Monday, September 24, 2007

Eastern Jerusalem, NGO Monitor, Defensible Borders and the Importance of a Unified Jerusalem

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to receive a world class tour of Eastern Jerusalem and its environs from Judy Balint, a ten year veteran resident of the city, following her Aliya from Seattle in 1997 (See her books and website, Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times).
The tour was a real eye-opener. Judy took me through Sur Bahir, Jabel Mukaber, Sheik Jarrah, Silwan, and Abu Dis, which is partially within the municipality of Jerusalem, although mostly situated outside the city lines under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority [an interesting side note; Barak had offered Arafat Abu Dis as the capital of Palestine, with the Parliament building (which still stands today) actually closer to the Old City than the Israeli Knesset!]. Judy showed me pictures of what Eastern Jerusalem looked like pre-1967, and amazingly, it was only sparsely populated under what was then Jordanian control. Most of the development in what is now conventionally considered Arab Eastern Jerusalem has taken place since '67, and by the looks of many of the structures, most of the buildings have been constructed in the recent past. What was more startling was the quality of much of the housing. Villas dotted the highlands in Abu Dis and Silwa, and the more middle-class dwellings were far from shabby. Yes, there were poorer neighborhoods too, but part of the problem is self-imposed. The Israeli-Arabs of Eastern Jerusalem refuse to vote in municipal elections and consequently have no representation on those councils.

Har Hazaytim, or the Mount of Olives is also considered part of Arab Eastern Jerusalem, even though it is among the holiest of Jewish sites, where thousands of Jewish graves are located, including some of the prophets and righteous ones from ancient times. The Mount also offers a stunning view of the Old City and Jerusalem to the West. Since ancient times, Jews have always wanted to be buried here, believing that they will be the first to arise when the dead will be resurrected, according to Jewish Scriptures.

Another striking realization was just how close everything is. Bethlehem is minutes away, as is it's adjoining city, Beth Jala. It was from Beit Jala that mortars were fired incessantly-during the height of the second Intifada-into the homes of the residents of Gilo, on of Jerusalem's southernmost neighborhoods. Judy pointed out that since Oslo, both those cities have seen their Christian populations decimated. By varying estimates, those cities had Christian populations as high as 50-70%, whereas today they are estimated at under 30% (some put the number at closer to 12%).

Like everything else in this small parcel of land, Jerusalem is emblematic of the complexities and competing claims for sacred space. But it is easy to understand why a unified Jerusalem is so significant from a Jewish perspective.

Later in the afternoon, I met with Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, author, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, and personal advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. I met with him in his office at the JCPA. Dore Gold is a muscular presence, in physical stature as well as intellect. He shared with me his view that what is of paramount importance to Israel is 'Defensible Borders,' as outlined in the much misunderstood UN Resolution 242 and 'A United Jerusalem.' He pointed out that today, only under a free and democratic Israel can all faiths be protected and safeguarded. With the increasing Islamicization of much of the Middle East, Jerusalem would run the risk of 'Talibanization' were it to be divided. He also explained why rather than being given a platform to speak at the United Nations and Columbia University in NYC this week, Ahmadinejad should rather be brought to justice for violating one of the cardinal tenets of the Geneva Convention; namely, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, established on January 12th, 1951. "The Genocide Convention" defines the crime of genocide, and stipulates that certain acts related to genocide are punishable. One of these prohibited acts is incitement to commit genocide. Indisputably, Ahmadinejad has committed such public acts of incitement. On Oct 6, 2005, Ahmadinejad declared, "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map." Again, in Aug of 2006 he said, "They should know that they are nearing the last days of their lives...Very soon this stain of disgrace (i.e. Israel) will be purged from the center of the Islamic world--and this is attainable..."
And certainly with Ahmadinejad's full endorsement, The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said on Aug 14, 2006, "There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state." While on the one hand denying that the actual Holocaust of European Jewry occurred, Ahmadinejad now calls for a second Holocaust against the Jewish people and Israel.

I also had the pleasure of meeting with the gracious and unassuming Director of NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, also at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He founded the organization "to provide independent analysis and promote critical debate regarding the activities of the NGO network in the context of the Arab-Israel conflict." The soft-spoken Steinberg explained to me that we've gotten a late start in paying attention to this arena. The NGO's have largely gotten a free pass from journalists and the public, because the assumption has always been, if Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch says something, it's backed up by extensive research and documentation. But that hasn't actually been the case. It's as if the foxes have been guarding the hen houses. As Steinberg eloquently puts it,

Officials of powerful NGO's exploit the rhetoric of universal human rights and international law to promote ideological and political campaigns. Instead of careful verified research, "reports" alleging human rights violations, particularly in areas of conflict, have been exposed as based on evidence from "eyewitnesses" and sympathetic journalists. And dozens of radical pro-Palestinian NGOs--supported by European and other governments supposedly to promote peace, democracy and aid--use this funding to demonize Israel.
NGO Monitor is doing critical work in exposing these abuses and they deserve our gratitude and support. Gerald Steinberg is also a Professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, where he directs the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. It was my great pleasure to spend some time with him and learn of the important work his organization is doing.
David Brumer

No comments: