El Doctor Khalidi por el podio.
In order to compensate for my sub-par blogging habits in recent weeks, this report is a prompt one. I have just arrived back at the Augusta Victoria after a long day of running around the West Bank with Jonah. With it being Shabbat in Jerusalem with little to do during the day, Jonah and I made other plans.
We woke up early this morning after a relatively early evening. Jonah’s apartment, located in Baka’a, is in one of my favorite Jerusalem neighborhoods. Although the area can be considered to be “yuppie,” that character allows the neighborhood to maintain the only indie movie theater in Jerusalem. To our surprise, there were screenings on Shabbat, so we went to see Sin Nombre, which is a film I’ve been interested in for quite some time.
We turned in to allow ourselves enough time to sleep, as we were planning on waking up at 7:45am (which is early for college kids). By 9:15am we were in Sheikh Jarrah at the ANERA office where we met my colleague Jamal. Jamal was nice enough to offer us a ride to Birzeit University, the locale for a conference entitled “The Jerusalem Conference: History of the Future.” Birzeit, located outside of Ramallah, is one of the best universities serving the Palestinian community.
There was an excessive amount of introductory speeches leading up to the first panel, which set the schedule off course. According to the timetable, we were planning on staying for the whole morning session. Barely anything in the Middle East starts or ends on-time, I’ve come to notice, so I should have expected as much. I came away from the conference content, however, in that we had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Rashid Khalidi.
Khalidi’s speech alluded to the famous Edward Said book entitled “The Question of Palestine,” with Khalidi adding his own flare of “… and the Obama administration.” Khalidi, as many may remember, is an acquaintance of the president, a relationship which placed Obama in some hot water during the election. Applying the same irrational Fox News logic of the Bill Ayers debacle, Obama was accused of being anti-Israel due to his friend, Khalidi’s politics.
In summary, Khalidi’s speech was riddled with skepticism about the capacity for any American administration to persuade the political actors in the region into a final-status peace agreement. Initially, Khalidi spoke about the surprise that the Netanyahu government felt after Obama’s insistence on the freezing of settlement expansion. This idea progressed to Khalidi’s prediction that AIPAC will soon turn the tables on the Obama administration for taking a hard-line against settlements.
Khalidi expressed a general sense of pessimism regarding the capacity for any two-state solution to be viable in this era. In this way, I feel that he is borrowing too much from Edward Said, who only in his dying days embraced the concept of a two-state solution. However, said Khalidi, if Obama wants to push the idea of a two-state solution, there must be a halt to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank AND in Jerusalem, there must be a full dismantling of ALL settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem and there must be a clear cession of East Jerusalem land in order to allow for a Palestinian capital. It’s hard to speak on the Jerusalem issue, but I can definitively say that Israel will not dismantle Ma’ale Adumim or Gush Etzion, both of which are settlements of over 40,000 residents in strategic positions in the West Bank.
I was surprised to hear Khalidi’s back-handed praise for the American Jewish community. Khalidi was generally pleased with the minute level of opposition expressed by the American Jewish community in response to Obama’s statement on settlements. I didn’t know this, but Khalidi said that 78% of American Jews (or Jewish Americans, whatever you wish) voted for Obama, which, according to Jonah Seligman, was the most widely supportive religious group in the country. I guess we Robinsons weren’t the only family with an Obama bumper sticker in Hebrew.
To conclude, Khalidi criticized the Palestinian nation for its lack of political unity. Why should Obama stick his neck out for a people so divided? “It’s high time,” he declared, “that Palestinians come to a consensus.”
Jonah and I headed out from Birzeit around 12pm, and took a service taxi to Qalandia checkpoint where we crossed back into Jerusalem. Outside of Damascus Gate, we ate some kebab and hopped on a bus to Bethlehem. We were headed to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which is the home of the world famous Ibda’a Community Center.
On the way to Dheisheh, our taxi driver pointed out all of the famous graffiti stencils created by the famous British artist, Banksy. It was great to see some of these pieces that I’ve seen so commonly in books and on the internet in person.
I'm sure you've seen this one before. No? It's Bansky.
Jonah had made contact with a man named Shadi Alassi, who is an administrator at Ibda’a, and had set up a meeting beforehand. We sat down to some coffee with him, and I busted out my video camera. Soon, we got to talking. Shadi had some very interesting things to say, some of which I agreed with, much of which I disagreed with. When the topic of suicide bombers came up, Shadi said that such acts are protected under international law. It’s not an act of terrorism when you are rebelling against an occupation, which removes such an act from the category of terrorism. A man not under occupation (i.e. Osama Bin Laden) would be considered a terrorist if he did the same act, but a Palestinian suicide bomber is not so.
Shadi also brought up the Israeli practice of renaming or translating the names of former Arab towns in former Palestine. He mentioned the example of Tel Aviv, which (according to him) was known as Tal Rabiyah before 1948. I had heard of this before in a discussion with some of my colleagues at ANERA, although I heard a different narrative on my Birthright trip. The name Tel Aviv (lit. Hill of Spring) came from Theodor Herzl’s book Altneuland (Old New Land), and was an abstract application of the title. However, Tal Rabiyah (lit. Hill of Spring) is a direct Arabic translation from the Hebrew Tel Aviv. When we visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, they mentioned that Tel Aviv was a city established entirely by Jewish pioneers in 1909, that it was created from the sand. Palestinians have a different concept of the origin of the city. If anyone can help clarify this issue, please lead me in the right direction.
After our interview (which was incredibly interesting), Jonah and I did a short tour of the Dheisheh camp. We met two young boys who wanted me to take their picture. I did so, and they were so intrigued that they followed us around and continually asked for their picture to be taken. I complied, until ultimately, we reached the end of our walk around the neighborhood.