Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 15: Two States, One March

A drawing on the Separation Wall 
Something unprecedented, but long overdue, is planned for July 15 in Jerusalem. What isn't new is Solidarity and other peace organizations marching in the center of the city for Palestinian independence. What is new is overt cooperation with East Jerusalem Palestinians, who this time will be marching alongside Israelis. It is hard to know how the police, or settler organizations, will react.

The biggest hedge against violence is numbers, and peace activists in Jerusalem itself are greatly outnumbered by rightists. The more people (especially from Tel Aviv and Israeli Arab cities) show up, the more impressive and peaceful the march is likely to be. It is a little creepy, I know, to urge others to demonstrate when you are thousands of miles away. All I can say is that, were Sidra and I in Jerusalem this summer, nothing could keep us away.

Friend of this blog, David Shulman, writes about the march here. The Facebook page is here. David writes in part:

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...

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.

And yet the peace camp is not dead. A joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative is planning a counter-march—under the banner “Marching for Independence”—on July 15 of possibly historic significance. The numbers will be much smaller—maybe 2,000 or so, if the organizers are lucky—but the meaning of the event will certainly transcend the bare numerical count. Something quite new is under way in Palestine. September is getting closer, and with it the possible proclamation of the Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Even if the United States casts its veto in the Security Council against Palestinian independence— a paradoxical move, given the official and long-standing American support for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders— the reality on the ground may begin to change.