Two marches, two futures for Jerusalem

David Shulman writes:

One of the oddities of life in Jerusalem is that everyone knows where the future border will run between the Palestinian East and the Israeli West—despite the tiresome insistence of the Israeli government that the city will never again be divided. For example, north of the Old City the line will correspond more or less to what is now called Road Number One, a four-lane road that runs roughly north to south until it reaches the Walls of the Old City, where it turns sharply west just before the Damascus Gate. I drive this road several times a week on the way up to my office at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, and the dividing line between Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods couldn’t be more clear. On the left side of the road, heading north, are the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods Me’a Shearim and Beit Yisra’el; across the street, on the right side of the road, is the well-known Palestinian neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah and the principal Palestinian shopping street, Salah ed-Din. The communities on the two sides of the road receive vastly different levels of investment in education, transport, social services, and other infrastructure.

Despite the government’s continuing attempts to evict as many Palestinians as possible from East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and plant colonies of fanatical Jewish settlers in their place, the line is still very clear. It was thus not by chance that on June 2—Jerusalem day, and the forty-fourth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War—the municipality sponsored and largely financed a mass march in favor of further Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem (and, indeed, throughout the occupied West Bank). With police protection provided by the state, tens of thousands of marchers followed Road Number One south and west into Sheikh Jarrah and then into the Old City. The very idea of dividing the city is anathema to those who organized and took part in the march—although most know very well that there is no hope whatever of achieving any settlement with the Palestinians without such a division. The march was clearly meant as a statement of the right-wing goal of asserting and cementing Israeli sovereignty over the entire city by pursuing the settlement project in Palestinian neighborhoods. As it happens, the marchers also called out aggressive and overtly threatening messages aimed at the Palestinian population and at Israelis who support Palestinian independence that should not be minimized or overlooked.

Most of the marchers were young people, and probably a majority of them were settlers. (The police estimate of the turnout was 25,000, almost certainly on the low side; others estimated over 40,000.) For much of the way, this huge crowd was chanting slogans that, I think it’s fair to say, Israelis have never heard at such a pitch—slogans such as “Butcher the Arabs” (itbach al-‘arab) and “Death to Leftists” and “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel” and “This is the Song of Revenge” and “Burn their Villages” and “Muhammad is Dead” (the latter with particular emphasis outside the mosque in Sheikh Jarrah and then again as the march entered the Muslim Quarter of the Old City). It’s one thing to hear such things occasionally from isolated pockets of extremists, or from settlers in the field in the South Hebron hills, quite another to hear them from the throats of tens of thousands of marchers whipping themselves into an ecstasy of hatred. The slogans call up rather specific memories: I couldn’t help wondering how many of the marchers were grandchildren of Jews who went through such moments—as targets of virulent hate—in Europe. Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City watched in horror, but there were no attempts to meet the hatred with violence.

For nearly twenty-fours hours the settler mob maintained a huge, raucous presence in the streets of East Jerusalem, taking particular delight in marching through the Muslim Quarter at 4AM. Some of the marchers threw stones at Palestinian passersby near the Damascus Gate. The police, who largely stood by while this was going on, arrested three activists from Shiekh Jarrah Solidarity and nine Palestinians protesting in Silwan, of whom seven were children, along with a few settlers.

So here you have one vision of the future of Jerusalem—and, sadly, it looks very much as if the current wave of racist hysteria is only gaining strength in Israel. Moreover, as is usually the case with modern nationalism, the political center and the more moderate right show no signs of attempting to hold back the tide. Indeed, a number of members of the government, which is in any case dominated by settler parties, regularly contribute to the inflammatory rhetoric. What’s left of the old Israeli left is fragmented, diminished, and politically ineffectual.

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