Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just Jerusalem: A Response to Elie Wiesel

Prof. Elie Wiesel recently published a very moving one-page ad titled "For Jerusalem" in several major newspapers. In it he states that for him Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews, is above politics and so it should remain.

Many people were upset by the tone and the content of the letter. Debra DeLee, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now wrote that she was "saddened" by Prof. Wiesel's intervention. In her words, "to follow your advice - to indefinitely postpone Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over Jerusalem - amounts to a future of blood and tears for Israelis and Palestinians alike. It is not a prescription for trust and hope, but for perpetual strife." (For the full wording of the letter see HERE)

Member of Knesseth Yossi Sarid wrote in Haaretz that he read Prof. Wiesel's letter "with interest" but he found it more informed on the heavenly Jerusalem than on the earthly one. (See HERE.)

Myself and other colleagues and graduate students at Boston University, where Prof. Wiesel holds several prestigious academic appointments, have been worried that our colleague may be squandering his considerable moral capital by investing it in a doubtful cause.

One of my colleagues forwarded to me the following open letter from friends in Jerusalem. It speaks for itself. The open letter was authored by a group of Jews who have been demonstrating in solidarity with Arabs evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

From Jerusalem, an open letter to Elie Wiesel

Dear Mr. Wiesel,

We write to you from Jerusalem to convey our frustration, even outrage, at your recently published letter on Jerusalem. We are Jewish Jerusalemites – residents by choice of a battered city, a city used and abused, ransacked time and again first by foreign conquerors and now by its own politicians. We could not recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.

Our Jerusalem is concrete, its hills covered with limestone houses and pine trees; its streets are lined with synagogues, mosques, and churches. Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women aand men, who prefer to see their city as a symbol of dignity, not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the Celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one.

For more than a generation now the earthly city we call home is decaying and disintegrating under the oppression of its own idealization. Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet your homecoming is made possible by our commitment. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.

Indeed, your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First, because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries of today’s Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. Feigning to unify an ancient cit, they created an unwieldy behemoth, encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem. Extending from the outskirts of Ramallah in the north, to the edge of Bethlehem in the south, the Jerusalem the Israeli government foolishly concocted is larger than Paris. Its historical core, the nexus of memories and religious significance often called “the Holy Basin”, comprises a mere on percent of its area. Now they call this artificial fabrication ‘Jerusalem’ so as to obviate any approaching chance for peace.

Moreover, your attempt to keep Jerusalem above politics amounts to divesting us of a future. For being above politics is being devoid of the power to shape the reality of one’s life. As true Jerusalemites, we are dismayed when our beloved city, parts of which are utterly neglected, is used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation. All the while, they franticly “Judaize” Eastern Jerusalem in order to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition.

We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will see that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You will see the grosss inequality in appropriation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their houses to make room for a  new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality’s refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.

We, the true residents of Jerusalem, can no longer endure the fantasies of those who love our city from afar. This-worldly Jerusalem must be shared by the people of the two nations residing in it. Only a shared city will live up to the prophet’s vision: “Zion shall be redeemed with justice.” As we chant weekly in our vigils in Sheikh Jarrah: “Nothing can be sacred in a city of occupation!”

                  Just Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah) Activists
(A request for a conversation with Prof. Wiesel on this matter is pending.) 

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