Palestinian Jerusalem has been gradually disappearing for decades—in literal physical terms, as well as culturally and spiritually—under the constant pressures and encroachments of Israel’s domination, and for the first time the United States is openly abetting and accelerating this process.
Israel captured and Judaized the western sector of Jerusalem in 1948 and, for the half century of its occupation of the Palestinian eastern sector, it has been steadily expanding efforts to empty this sector of much of its Palestinian population and turn all of Jerusalem into a Jewish-majority city. This recent two-part Al Jazeera video, Jerusalem: A Rock and a Hard Place, presents the personal perspectives of several “people in the street” who live in Jerusalem and are daily experiencing the city’s continual evolution. Omar Harami, the executive director of Sabeel in Jerusalem and a lifelong resident whose Christian family traces its origins to the first Pentecost, is the principal narrator.
Because the Israeli occupation is illegal under international law and, until the Trump Administration, the United States never recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the Judaization process in East Jerusalem has moved forward in general with little fanfare and thus little notice from the outside world.
Israeli settlement construction has been gradual over fifty years; Palestinian residency permits have been revoked quietly; thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished with hardly a witness; aggressive Israeli settlers have taken over Palestinian homes and evicted Palestinian families, with police assistance but virtually no meaningful protest; and questionable archeological digs designed to “prove” an ancient Jewish presence have proceeded underground and almost out of sight except by the unfortunate Palestinian families whose house foundations are crumbling.
Only in the last year, since the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has the city’s makeover into a Jewish entity become so noticeable, and US complicity so blatant, that even the mainstream media remark on it. Early this week, blatant complicity by US officials—particularly Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who both identify enthusiastically as Israel-firsters—turned to obscene collusion when these “diplomats” led ceremonies marking the opening of a tunnel under the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.
The tunnel project and associated archeological digs have already caused the collapse of structures at ground level and undermined the foundations of some Palestinian homes. Even the rarely disapproving New York Times referred to the tunnel opening as quite a bit more than the usual ribbon-cutting, as Friedman wielded a sledgehammer to open the tunnel. The Times has seldom noticed Israel’s heavy use of bulldozers to demolish Palestine’s structures, but now seems to believe the use of a sledgehammer will have reverberations both “literal and metaphorical.”
This week’s events occurred after the Al Jazeera video was produced, but the video captures the essence of Israel’s decades-long and recently accelerating conversion of Jerusalem from a multifaith, multiethnic, multi-cultural community into a city of racist exclusivity for Jews. The video presents a human picture of what Jerusalem is like today for its Palestinian residents. A Muslim cleric and Harami discuss the close ties between Muslims and Christians, the Muslim noting that diversity has always been part of Jerusalem’s social fabric, that the city has never been homogeneous with one people or one tribe. This same cleric’s son, however, has lost his residency rights under Israel’s restrictive permit system. Another family originally displaced from western Jerusalem in 1948 is now being evicted by Israeli settlers from its home in the center of the Old City. Israel’s designs on the city are colorfully represented by a rightwing settler who, despite having moved only recently from Australia, claims that he and all Jews were “born in Jerusalem,” that it is in their blood and belongs to them and them alone.
The video (Part 1 and Part 2) offers little hope for the Palestinian future, beyond Harami’s conclusion that Palestinians of all faiths have always stayed together and that, although empires have come and gone in Palestine, the people always remain. This is a thin reed, but those reverberations from David Friedman’s sledgehammer may hold a ray of hope.