Thomas Abowd, Issam Nassar and Diana Buttu
Transcript No. 421 (14 November 2014)
14 November 2014
The Palestine Center
Moderated by Omar Fayez, Jerusalem Fund Board Secretary
Dr. Subhi Ali: Our last panel of the day is probably on everybody’s mind as Jerusalem has been and continues to be a core issue. Recently, it has been in the news and I can’t tell you – I’m from the District of Jerusalem – how many times Jerusalem has been leveled down, only to rise again. I’ll leave the rest to the panel. “Jerusalem: A Core Issue” will be moderated by the Secretary of the Board of the Jerusalem Fund – Mr. Omar Fayez. Omar is a young, Chicago lawyer. He is a very active member of a lot of organizations, including the American Bar Association, the Arab-American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. He has been very interested in human relations and human rights. More importantly, for a young lawyer, he serves as a pro bono counsel for several non-profit organizations. Pro bono means you do it on your own dime and you don’t get paid. Whenever some of these organizations have a tough problem, to my knowledge, usually, they go to Omar. He has published on legal and political issues extensively and he will moderate the last panel.
Omar Fayez: Thank you, Dr. Ali. I think youth is in the eye of the beholder. Those days are long gone. Today’s topic is “Jerusalem: A Core Issue.” Historically, there’s probably not been a more significant city in the world when it comes to political issues, since the days of the Crusades all the way to today’s news. You see a lot of issues that go on in that city. It’s a city that has been in constant turmoil over the last 40 years, even though we don’t always see it going on in the news. We can’t forget what’s going on there: the constant displacement of Palestinians that are from Jerusalem, that are legal Jerusalem residents, who have been denied their own rights, as well as their own houses and continually being removed. Today, we even see more of this going on. Secretary of the State, John Kerry, recently commented, calling it, “a potential fire that could go out of control.” There has been a dramatic spike in violence by people in Jerusalem against Palestinians that live in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount has been recently closed, and for the first time since 1948, the Jordanian government withdrew its ambassador. To think of all of the things that have gone on in that area, for the first time for that to happen, you know there’s something significant happening there.
At the very question of Palestine, geographically, symbolically, politically, economically and socially, is Jerusalem. A city that could not be more divided, despite being under illegal annexation by Israel. So today we are going to talk about what changes have taken place in Jerusalem in the past, the present, and even the future, and what rights are going to be afford to Palestinians and how to protect them. Today, we have three very, very phenomenal speakers. I thank everybody for staying for the last panel. I know it can be a long day and it gets a little warm, but I assure you that these are going to be three dynamic speakers and they’re going to have a lot to say.
Our first speaker is Issam Nassar. He is a Palestinian historian of photography and the Middle East. He is also a professor of history at Illinois State University and a research fellow at the Institution of Jerusalem Studies in Jerusalem. Our second speaker today is the well-renowned professor, Thomas Abowd. He is a professor of anthropology and Arabic at Tufts University. He received his PhD at Columbia University and currently has a new book that I encourage you to look for, Colonial Jerusalem: The Spatial Construction of Identity and Different. A very well written book and something that I hope we can have him back here for a book signing later. And last, but not least, and my favorite, because she’s simply a lawyer like myself, is Diana Buttu. If you haven’t heard of Diana Buttu, you have not been using the Internet very often. She’s a lawyer who specializes in negotiations, international law and international human rights, and she has been all over the place. You could not find a better person to look out for you. She has written extensively and she works hard. She graduated from the University of Toronto and she received her degree in law from Queens University, an LLM from the University of Toronto, a JSM from Stanford and an executive MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. She’s been a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard School of Law, as well as the Stanford Center for Conflict Resolution and Negotiation. Her resume is unparalleled. I encourage you to meet her after this panel as well. So let’s get to the meat of this, you didn’t come to hear me speak. I’ll start with Professor Issam Nassar, and welcome.
Issam Nassar: Thank you, and thanks to The Center for this invitation and for this amazing conference. I’m a historian, so I’m afraid I’m going to be taking you into history for a little bit, but it bears a lot on the present. Jerusalem entered the twentieth century as a multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious city. It was in fact a city. It was the city in Palestine, not only because of its religious sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but also because it was the administrative capital of the District of Jerusalem in the Ottoman Empire. It had in the early decades of the twentieth century, a growing number of schools, organizations, centers of learning and eventually, a vibrant newspaper publishing scene. Memoirs from people who wrote from that period – Jews or Palestinians – give us a glimpse of just how open the city was. In fact, we learn, for example, that the naming of the Old City into quarters named, Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, was really a policy of the British. That did not exist before. Holy places were open for everyone. Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock was a cultural center where people went for a place to meet, to sometimes listen to music, to talk, to have lectures, and to have picnics. These people were not Muslims only, they were all members of society. The ban on the entry of non-Muslims to that side was also a British policy that was introduced a little bit before 1920.
So in a way, in contrast to what we have today, it seems that we had a city and now we don’t. We lost, in a way. Not only, as Palestinians, we lost Jerusalem and we lost all of our properties. We were expelled and not allowed in and et cetera. But as a city, it lost what made it a city. It lost its center. It lost its places where people connected together. And since the late or the second half of the nineteenth century, Jerusalem grew outside of the walls and new neighborhoods were built all over the place. Some were predominantly Jewish because they were built like Mea Shearim with funding that came particularly to build a neighborhood for ultra-orthodox Jews. Others were individual projects where people just moved outside – be it Christians, Muslims or Jews. And the result is that by the time 1948 approached, Jerusalem was a vast city. You can see right here, that’s the old city [refers to slide]. You can imagine Jerusalem was a vast city with various neighborhoods – mixed in some cases and in some cases, less mixed – but at least living next to each other, cooperating on one level or another. And then in the UN Partition Plan, the vision for Jerusalem was that Jerusalem would represent a special district under international control and the Jerusalem that was defined was a lot larger. Again, the Old City is merely a small dot in the middle.
But in 1948, particularly, a lot of that was lost. Not only was the city partitioned at the time between Jordan and the newly created Jewish state, but also demographically, it changed. It lost its center and it lost its attraction to bring people to interact together. On the Jewish side, I would say it was replaced by Tel Aviv and on the Palestinian side, maybe now, it’s being replaced by Ramallah, but I’m not sure. In April 1958, the fighting was very strong around Jerusalem and we know about the massacre committed in Deir Yassin. The massacre of Deir Yassin was on 8 April, 1948. By the end of April 1948, Jerusalem was already divided, practically on the ground, even before there was a declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. The southern and the western suburbs of Jerusalem fell under the control of the state of Israel and in the process, by the end of April 1948, about 30,000 Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, had fled Jerusalem or were expelled, partly by fear and partly by physical attacks, to the parts of Palestine that were under Jordanian control. When we think of the question of Palestine, in general, we tend to think of a number of issues including statehood, status of Jerusalem and settlements, but we also tend to think about refugees.
Our image, at least in the Palestinian national discourse is one core issue that has been the refugees. Refugees are often defined as those people who lived in refugee camps, who lost their villages, orchards and what have you. But we don’t actually have any room in our Palestinian national narrative, for the few hundreds and possibly thousands (there’s a debate about the number), about the Palestinians that stayed in the parts of Jerusalem that fell under Israeli control. Just to give you an idea, there is an area called Mandelbaum Gate. This was the house of a rich Jewish man named Mandelbaum [refers to slide], which is now a UN building, and this was the only crossing point between both sections of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. And that crossing point was only for diplomats – European foreign diplomats – and United Nations workers. On occasion, the Israelis would allow some Christians from the Galilee to cross for Christmas into Jerusalem and then come back. Generally speaking, this was a gate that served, as far as the people of Palestine were concerned, as a one way road exit from what became Israel into the Arab World, or into the Jordanian control of Palestine, and never to be able to return. This was basically the checkpoint itself at the time based on a diary I found by this man who died in the early 1950s, Jeryis al-Salti.
Jeryis al-Salti was one of the few people who stayed in his neighborhood, known as Al-Baqa’a. Al-Baqa’a is a southern neighborhood of Jerusalem that fell to the Israelis, to the Haganah Forces at the time, practically by 29 April 1948. Salti kept a diary in an old notebook. He changed the dates up and he wrote about what he did everyday. Outside of this context, it’s probably the most boring diary with stories about how he found cucumbers in the market and stuff like that, nothing important. But within the diary, you see and you feel the desperation of this particular situation, of this Palestinian population that was left in between – they were not with the refugees or with the rest of Palestine and they were not really in the Jewish state. They were excluded from the Jewish state in every possible way. These are images of the attacks on West Jerusalem. These are the Palmach force [refers to slide], a Zionist paramilitary group attacking the village of Ein Karem. This is an actual image of Palmach forces attacking Al-Baqa’a forces, particularly, the area I am talking about. Just to give you some images to break the monotony, these are images from Al-Baqa’a. This is the family of Zanamiri who built a very fancy home with Bauhaus architecture and this the home today as it continues to stand. This is a picture of another family and this was taken on the 29th of April 1948 and they are in front of their home. They look like they’re going on a picnic but in fact they thought, “Since they’re so many attacks, maybe it’s time to get away for a week.” So they are taking their stuff with them and going to stay with their relatives in the eastern part of the city never to return to this day. Salti stayed with his family there. This is a picture of the Dajani family that stayed there as well.
Now, Salti gives us a glimpse of how impossible it was for a Palestinian, a non-Jewish person, to live in West Jerusalem. Salti basically informs us that for the whole year, he did not start writing in ’49. His diaries are lost – I was only able to find that 1949 notebook. And in 1949, starting on 1 May, he says, “A year ago I was doing this and that, and then all of a sudden all the people of Baq’a were gone.” Then he starts to narrate his story gradually, through which you learn that for the whole year he did not leave home much, except for extreme necessities. Most of the time he was keeping low because if the Israeli forces found him, it was possible that they would just grab him and especially his male children, and throw them across Mandelbaum Gate into Jordan. That happened to his eldest two children. In fact, he gives us details about how the army or the police would go around in their neighborhood at night with a loud speaker telling people, “Who wants to go to Abdullah?” meaning who wants a ride to go to Jordan. He also tells us all sorts of details about the paramilitary forces and Jewish immigrant quarters, who would just come into their neighborhood basically and take any empty house, or in some cases force people out of their homes and take over. Lots of details about people who were killed, about attempts to have contacts with the Jordanian side. [Refers to slide] this picture is of Beit Safafa, a village near Jerusalem in the south that was partitioned between Jordan and Israel. People would meet here at the fence early in the morning, before the Israeli soldiers would come, in order to exchange things most of the time, mostly letters. In some cases, Salti and his family played an important role in going to homes to fetch a mattress, for example, for someone who was on the Jordanian side and had nothing to sleep on, or some clothes or some of the hidden gold in the house and at the same time to receive food that apparently was not available in the market in Israel at the time, including cucumbers and seeds. He was also fond of his liquor, which was not available at the time. We have full descriptions of how those quarters would come into each neighborhood and even remove tiles from the bathroom in order to sell them.
So, we have a full description of a major tragedy and people trying to hide basically, living their lives as if they were nonexistent. I think the most important elements to remind you is of one of the interesting things that I’ve never known until I saw this diary. At some point in the summer of 1949, the Palestinians who were scattered – Salti says 200 people, but Rochelle Davis who spoke this morning put the number at 700, Ben-Gurion in his diary put it at 2,000, so whatever the number is – were all gathered from several neighborhoods in Jerusalem and were placed in this area that was designated as Zone A. Zone A was supposed to be an area where Palestinians were placed; they could not leave unless they got permission and they could continue to live their lives in the same way. Area A under the Oslo Agreement functions like this in one way or another with the exception of president and all sorts of officials that Area A has. There, they took the homes of other people, other Palestinians who left, and they had to pay rent to the state. They were granted rights to stay there and their identity cards were renewable every three months. Now, Israel is going back to this. They are talking about Jerusalem identities being renewable every ten years. So the things that suggest that from what we’re seeing now, is nothing new obviously, and it should not even be called the peace process. This is because what we have, with the creation of Area A, is really a repetition of the same policies that the Israelis had. And it is not only in Jerusalem by the way, Haifa and Jaffa also had their Area A. Basically, after the zone was cancelled and they attempted to return to their own homes, their own homes were now occupied by Jewish settlers. They could not claim their homes and they could not return to the homes they were supposedly renting at the time from the so-called “guardian of absentee property.” That would be the reason for the Salti family in 1951 to leave. They basically had no place. Their homes were gone on both sides. In the zone they were no longer theirs to own and their original homes were completely gone.
I guess in a way of conclusion, I would like to say that what we have today in terms of settler violence, taking over of homes and the ability to disrupt the very fabric of Jerusalem as a city, has a very long history. Within our conflict it has a long history associated with Zionism, but has been undertaken since 1948. It is not separated from the very structure of power that created this, and did this, in 1948.
So, in conclusion I will just read you the paragraph written by Salti on 23 October, 1949. He says, “It is now 6:45 am and as I lie on my bed next to the window, I can see the Jews outside coming and going; I say to myself when will the people of Al-Baq’a return to their homes?”
Thomas Abowd: Thanks to the organizers and my fellow panelists. Thanks everyone for coming out. This paper is entitled “Colonizing Jerusalem, Still.” What I want to begin by saying is that though, as many of you know, it’s not typically the lens which Jerusalem or Israel/Palestine is examined through. Increasingly it is, what I want to argue today is that it is important to understand Israeli governance in fact as colonial governance, Israeli power as colonial power. The major dynamics and the major ingredients of this form of power will be perfectly clear to some of you already. But the ways in which space is used and the ways in which certain kinds of racial policy, that imbues Israeli law and Israeli governance is crucial to the constitution of colonial power. In other words this is not just about leveling a sterner rebuke against the Israeli state. I think analytically and scientifically it works. It describes what’s actually been going on the last 67 or 68 years under Israeli rule and before that of course, under British rule. So, issues relating to space and the racialization of space are really crucial here. This is done by Israeli planners, officials and citizens in all sorts of ways. Through changes since ‘48 in the land law, through discriminatory housing policies that many of you are familiar with. Through pronouncements. Through what I call the weaponization of myth, the kind of conversance of biblical myths with national myths that constitute a certain kind of Jerusalem and make it appear as though it’s not only ruled exclusively by Israel but should be, as taken for granted, normalized, naturalized and landscaped in Jerusalem that Israel has continually perpetually tried to create. It’s also done through silencing the past and silencing other inconvenient histories which my colleague has begun to articulate very nicely, and in interest of time, we’re going to move through this very quickly. Of course Jerusalem, especially in the corner of the western world that we are a part of, is represented in a very peculiar way as if it were a sort of magical place, a place that only had religious dimensions. Particular kinds of religious dimensions, national elements and national claims of the city, particularly among the Palestinians, are often negated or effaced. It becomes a kind of representation that is deeply and radically depoliticized. It is the kind of portrayal or representation that Edward Said, who we will be getting to in just a few moments, referred to as, “A representation that exists outside of history,” and many of you are familiar with those sorts of representations.
Looking at Israeli power as settler colonialism has its importance because settler colonialism is varied and diverse. But really at its core, it differentiates itself from other forms of colonialism through a kind of logic of elimination. That is the replacing of one people with another. The Israeli effort at state building since ‘48 and even before with the pre-state institutions like the Palestine Colonization Association (some of these settlers were honest, they were settlers who called themselves settlers) saw that they wanted to create a polity in which the Palestinians were not there. It wasn’t about conquering the land and then exploiting the Palestinian labor, although Palestinian labor has been exploited, it was more about just getting rid of the Palestinians. That’s a marker of settler colonialism. This has begun in recent years to be discussed more and more. There are journals now and books increasingly written about Israel/Palestine that talk about it in this way. But actually, if you go back into the 1970s to look at some of the trailblazing scholars, who began to look at Israeli governance as colonial governance, you would have to start perhaps with this very important work by the French scholar Maxime Rodinson, who is a Holocaust survivor. He is one of the finest historians of the twentieth century. He was a leftist and also an anti-Zionist Jew. He was the author of a book that really got many people outside Palestine/ Israel thinking along these lines titled Israel: The Colonial Settler State?. He answers it in the affirmative because he looks at the history of the kibbutz movement, the Moshavim and Kibbutzim and implicates them very deeply in the efforts to conquer the land of historical Palestine. That book I believe came out in English in ’73.
Drawing from my colleague’s excellent analysis, a few minutes ago, I wanted to look at colonial power and the way colonialism produces and racializes space and try to also connect past and present. Because after all, as we know, the past is not even past; Faulkner said that I think. And it’s true, the past is not gone, it’s not even past. One example that I am going to show, it will have to serve not simply as anecdotal, but as emblematic, is the home of Edward Said’s family in the neighborhood called Biyah. This was taken about fifteen years ago and the fate of this home and the transformation of this home, which was seized from the Said family in 1948, tells us a lot, I think, metaphorically about the transformation of Jerusalem under Israeli governance. This home, where Said was born in 1935, was also the site of displacement, where he and his family – actually the house was in the name of, I believe, his father’s mother – but he describes it as sort of a place where the extended kin network lived when they were in Jerusalem. They were displaced in 1948 and it was seized by the emerging Israeli state. In recent years, though, it was originally given over to different families in Israel and then in the 1980s it was given over to a Christian Fundamentalist Evangelical group called the International Christian Embassy. It was a Christian Zionist organization that raises money for the state, has an anti-Semitic theology, you know the story. But in recent years, actually in the last five years, it was sold off to two brothers, who live in New York and who have dual American-Israeli citizenship. It was transformed from the house into a multi-story apartment complex of luxury apartments. You can see maybe, perhaps, the first two stories of the original house. But what was done to that house and the transformations, I think, metaphorically, say a lot about how Jerusalem has been expanded and radically reconfigured and I want to say a little about that.
I want to suggest, in other words, that Israel’s efforts to normalize and naturalize the contemporary spatial order in Jerusalem, under its sole control since ‘67 and the methods used, can be read in the transformations of individual Palestinian homes, like the Saids’. I see in these hundreds of altered homes and Issam was right, in West Jerusalem alone, there were hundreds, if not a couple thousand Palestinian homes that were taken in this way. I see in these homes that have been largely lost, although the residents haven’t given up their claim to it. But I see them, not simply as individual cases of theft or approbation, but as ideological artifice, metaphors for the manors in which Jerusalem has been more broadly transformed. How does this work? And what does this have to do, what do transformations of places, individual homes, parts of cities, the entire city itself, have to do with Israeli colonial knowledge production? Well, for one, I draw a couple of important parallels, I think, for one, like the city’s urban landscapes: only the Jewish state, or those with licenses have the authority to make structural changes to these dwellings, like the city more generally. Palestinian authorship of or claims to individual homes are, in important ways, silenced or negated. And we see this every day. Think of Orient House – do you remember Orient House? That last little shred of what the Sulta was supposed to have squeezed out of the Israelis and also to have a sort of symbolic presence in Jerusalem. It was closed down 15 years ago in 2001, right after Faisal Husseini passed away.
By the way, there is a myth, when the Said family owned the house; they rented it out for a short period, to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. The one remnant, the one trace of the former home that the new developers have developed in these luxury condos is that they kept the old Martin Buber mailbox with his name in Hebrew and in English and have retained it. Not Edward Said’s mailbox, but Buber’s. And of course it carries with it a great deal of cultural capital to say, “I lived in the house where Martin Buber lived.” Interestingly, Buber never lived in the stolen Said home, that’s a myth that has been bandied about. But after 1948, he, who was opposed to a Jewish state, stayed in the Jewish state and was actually given another home in Talbiyah, namely this one, owned by the Sununu family just down the street. And there he lived from ‘49 until his death in ‘65. And I’m writing about this now, there are a lot of ways in which his home was described in the popular Western press and how the home never mentioned it was a stolen home. And by Sununu, the Sununu family, I mean of course John Sununu, his grandfather owned this house. He wasn’t born there but he became governor of New Hampshire and Mitt Romney surrogate. But at any rate, it doesn’t change the fact that the family lost the home.
Another parallel I see between the ways these homes have been reconfigured and the city itself has been changed, is the noteworthy parallel between the reconfiguration of these homes and the changes done to the city more broadly relating to boundaries. As with alterations and expansions of these Palestinian homes, – that is building on top of it but still retaining the idea that this is an Arab home sometimes or a home that existed before ’48 – the Israeli-drawn borders of Jerusalem have proven malleable as well and are changing and shifting as we speak. You can build four stories on top of the original home that is an Israeli property, you can add 20 floors. Interestingly, the New York Times correspondent based in Jerusalem lives in one such home, the home of Ghada Karmi, which was taken from the Karmi family in ‘48. And the New York Times built a third story onto a two-story home and this is where the present, and I guess back to Tom Friedman, correspondents have lived in this stolen Palestinian home in the neighborhood in West Jerusalem. But the borders are also emblematic of this because as Israel has shifted and redrawn the boundaries, and it’s done so several times in the course of the Wall, which I’m going to talk about a little bit more, is expanding the city still further.
There’s an interesting paradox at work because the city has been once said to be eternal, immutable, unchanging and at the same time, the Israeli state is perpetually changing the city. So the black line is the new course meant to be the new course of Israeli exclusively-held Jerusalem municipality. Essentially, in Jerusalem, the barrier is a wall. I don’t know what kind of defense this is, but many people who defend the divide, or the barrier say, “Well it’s actually a fence, it’s not a wall.” As if that made it any less illegal. But in fact, around Jerusalem, and it’s almost completed, it is in fact a wall: a concrete wall. Well, that wall, unlike the originally Israeli-drawn municipal boundaries, which are much smaller, let me show you on this map [refers to slide] – the map on the far left is Jerusalem as Israel redrew the boundaries in 1967. By 2005, as the Wall around Jerusalem becomes almost complete, you have the new planned wall that exists; that is meant so Israeli officials aren’t timid at all about saying that everything that falls within the wall is going to be Israel’s eternal unchanging capital. Let’s not forget that Oslo, as a formula, set up this spatial arrangement of Areas A, B and C. Many people don’t understand that Jerusalem was actually in Area D or in Area J. It was one of these issues that was meant to be final status issues with negotiations that were to be completed in 1999. A long time ago, what happened in the course, say between the early 1990s during Madrid and 2014, is that the Palestinians did not secure settlement freeze; and the Jewish settler population within Israel’s unilaterally drawn boundaries, just about doubled from 100,000 to about 200,000 settlers. And many of the settlements that you see today such as Har Homa, the expansion of Pisgat Ze’ev in the eastern part of the municipal boundary were thickened and bolstered, precisely during the period of Oslo.
Let me just say, in conclusion that ten years ago in June 2004, that the International Court of Justice ruled that the Wall, or the barrier that Israel is building, is in violation of international law, that it had to be dismantled and the international community has the responsibility to see that the wall is torn down. This was an advisory opinion; it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But it was acknowledged internationally to be a violation of international law. I will leave more contemporary conditions to my next colleague, Diana Buttu, who will talk about them. Maybe at this point, because of time I will leave it at that. Thank you.
Diana Buttu: I first want to thank the organizers for inviting me, I want to thank The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center, I want to thank the board, and I most particularly want to thank you for staying for a long and full day.
My comments today are going to be about contemporary Jerusalem and what’s actually happening today. I just arrived late last night from Palestine, from Jerusalem, and I’m hoping to be able to impart a little bit about what’s going on over there.
What I want to talk about today is how the Oslo Agreements, and in particular the negotiations process have managed to do two things to Jerusalem: one is to put Jerusalem on the table as an issue that is supposed to be “negotiated” while at the same time taking Jerusalem off the table as an issue that is not to be negotiated. And the way that this has been done over the course of the past 21 years was first to include reference to Jerusalem in all of the negotiating documents – which I’m sure you’re very well aware of – through the Declaration of Principles onwards, and that came at the insistence, of course, of the PLO.
But, given that Israel controls Jerusalem, it has successfully managed to put into place measures to actually take Jerusalem off of the table and to create both physical barriers as well as demographic barriers to remove Jerusalem from the negotiating table and make it a fait accompli. One of the first physical changes that has been carried out was of course something that happened way back in the 1950s with the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and then later with the annexation of Jerusalem post-’67 and the redrawing of municipal boundary. That physical change ended up having a great deal of demographic changes, which I will talk about shortly. But alongside the change in municipal boundary that happened, which Tom was kind enough to leave a map up on the board for you there, alongside that physical change of the redrawing of the boundary, is one issue that the Israeli government has continued to put in place since 1967: the unstopped building of an expansion of Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. Now the building and construction of these settlements has not stopped since 1967 and it’s not at all surprising that during this last round of negotiations, when the Israeli government was announcing 13,000 new housing units, many of those housing units are in the Jerusalem area. It’s also not surprising that the Israelis continue to insist upon building the E1 area that is specified up there; although it lies outside of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, it is also a means to take Jerusalem off the table.
The other issue, the physical structure that has been put into place in Jerusalem in order to take it off the table was and is the Wall that has been built and continues to be built in East Jerusalem and the environments of East Jerusalem. This physical wall is both designed to mimic the municipal boundary of Jerusalem, but also designed to take in more Palestinian land. But, in addition to taking more Palestinian land, what the Israelis don’t want is more Palestinians. So their policy of erase and replace has been something that they have been doing since 1967, indeed, since 1948.
Now these physical barriers that have been put into place – first the redrawing of the municipal boundary, the second being the settlement construction, and third being the Wall that was put into place – have actually created a bureaucratic nightmare, in fact, bureaucratic warfare, for Palestinians. This bureaucratic warfare has been increasing since the start of Oslo in 1993 to the point where bureaucratic warfare has turned into bureaucratic terrorism. What I mean by that is that the first bureaucratic measure put into place came in 1967 when Israel redrew the boundary and expanded the boundaries of Jerusalem; it was forced to take in thousands: 66,000 Jerusalemites living in those areas in which Israel took over. These people were given Jerusalemite ID’s, being “permanent residents,” not citizens of the state of Israel but merely permanent residents, given the right to reside in Jerusalem provided that they show that Israel, not Jerusalem, remains the center of their life. The residency can be revoked at any time if another citizenship is established or if the center of life is no longer Israel. And we saw that between the period of 1967 up into the current day more than 14,000 Palestinians, including 4,577 Palestinians whose residency was revoked in the year 2008 alone, and 106 whose residency was revoked just last year. Now the reason this is important is because Israel is treating Palestinians as though they immigrated to Israel, rather than Israel coming to the Palestinians. And so once again this policy of putting people under a system of bureaucratic warfare.
The second form of bureaucratic warfare came in the 1990s with the signing of the Oslo Agreements. Before that time, prior to the 1990s, Palestinians – it didn’t matter from where they were, if they were from the West Bank, Gaza, or from the north, et cetera – had the ability to live in Jerusalem. But in the 1990s with the signing of the Oslo Agreements, suddenly Palestinians were pushed out if you didn’t have a blue – meaning a permanent residency – card; you were no longer allowed to be a resident within Jerusalem, which meant that you were either forced to move further into the West Bank or remain in one of the areas that is not within the municipal boundaries, or leave entirely.
From the 1990s onward, the Israelis then instituted a new policy called “Family Unification” which meant that if you were in such a situation – you were a West Banker married to a person who has permanent residency, who has a Jerusalem ID – you had to apply to the Israeli authorities to be “unified” with your family. This process, up until 1994, was only allowed for men because the Israelis believed there was no reason for a woman to be bringing a male into Jerusalem – that wasn’t something that goes within Palestinian culture. The specific quote is that, “The wife follows her husband, and therefore there is no reason to grant status to the male spouse.”
In 1997, the Israelis, then, changed the procedure. And the procedure became that rather than the spouse getting permanent residency, if they had applied for Family Unification, they were now subject to a new procedure of what’s called a “Graduated Permanent Residency” in which they had to renew their status every six months. So, you can imagine every six months you have to go back to the Ministry of Interior, prove that you’re a resident, prove that Jerusalem is the center of your life, et cetera. 2002 comes along, the Israelis freeze all Family Unifications citing “security reasons” but they generously, and I’m being facetious, indicate that they are going to allow a procedure for men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 25 to apply for this temporary permanent residency once again. Now, I’ll have you know given their “generosity” that of the hundreds of applications that they’ve received, so far only 33 have ever been granted. This means that Palestinians who are married, who are in this mixed marriage – and I’m not sure why we call it mixed given that they are all from the Occupied Territories – are either forced to do one of two things: they’re either forced to leave and live in the West Bank or remainder of the West Bank, or, the spouse is forced to, kind of, go underground. There are many, many stories I can give you, and examples I can give you of spouses who have chosen to live in Jerusalem, but who have gone underground. For those 33 families who have managed to be so successful in getting those temporary permanent residence permits renewable every six months, there are a number of conditions placed on them: simple things like not being able to fly out of the airport, another thing like not being able to drive in Jerusalem or in Israel. Little things, as I said, bureaucratic warfare turned into bureaucratic terrorism.
But a third measure that has been imposed on Palestinians I think that a lot of people don’t necessarily know about is that the Israelis have also recently been instituting a policy of revoking health benefits to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. In the case where you cannot demonstrate that Israel is the center of your life, in the case of your health benefits, as long as you don’t demonstrate that Jerusalem is the center of your life then your health benefits can and will be revoked. And so you can simply see that in the past case of a family who tries to seek some type of unification – somebody from the West Bank marrying someone from East Jerusalem and they’re obviously not given a residency permit – they’re forced to live in one of the areas, Ramallah, et cetera. The minute the Israelis find out that their spouse is living in Ramallah or Bethlehem, et cetera, their health benefits get revoked which later becomes the first step to getting their residency revoked.
So all of this is a form of bureaucratic warfare/terrorism that the Israelis continue to impose on Palestinians who are living in Jerusalem on a daily basis. And I just want to share, very quickly, two short stories with you: one of them is of a family who is living in the Qalandia area, not the checkpoint area, but further away from the checkpoint; I’m sure you all know of Qalandia. This is a man who is a schoolteacher who, in 1967, was away from his home – he was actually getting married when the Israelis came around during the time of the census. Although his entire family ended up getting Jerusalem ID cards, the Israelis refused to give him a Jerusalem ID card. He was eventually granted a West Bank permit, West Bank ID card, and was living in his house in Qalandia for many, many years. Then suddenly, the Wall comes. And when the Wall came, he was now, technically, “illegal” in his own home because the Wall is behind him, he is on the Jerusalem side of the Wall and so he needed to, and he still needs to, apply every six months to have a permit simply to stay in his own home. The problem doesn’t stop there. Although his wife has a Jerusalem ID, his children have Jerusalem ID’s, his brother (who actually lives in a house that’s further, deeper into the West Bank) has a Jerusalem ID, he still remains the sole person who has a West Bank ID. Because of the fact that he’s not allowed go outside from his home to go into the West Bank, the Israelis have erected a special gate to get into Ramallah that he has to press the buzzer whenever he wants to go through Qalandia to be able to do any of his basic shopping, et cetera.
Another story that I want to share with you, and it’s my last one because I’m running out of time, is the story of a family who also is in the same situation where the male is a Jerusalem ID holder, his wife is a West Bank ID holder and they live in the Bethlehem area, but technically within the boundaries of Jerusalem. His wife got pregnant and had a baby but was unable to get to any of the hospitals in Jerusalem to have her baby and instead gave birth in her home under a very dire situation, calling in a doctor, specialist, to help her with the birth. The doctor who helped her have the baby is a Palestinian doctor licensed in the West Bank, and sure enough she had the baby. One would assume the child would be able to get Jerusalem residency – no. When the family went to go apply for residency for this child, the Israelis did not believe that the baby was the daughter of this particular couple, and so, in order to get her registered, her lawyers had to go through the process of something you usually see on Maury Povich: get a DNA test for the daughter to prove that she was indeed the child of this man who holds Jerusalem ID.
All of this is to say that these day-to-day measures that we see happening on the ground are simply designed to get rid of Palestinians, to erase and replace, as Tom had alluded to. This is why we are now seeing what we’re seeing when it comes to the al-Haram al-Sharif, particularly when it comes to the Temple Mount Faithful. This is a group, that has as its specific aim, the destruction of the Haram, and the Israelis have managed to transform this into an issue of prayer – the right to pray on a holy site. This is a group that has been paid for by the government, receives government funding, and settlers are actively trying to replace the very holy sites in Jerusalem. It’s due to this process of both the settlers and the bureaucratic terrorism that I described, as well as the physical structures that have been in place that the Israelis have managed to successfully take Jerusalem off the negotiating table. In fact, most of what you hear today by a lot of pundits, excluding maybe the people who are speaking here today, all of them, is that we simply have to accept this situation on the ground and that these settlements that are here to stay – you hear a lot of this. My big answer to this: just in the same way a settlement can be created, a settlement can be uncreated and we have to continue to be pushing for the un-creation of these settlements. Thank you.
Thomas Abowd is an urban anthropologist and historian who received his Ph.D in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University in 2003. His book on spatial politics in contemporary Jerusalem, Colonial Jerusalem: the Spatial Construction of Identity and Difference, was published in 2011 by Syracuse University. In 2006 he received a Post-Doctoral Research Award from the Palestine-American Research Center (PARC), to study housing politics in contemporary Jerusalem. From 2008 to 2009 Dr. Abowd was the recipient of a Faculty Fellowship from the Humanities Center of Wayne State University, to continue research on housing politics and housing-rights activism in Jerusalem.
Issam Nassar is a Palestinian historian of photography and the Middle East. He is professor of History at Illinois State University and a research fellow at the Institute of Jerusalem Studies in Jerusalem. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley in 2006; Bradley University in 2003–2006 and al-Quds University in 1998–2003. Nassar is associate editor of Jerusalem Quarterly and author of a number of books and articles, among them European Portrayals of Jerusalem: Religious Fascinations and Colonialist Imaginations (2006); Different Snapshots: The History of Early Local Photography in Palestine 1850-1948 (2005); and Photographing Jerusalem: The Image of the City in Nineteenth Century Photography (1997).
Diana Buttu is a lawyer specializing in negotiations, international law, and international human rights law. Early in her career, Buttu worked as a legal adviser for the Negotiations Support Unit within the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, serving as the only female on the team during her five-year tenure. She was a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School. She also held a fellowship at the Stanford Center for Conflict Resolution and Negotiation. Buttu holds a BA from the University of Toronto, a JD from Queens University in Canada, an LLM from the University of Toronto, a JSM from Stanford University, and an executive MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.