Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah: 'Ground Zero'

Yesterday's vigil did not grow in numbers, but it was clear from the people who turned out that it is growing in moral prestige. During the week, J Street issued a statement of support. The world press has begun to take notice. CNN put it well, calling Sheikh Jarrah "ground zero." More important, perhaps, this week's demonstration drew two new supporters, the novelist David Grossman and the head of the Peres Center (and Oslo negotiator) Ron Pundak. Larger scale mobilization is at hand.

And how could it not be? Throwing out Jerusalem Arab families from their homes of more than 50 years, and making way for Jews affiliated with Ateret Kohanim, could not be more revealing of the ethical autism Israelis in Jerusalem have suffered from and the political dangers we are sliding toward. The demonstrations against this are the most perfect way to oxygenate the embers of the peace process.

What other issue so exposes how the security rhetoric justifying military occupation of Palestinian territory since June, 1967 eventually came to cover for a romantic scheme, whose signal event was the annexation of Jerusalem in June, 1967, and the quadrupling of its municipal boundaries? What other stand focuses on the collusion between the Jerusalem and national police and settlement organizations? What stand so dramatizes the importance of East Jerusalem, Palestine's largest city, and its historic commercial hub, as the capital of a Palestinian state? What stand so reveals the pathos of refugees losing property on both sides during this awful century of war, and the importance of moving forward with a sense of reciprocal fairness--the importance of not opening up pre-1948 land claims on either side of the green line? The demonstrators may be a minority in Jewish Jerusalem, but their views still command a majority in Israel as a whole, and they have the world at their back.

EARLIER IN THE week, another event in Jerusalem reinforced the urgency of mobilization. About 100 people came out to the Van Leer Institute to hear a panel of Palestinian entrepreneurs and managers, who explained their frustrations trying to build sustainable businesses under the strictures of occupation. But perhaps the most chilling thing said in an otherwise engaging and cordial exchange between panelists and audience was the point made by both Basim Khoury, the CEO of Pharmacare, and Sami Abu Dayyeh, the CEO of Net Tours: that East Jerusalem is slowly being reduced to another Gaza.

Half the city is under the poverty line, unemployment is unimaginably high among young people, who are dropping out of school in large numbers; street gangs are forming on Mount of Olives neighborhoods; educated people, the sons and daughters of the traditional merchant class, or leaving for Jordan and Dubai. Little by little, Israel is turning the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem into an unexploded bomb looking for a blasting cap. And the explosion, when it comes, will quickly spread to the Israeli Arabs of the Little Triangle, and sweep away the people who were talking to us, by providing Hamas the perfect conditions to grow.

So the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah are about many things. First and foremost, they are calling for sanity.


Potter said...

A man cannot stay at home when this is happening.... Avrum Burg

It's good to see David Grossman there. Perhaps other "old timers" will also show up to lend even more weight.

Thank you for these reports.

Anonymous said...

First time here -- though I always read your posts at TPM (I would have left this comment there if the registration process didn't keep goofing up on me).

Sometimes your posts on Israel are the only thing keeping me from renouncing my Judaism (as if that were really possible), so tired and disgusted am I with so much of what Israel has become. I see I'm not the only one feeling that way and I'm heartened.

But that's not what brings me here today. It's my identity as the mother of a boy with autism -- I'm writing to correct you. Autism is a complex developmental disability that limits the person's ability to use language and comport themselves in socially appropriate ways. Autism has nothing to do with "ethics," it is not at all equivalent to sociopathy, which is what you appear to be trying to express.

What you wrote is misleading and insulting, I'm sorry to say. Individals with autism are as ethical or not as the next person, as smart or not as the next person, as tall or short as the next person, and so on. Just as a person with a different disability, say blindness, can be ethical or not, smart or not, tall or not. I'll give you that autism is sometimes hard to understand, especially for those unfamiliar with it, that's also true for the other "invisible disabilities."

If you want to see an example of a person with autism with exemplary ethics, may I suggest you read the second half of Temple Grandin's autobiography, "Thinking in Pictures"? It's all about her work as the world's foremost designer of humane slaughterhouses. I often say she's the only true shocket in the world these days. And isn't that a definition of ethical?

Ohio Mom

Bernard Avishai said...

My apologies, of course. I meant no offense. In fact my step-daughter has worked with autistic children, and I understand your insistence on precision here. I meant the words in the colloquial sense of, to quote the dictionary, "deficits in social interaction and communication, an extremely limited range of activities and interests, and often by the presence of repetitive, stereotyped behaviors." The phrase "ethical autism" was not meant to imply that autism leads to ethical deficiencies, but that when it comes to ethics, the right seems to suffer from the above deficits--you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

I knew what you meant but worry that others will not. Some groups are able to reclaim the terms that have been used to describe them in less than glowing ways -- I'm thinking here of gays, who are able to use the words "gay" and "queer" proudly -- some are not -- the people we used to call "mentally retarded" now want to be called "intellectually disabled" or "cognitively challenged," because "retarded" has been so misused and is only seen as an insult. It's a tricky thing, these adjectives.

I'll add that I've left variations on this comments on a number of other sites. Using "autism" to mean "sociopathic" seems to be a trend, at least on the left side of the blogosphere. Just the windmill I seem to be called to tilt at.
Ohio Mom

Potter said...

I have the same issues with schizophrenia the organic illness from which my late sister suffered and the way it is used colloquially. My crusade is similar.. over the years. I cringe every time I read or hear it used in a way that it is so often used.

I have to say that the deficit in understanding mental illness in general in our society (western-I don't know others) is inexcusable at this point in time. What is commonly accepted and used in discourse very innocently is hurtful to those who suffer... even if this usage has crept into dictionaries.

In the old days people with mental illness or mental deficiencies were hidden away. Not so anymore. But the shame and blame and ignorance is still with us. I keep wondering how many of those in our prisons are mentally ill.

Bernard Avishai said...

With respect, I have had a good deal of such anguish in my family, mother and father both; I don't think the nomenclature, presumed diagnoses, etc. nearly capture the complexity of what goes on in human souls and psyches. "Shame and blame and ignorance" result from restricting freedom of thought about these matters, including insistence on putting everything in neat, clinical language. Anyway, let's leave it there.

Potter said...

Indulge me- I don't mean anything more than to commiserate with " Ohio Mom". That 's not to say that I object to the usage of these clinical terms, or your usage here, ( which did not affect me) but to their general usage without more knowledge of the illness... which is not saying they should be restricted ( not all- we all use "cancer" knowing well about it). And that was not meant to infer that you are guilty of misuse- not at all. I think though in general the term I respond to, is misused and understanding of mental illness in general ( not you) is all too apparent. At least to me.

Sorry for this tangent.

Shoded Yam said...

Not that its important, but my 3 year old son Gideon, was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism. When the doctor was running down the symptoms, it reminded me of myself as a child. In the 1970's they didn't have a label for it, so they told my folks I had a "learning disability". My son is a very bright and sweet boy, who's freindly and outgoing, and already speaking heberew, english and spanish. Knows his numbers, can do rudimentary addition and subtraction, and wants to do things "right" and shows remorse after having misbehaved and shows empathy when someone else is sad. While all this to the good, I feel an incredible sense of guilt and responsabilty. Having said this, I can assure the above poster that having become acquianted with Dr. Avishai, lo these many months, he most certainly had no intention of offending. While I agree that, others might get the wrong impression, that species does not read this blog and when they do, rarely do they exhibit the sort of comprehension that such a complex issue as autism would require. Ipso-facto, their morons. No amount of elucidation would help.

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