Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bad Omens, Part II


Later that evening, I joined Jonah Seligman and Adam Ross at their apartment for Shabbat. I stopped at a store prior to my arrival, and purchased a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka for our Shabbat consumption. Within ten minutes of arriving at the apartment, the entire bottle of vodka lay shattered on the linoleum floor sending waves of liquor in every direction. Another guest, who shall remain nameless, accidentally dropped the unopened bottle of vodka. My bad luck persisted. (I also forgot to mention that my toothbrush fell out of my backpack on my walk to the bus in West Jerusalem, a fact that I failed to realize until I needed to brush my teeth.)

Shabbat was a very nice evening, although I was at odds with two of the other guests. Adam had invited two acquaintances who happened to be Brandeis graduates, and former members of the Brandeis Hillel. I described to them the nature of my internship, and they were not amused. As two sheltered Jews living within an insular community (one of the guests bragged that all of his friends throughout his entire life had been Jewish) and considering the decision to make aliyah, they did not know what to make of this kippah-wearing Arab-lover.

During the day on Saturday, Jonah and I decided to attend a tour of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem facilitated by the Center for Jerusalem Studies within Al-Quds University. The description of the tour in the email referred to the confrontation of the “Israeli military colonization,” so we knew we were in for an interesting afternoon.

The tour left from the Ambassador Hotel, and Jonah and I took a taxi from Damascus Gate up the hill since we were running short on time. Once again, my bad luck came into play. As I exited the cab, my keys fell out of my pocket onto the back seat. I realized this immediately, but the cab had gone too far for me to run it down. My only option was to run back down to Damascus Gate and hope that the cabbie returned to his original spot.

I left Jonah with the tour, and ran back down to the gate. I couldn’t believe it, but within 2 minutes of standing at the cab stand being harassed by the various drivers, my original driver approached me to ask if I needed a taxi. I promptly responded, “No” and added, “But did you just drive me to the Ambassador Hotel?” He nodded, and I explained my situation. He led me to his cab and opened the back door. My keys were lying right where I had left them. I guess my luck was changing.

I caught a bus back up to the Ambassador Hotel, and tracked down the tour group. Jonah mentioned that I missed the tour guide’s explanation of the “nakba” (literally meaning ‘the disaster’) which is a politically charged term referring to the relocation of many Palestinians living within the borders of Israel after 1948. The tour guide also used the term “ethnic cleansing” on various occasions to describe Israeli policy against Palestinians. I personally felt that the use of the term was a gross misapplication and inaccurate.

The tour lasted about two hours, and focused primarily on the history of Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood named after Sultan Suleiman’s surgeon who operated on Richard the Lionhearted. The tour guide spoke about the famous Palestinian families of East Jerusalem, the Nashashibi family and the Husseini family. I intended to, although I never had the opportunity to ask her about the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini of the Husseini family.

This man was the primary religious leader in Jerusalem in the early part of the 20th century, and had numerous meetings with Adolf Hitler. At these meetings, Husseini tried to gain Hitler’s support for establishing an independent Palestinian state in exchange for Palestinian troops for Hitler’s campaign in Russia. These troops, as you can imagine, didn’t last too long in the Russian winter.

The tour culminated in what is known as the “Resistance Tent,” a place that houses various victims of housing demolitions in East Jerusalem who are now considered by the U.N. as IDP’s (internally displaced persons). Within this tent, we were told by the daughter of a “militant” and others about the “evils” of Jewish settlements. A question was posed at one point by a presenter; who is the terrorist, the person who defends his/her land, or the person who kicks people off of their land with military power? The obvious answer to these people was the person who kicks people off of their land, i.e. Israel.

Our tour guide at one point used the term “judaization” in reference to the increasing number of settlements in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. I intended to ask her if she was familiar with the origins of this word, although I was again not given the opportunity. The term “judaizer” comes from the time of the Inquisition, and is basically the equivalent of a crypto-Jew, one who practices Judaism in private while outwardly practicing Catholicism. The tour guide was not so good at using the correct application of terminology throughout the session.

My experiences on this tour definitely brought to my attention the capacity that exists on either side of the conflict to manipulate words, facts and scenarios to serve a purpose. In Israel, as I have written about before, everything is political. It is impossible to escape the human tendency to apply one’s own personal views or values when interpreting a situation. Any fact or figure that you hear, especially in Jerusalem, is intended to persuade an individual toward one side or the other.

It is also the case, quite often, that these self-serving accounts exist in the omission. For example, while the tour guide spoke of the Husseini family, she failed to mention that he met on multiple occasions with Adolf Hitler. Such omissions exist on the Israeli side as well. A prominent historical event in pre-1948 Israel was the bombing of the King David Hotel. In modern Israel, no one ever mentions that this bombing was carried out by a Zionist terrorist organization called the Irgun, led at one point by Menachem Begin (yes, the same Begin from the Camp David accords).

I spoke about my experiences on the tour with a colleague in the office who is a member of the famous Nashashibi family. We spoke about the use of the term “ethnic cleansing,” and he directed my attention to the events that occurred at Deir Yaseem in 1948. Deir Yaseem was a Palestinian town near Jerusalem that experienced a slaughter of 107 at the hands of the Irgun. I countered with the citation of the 1938 Tiberias Massacre during the Arab Revolt where Palestinians killed 20 Jews near the Sea of Galilee. He said Israel is a terrorist state, and referred to the recent Gaza operation. I can never defend the violence that happened there, but I disagree with the application of the term terrorist state. Yet another example of the power of manipulating terms to serve a purpose.

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