WITH THESE THREE ESSAYS by residents of Jerusalem, the Journal of Palestine Studies presents wide-ranging and varied accounts of the nature of the violent events in that city, bolstered by precise details and copious facts. As close observers of the situation there, Daniel Seidemann, Nazmi Jubeh, and Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian offer granular and often painful descriptions, both from the ground up and analytically, of the Israeli occupation regime’s ceaseless and brutal encroachment on the rights, patrimony, space, and lives of the over three hundred thousand Palestinian residents of occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
These essays present a reality far from the false picture projected by Israel that is generally reproduced by most of the U.S. mainstream media in a mendacious rendering of the situation luridly highlighting the occasional outbursts of Palestinian violence against Israelis. Meanwhile, the massive, daily, grinding violence against women, children, old people, and young men by Israel’s soldiers, Border Police, undercover agents, uniformed police, and armed settlers is entirely omitted. This systemic, legalized, and routine state violence is deployed by a hated alien occupation authority to maintain absolute control over the lives of Jerusalem’s Palestinian inhabitants who resort to rebellion when the pressure becomes intolerable.
Palestinians in Jerusalem want only to live a normal life in their own city. But, as these accounts make clear, Jerusalem is NOT the city of its Arab residents, any more than Israel is the state of all its citizens. For the Israeli government, both belong to the Jewish people alone. In Jerusalem, where it wields exclusive sovereign authority, Israel asserts untrammeled rights over structures above ground, including Muslim and Christian holy sites, as well as the archaeological patrimony that lies below the surface, in a grievous violation of the delicate status quo that had been maintained for centuries. In its own eyes, the State of Israel has absolute authority in occupied Arab East Jerusalem, and only its Jewish citizens have full rights there. Palestinian Jerusalemites are no more than residents, there on sufferance, whose rights, homes, and very presence in the city can be terminated on an administrative whim. Even as Israeli Jewish citizens seize properties from their rightful Arab owners, or take provocative actions that violate centuries of internationally recognized understandings about the holy places, the security of these Jewish citizens is the Israeli government’s exclusive priority.
This is a state of affairs that has predictably produced the unrest that has been roiling Jerusalem since the fall of 2015 and indeed, as Seidemann shows, since much earlier. That unrest has in recent months affected the other occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza and it continues to do so today. Jerusalem has a symbolic and national importance, as well as a religious significance, for Palestinians, just as it does for Israeli Jews. But only the latter’s sentiments and concerns are recognized in practice by the Israeli state, notwithstanding its diplomatic agreements with Jordan, discussed in Jubeh’s essay. Needless to say, in view of a constantly renewed blank check from the U.S. government, the international community’s near-unanimity over the illegality of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem has had little discernable impact on the juggernaut that since 1967 has systematically colonized the occupied eastern part of the city while depriving its Palestinian citizens of most of their basic rights.
The authors of these three essays have been involved for most of their careers in trying to better the lot of Jerusalem’s residents, Seidemann as a legal expert on Israeli practices in Jerusalem, Jubeh as an archaeologist who has worked in and on Jerusalem, and Shalhoub-Kevorkian as a scholar and activist who works with victims of violence. All of them are widely respected for their scholarly and legal expertise and deeply committed to exposing and acting to end the abuses that they chronicle. They offer immediate, personal, and expert testimony on what has been happening in the city, and why.
Cutting through the fog of deception and cant around the violence that has rocked Jerusalem for well over a year, the essays lay bare the true cause of the problem: a brutal attempt to establish one group’s exclusive rights at the expense of those of another in one of the most contested spaces on the face of the earth. Without understanding this cause, and forcefully addressing it, the problem will only get worse, and more violence is inevitable, and with it more suffering, as always mainly on the part of the Palestinian people.