Jerusalem, Fall 2015: where methods of collective punishment go virtually unchallenged, and where challenging these methods can get you death threats.
On October 1st, 2015, “the situation,” as it is euphemistically called here, deteriorated in Jerusalem and throughout Israel-Palestine. But it was not calm in Jerusalem before October 1st. Before October 1st, arrests of children as young as 8, 7 or even 6 years old were a regular occurrence; families in places like Silwan were being threatened with eviction on the basis of laws that privileged Jews over non-Jews (and were then evicted on October 19th); homes were demolished as punishment, and onwards. But that was all deep in the belly of East Jerusalem, the forgotten regions of “Israel’s United Capital.” The past year did, indeed, feel mostly calm for those of us living in West Jerusalem, until early October, when violence spilled into our parts of the city as well.
Lest I be misinterpreted: I do not mean to minimize the real fear Israelis, myself included, felt and still feel in Jerusalem and elsewhere, in light of the increase in random acts of violence by young Palestinians, mostly from East Jerusalem. Nor do I intend to justify this horrid violence by providing the aforementioned context about the situation in East Jerusalem. I do very much intend to highlight the absurdity and deep, vicious racism in statements like Prime Minister’s pledge to “restore calm and security to Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was neither “calm” nor “secure” before October 1st. What the Prime Minister means is that he will try to restore “calm” and “security” for Jews only. He might as well just say it.
Given that the intention was to restore “calm and security” for Jews only, one of the first measures taken by the Jerusalem Municipality and Israeli government was to establish makeshift checkpoints at the entrances and exits of most Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, treating virtually every Palestinian in this city as automatically suspect. Take, for example, Nadine, a medical student at Tel Aviv University, who happens to live in Issawiya:
Nadine, a med student at TAU, from occupied Issawiya, tells about her experiences at the makeshift checkpoints #CJNV https://t.co/6tGFP9d9LZ—
Mori Rothman-Zecher (@Moriel_RZ) October 23, 2015
It’s collective punishment, by another name. Imagine, for a moment, the Israeli government setting up a checkpoint in Baqa or Talipiyot, West Jerusalem, following acts of violence perpetrated by individuals who lived there. These checkpoints have a limited ability to prevent someone from East Jerusalem who intends to stab someone from stabbing someone. Eventually, they will make it through the checkpoint, and eventaully they will find a knife in West Jerusalem, if that is their murderous intent. So who, then, are the people being directly affected by these checkpoints?
Huda Darwish was one of them. On Monday, October 19th, Huda Darwish, a 65 year-old resident of the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem — right next door to the Hebrew University facilities on Mount Scopus, including the Hadassah Hospital — found herself short of breath. According to her son, this was due to the inhalation of tear gas that Israeli forces had been firing randomly into their neighborhood. Darwish’s son rushed her into his car, and tried to drive her to the hospital. But Darwish and her son were detained for half an hour at the checkpoint before finally being allowed to pass. The Hadassah hospital is usually a five minute drive from where Huda Darwish lived. By the time she reached the hospital, Huda Darwish had nearly stopped breathing. She died shortly after. May her memory be a blessing.
The Response to the Response
Mostly apathy. Mostly, people here in West Jerusalem seem to be returning to their routines. Some have even started to say that the “wave of terror has passed.” But not everyone has allowed for East Jerusalem to be put out of sight, under siege, out of mind. Two weeks ago, a small grassroots group of Israeli activists and concerned Jerusalem residents decided to organize shifts at the checkpoints, at the request of Palestinian residents, and inspired by the years of experience gained by the women of Machsom Watch, whose members have monitored checkpoints throughout the West Bank since 2001, positing that Jews with cameras at the checkpoints have the potential to lessen violations. I have gone on a few of these shifts here in Jerusalem. It is chilling to see how entire Palestinian neighborhoods are locked down, while in the meantime, back in West Jerusalem, life is returning to “normal.”
Imagine if a foreign army made your daily commute look like this #occupation #jerusalem https://t.co/yPBxxvKpwB—
Mori Rothman-Zecher (@Moriel_RZ) November 04, 2015
Another chilling aspect of this story was what happened to one of the activists, an energetic, slender man named Guy, this past Thursday. Guy and two others went to monitor the checkpoint. They were holding no flags or signs, and certainly no weapons: just cameras and iPhones. When he sought to leave, though, the soldiers detained him, and asked for his ID. That part was standard. Virtually every group that has gone to the checkpoints has reported low-key harassment from the soldiers. Nothing to write home about. The next part, though, is where the story turns ugly.
The Response to the Response to the Response
During the interaction, one of the soldiers at the checkpoint filmed Guy, and took his name from his ID Card. Then, this same soldier sent the video and Guy’s information to radical right-wing rapper The Shadow. Let me repeat that: One of the on-duty officers took demanded his ID Card, and then transferred his photo and information to a radical right-wing activist. The Shadow, for the uninitiated, is an Israeli rapper who has made a name for himself on Facebook for writing populist and sometimes fascistic posts. Take, for example, earlier this month, when Richard Lakin, an American-Israeli gravely injured a stabbing and shooting attack in Jerusalem, succumbed to his wounds. Lakin was an advocate of coexistence and tolerance, and The Shadow gloated that this “shows you that no matter how much your are on the left, and do for the Arabs, and sell out and betray your people in name of enlightenment, the only thing that he [the terrorist] will see is a Jew… I hope that his death will be a good morning slap in the face for some of you…” If the undertones of hatred and glee were at all ambiguous in the post, the comments that followed were not: “He needs to be buried in Gaza and people should shit on his gravestone.” Et cetera.
This past Thursday, The Shadow promptly uploaded the video of Guy, with his full name, to his Facebook page, calling Guy a “leader of a group of leftists, anarchists, terror-abettors disguised as a ‘’human rights” organization [sic],” and finishing with the following: “The time has come to stop this absurd circus which is being done at the expense of the Border Police officers and soldiers by a sub-race of leftists who threaten to destroy the State of Israel.”
Shortly, the video was watched over 50,000 times, and the thread filled with hundreds of comments calling for Guy’s violent death, et cetera. Guy soon started getting personal messages such as the following:
Don’t worry, you son of a *****. They’ll come for you too. [Gun icon, Gun icon, Gun icon, Gun icon]
“…you passed the soldiers in peace. But wait, we are waiting for you around the bend, you *** *** ******. Revenge is served cold.”
Is awful and is getting worse. Jerusalem is neither calm nor secure.