Palestinians in Jerusalem. They do not recognize us or deal with us in the same way that that they deal with the Jewish Israelis here in West Jerusalem, causing a serious problem for between 20,000 and 22,0000 Palestinian families. We can’t get our sons and daughters into schools because we don’t have a birth certificate.
Let’s say you have a husband or wife with an Israeli ID. One of you has an Israeli ID and the other is from the West Bank. To get round this issue, you need to have two homes; one in Jerusalem and one in the West Bank. If you are lucky, you will get a permit for your husband or your wife to enter Jerusalem maybe once or twice a year. Keeping your family together beomes a major problem.
Imagine your family having to be split up, one child living with his father, the other with the mother. In the best case scenario, the wife will be allowed to stay with her kids in Jerusalem because she has an Israeli ID. At the weekend, they have to move to the West Bank so they can spend some time with the husband.
This is something so hard to explain to the international community: Palestinian men and women from Jerusalem are restricted to only marrying somebody else from Jerusalem. If you choose somebody not from here, from this city, then you will spend the next 10, 15, 20 years asking for special permits for them.
We have a case with an activist from East Jerusalem, from Sheikh Jarrah. She got married to a Palestinian from Gaza and for 23 years, his name was on a watch list, what they call the “wanted list.” For security reasons, they wouldn’t allow him to enter Jerusalem. The first time he managed to get a permit was when his wife passed away last year. This was the first time that he had managed to see the family home, the house where his wife and their kids spent all their lives. Every weekend they had to move to Ramallah so they could live as a family in one house.
This is only one story of what we face as Palestinians here. Another constant fear for families here is attacks like that on 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was kidnapped and burned. I remembered this case when my son Marwan was in school in the Old City. I had to find bodyguards and a taxi driver to take him to school every day and bring him back safe, because I had to go to work in Ramallah or Bethlehem. Who would take care of him? I was really afraid that something would happen to him because maybe the violence will spread again. Maybe my only son will be in a bombing or something like that. Maybe he will get kidnapped or some other terrible thing will happen to him.
This is not just me. This is all the neighbourhoods and all the mothers and fathers. We were all worrying about the best way to protect our sons and daughters. You can’t just keep them in the house and prevent them from spending time with friends. Plus you have to go to work and you have to concentrate on your work.
Then what about your sons and daughters when they are at school? The situation at that time was violence spread all over Jerusalem. We woke up each day to hear about houses being demolished, about families being attacked; hearing the ambulance sirens because somebody else had been killed or injured.
We would always hear about the situation in Silwan and what was going on in Silwan with the families. We heard about 88 families that had suddenly received eviction orders and had to leave their homes. What will happen to these families? What about their children in schools? Last year, a meeting I was attending in a hotel in Jerusalem was attacked by the Israeli security forces because they had received intelligence that we were talking about what we needed to do to protect students.
We have around 10,000 Palestinian students who do not have a school place in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority can’t support any building of schools; can’t support any school in Jerusalem. We have a serious problem in getting funds for schools in Jerusalem.
Another a serious problem, that Palestinians in East Jerusalem need to register their sons and daughters in schools inside the wall in East Jerusalem. Not outside the wall, even if the area outside the wall is still part of Jerusalem. We lost around 100,000 Palestinians with Israeli IDs after the wall was built. Before building the wall, there was of a population of around 300,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem. Afterwards, around the 100,000 Palestinians were left on the outside.
I think sooner or later, they will lose their residence in Jerusalem and they will be in a really bad situation. Some families have been divided, some of them are inside the wall and the others are outside the wall. This affects the whole family, the students who go to school inside Jerusalem, and there are the checkpoints to deal with. The terrible experience for kids is going through the Qalandiya checkpoint, the Hizma checkpoint and the Shuafat checkpoints, which is around the Shuafat refugee camp. In my daily experience as an activist with different women’s organisations in Jerusalem, I hear from many Palestinian families who decide to stop their daughters from going to school because they have to cross that checkpoint.
They can’t allow the risk of them going through this experience because maybe something will happen to them. This has really affected the education system in Jerusalem.
To go further, about the Palestinian curriculum. We have serious issues with bringing the Palestinian curriculum to Jerusalem because Israel prevents the Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem from using the Palestinian curriculum. We have to use the Israeli curriculum, where there is no mention of Palestinians or anything relative to the history of the Palestinians.
There’s also the problem of the municipality that Daniel Levy was talking about. The Palestinians in Jerusalem feel here in Jerusalem that we can’t elect. We can’t participate in the elections. The municipality in West Jerusalem, the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem does not represent us as Palestinians. We do not have any services. If we compare the situation in East and West Jerusalem, there’s a big, huge gap between the services that we get and the services that Israelis and Jewish in West Jerusalem get. This is why we need to have live voices there: we feel that they do not see us as equal to them.
There are so many inequalities. You could choose any neighbourhood in East Jerusalem and compare it with any Israeli neighbourhood in West Jerusalem and just see for yourself the difference between the two neighborhoods.
I need more than one hour just to list the things that they are suffering, but maybe in the discussion.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thank you so much, Rula. Thank you for bringing in your direct human story to this session.
As a Palestinian myself from Gaza, I know about what I call the invisible suffering. There is a degree of visibility and there’s a lot of invisible suffering that goes on.
Jerusalem is a very special case, and it’s a very complex situation. I’m grateful for all the panelists for what they shared.
I’d like to spend the next 10 minutes and maybe just trying to see how can we move forward? We are fully aware of the realities of the inequalities of the suffering, whether equal suffering or not, there is suffering on all sides. How can we move forward? Daniel, there was a question earlier when you were speaking asking – this is for all of you to reflect on. What would you advise the Palestinian leadership?
What would a Palestinian strategy look like to actually get out of the situation we are in? If Daniel you could start and maybe the others could share their advice and thoughts. If you were advising the Palestinian leadership, what would you say to them? In particular, in relation to the situation in Jerusalem?
I’ll add something else, Daniel. You also said something at the beginning, which struck me. You were referring to the one-state / two-states, and you said that neither is on the agenda and what should be on the agenda is: how do we protect rights? Maybe we just need to see how can we improve the conditions and the lives and bring in equal treatment, equal rights to all people in the land. Any thoughts Daniel and followed by the other panelists?
Absolutely. This issue of not being distracted by this Oslo process, there’s a debate over what the intention was. The reality today is clear: it provides cover for everything Rula just described to us. If one prioritizes – and I’m talking here as a set of international actors, and I’ll come on to what I mean by that – if one prioritizes addressing what Rula brought up: a reality in Jerusalem, a reality that is reflected in Palestinian circumstances, in Palestinian disenfranchisement, in the matrix of control in post, on Palestinians, in Jerusalem, throughout the occupied territories. Different, but not equal inside Israel itself as well.
Of course the municipality does not represent Palestinians. I was making the case earlier that if there is a shift to an equal rights strategy, one of the things that might flow from that is – which I don’t expect to happen now – but if that was the consensus Palestinian collective position, does one utilize the limited opening? But it’s a real opening that exists in that municipal situation to challenge that. Then we’d see how Israel pushes back and how Israel closes down that space, as I imagine it would.
It’s not for me – and certainly not in a public forum – to tell the Palestinian leadership what they should be doing. What I do think is that what we have right now is a Palestinian strategy that is not disruptive of that status quo. Rula has made the films she mentioned earlier – if people haven’t seen Naila and the Uprising – that put some very challenging questions as to what that strategy is. I would probably want to echo the questions that came up from the women who are covered in that movie; who that movie follows.
You have an authority structurally now. You have a situation where it’s an authority dependent on Israeli goodwill; dependent on donor goodwill. That structurally, inherently, is not the basis from which to build a struggle and a strategy disruptive of the very status quo that keeps the Palestinian Authority in existence. It can’t play that role.
Us, from the outside, aren’t going to define a Palestinian strategy for the Palestinians, but I think we should at least desist from intervening in unhelpful ways in Palestinian politics. In imposing conditions on Palestinian national reconciliation that have not been imposed with good intent or tried in any conflict situation that are not asked of Israel. The way the aid money is structured. Aid money is structured in order to limit Palestinian options. The way Palestinians are punished for pursuing legitimate, non-violent options in the international community. That’s not just a Trump phenomeno. And ok, there have been various comments on the side; undoubtedly, antisemitism is being weaponized to try to limit Palestinian free speech and limit what Palestinians can say and do politically.
We all collectively have to push back against that. We also don’t effectively push back against that by making common cause with antisemites. So, when someone on the side says: “Who controls Hollywood?” if anyone thinks that is advancing Palestinian rights, then think again.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thanks, Daniel. Sorry to cut you short this time. To the other panelists, and I’m what I’m really looking for in these last few minutes is a glimpse of hope. Some agency: what can and should happen. What’s your thoughts on going forward, please?
The floor is open who would like to go first? Yudith?
I support what Daniel said about the need for new strategies. I think that until not long ago, the Israeli strategy was to consolidate a united Jerusalem and to impose all these pressures on Palestinians and Palestinians were very successful in their sumoud [steadfastness]strategies. They maintain in the city despite everything and they are almost 40% of the city population actually making Jerusalem a bi-national rather than an Israeli city as Israel would like to see. In the past few years, and with the ongoing Israeli right-wing government supported by the Trump administration, we have seen a move from maintaining the conflict to actually moving forward in unilaterally determining the terms of the end game of the entire conflict and in Jerusalem.
Here, I agree that we need the opposite strategies and I agree with Danny again, that it is not for us to tell the Palestinians what to do, but for example, in the case of of the elections, wasn’t there an attempt in the last municipal elections to challenge the elections in a creative way by a Palestinian candidate who ran for mayor? He cannot, by law, run for mayor, because only Israeli citizens can run for mayor. Namely, the discrimination is such in the system that allows these crumbs of democracy for Palestinians. I think this was quite a creative way, even if it was pushed back and they would all be pushed back.
I see the civil society in East Jerusalem, there’s lots happening and lots of creativity and creative thinking, and lots of new activism. If we have to end with a positive note, I think that it is there in the civil society of both West and East Jerusalem and particularly in East Jerusalem, it’s vivid, it’s creative, it’s an innovative civil society and new ideas come from that.
Rula, you broke my heart although I know everything – I mean, not everything – I know a lot about the situation and yet it’s leaving us speechless.
I just want to say something about the civil society. I think we are lucky here that everything is working against us to give us the power. Here in Jerusalem, it’s not easy to live, but also it’s not easy for us to leave. I think this is why we teach our sons and daughters that, even with everything, with the occupation, with practicing every day, with the hard life that we are living, Jerusalem for us still really deserves to achieve what we are saying and practicing.
This is why the luxury life in Dubai did not really take my son out of Jerusalem when he decided to study. He said, I’ll study there, I’ll stay here. He and his team, 10 young men who had the opportunity to go to the UK, or to go to the USA, to study there, decided to stay here to serve the community.
This is what you mentioned Yudith just now about community. What we have, what we practice with the NGOs, with the organizations, with the community in Jerusalem. During Corona, we worked so hard to support the community who were being ignored by the Israeli government. They left us without anything, with no masks, with no help, with no support at the beginning. They prevented the Palestinian Authority from giving us any support. They took all the food packages, all the medicine, all the masks that the Palestinian Authority tried to give to the Palestinian community in Jerusalem. It was all taken away by the Israeli Authority, by the police, by the soldiers.
We decide in the community here in Jerusalem, we decide to have different groups to support the community and maybe different initiatives. I have at least 13, 14 initiatives that I was part of with the community. With old men and women we returned to the first intifada practices, how we used to support each other. This is like lessons learned from that first uprising.
I have to give credit to my Just Vision team, who, when I mentioned to them what’s going on here, came for years and years to see the situation in Jerusalem. We decided to focus on making films about Palestinian life here so we can take the films to the international world and say: come and see what the Palestinians are facing. The daily life of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. This is the hope. That with everything that we are facing, we are still here. We still have hope. We still have the will to support the community. And we will continue.
Dr Imad, we learned from Gaza. We are learning from Isawiya and we are learning from Silwan and we are learning from Shuafat refugee camp. These are the real models and real stories that every Palestinian should be proud of. We have to say that we have a lot of Israeli activists, professors, and doctors. Because of them, we manage to get the support and to continue to widen the support. In Budrus we have an activist. In Sheikh Jarrah have an Israeli activist who supports us.
So yes: we are here and we will stay here. We need support from the international community. Maybe the Arab countries just left us, they turn their backs. But we still have the power.
Dr Imad Karam:
Absolutely. Time is about to close. Ariel, would you like to share any final thoughts, please?
I agree with all of what you said.
Maybe as a final thing, what I tried to say during the talk and during my little piece which I’m not sure people managed to understand, is that the Israeli regime is about disconnection and isolation and slowing things down, slowing movement down. I think what we also hear from everyone here is that there’s a need to interconnect with civil society, activists from different places, different neighbourhoods across the borders. Interconnect both the spacial elements and the civic elements. Learning from not only Palestine, but also from other struggles all around the world and where people are using different forms of media and community practice to overcome and retell the stories.
That’s on the one hand. The other is to challenge the legal structures and then we can challenge state structures that are basically grinding everything to a halt. I agree that it’s really down to activists and community practice across the borders. Across the municipal borders and the national borders.
Dr Imad Karam:
Thank you, Ariel.
I’ll just briefly say that what gives me hope is people like you, all of you here that I’m looking at on this screen. Palestinian and Israeli Jewish and Muslim and Christian. Being principled and wanting to fight for what is right for human rights, for equality, and having the courage to speak up and not giving up. The fight for justice and for equality for all continues as far as I’m concerned.
Thank you so much, all of you; Daniel, Yudith, Ariel, and Rula, for this very moving session and informative session.