On Watching Jerusalem Writhing From Afar

Here goes, then.

As many of you know, this past October, my partner Kayla and I left Jerusalem –after spending the past 15 and six years there, respectively — and moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio (where I grew up from ages 8-16). Why did we leave? That’s a question that we are both still working through, separately and together. It definitely had something to do with burnout. I’d been feeling the claws of burnout in my work and activism for a while, and I can say, with some distance, that the murder of community organizer Baha Nababta hit me really hard. And Jerusalem is Jerusalem is Jerusalem. The past years in Jerusalem, since I moved there in 2011, and especially since the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir in 2014, have been frightening and draining, with sporadic, scary bursts of violence against Israelis, and unending, staggering, and systemic violence against Palestinians.

But it wasn’t just burnout — we were also excited to live somewhere new, to have a new adventure, Kayla having finished up her legal internship and bar exams, and me having finished up work on Kingdom of Olives and Ash. And, as some of you may know, we are expecting a baby in the spring of next year, b’sha’ah tovah. And we felt, at least for the time being, that the right place to have that baby would be in Yellow Springs, and not in Jerusalem. More on that, I think, as this post unfurls. In the meantime, Jerusalem.

It has been strange being far away from Jerusalem for the past few months, and especially strange over the past few days, when the concept of Jerusalem has, once again (once again, once again) wriggled its way back into every headline, every NPR newscast, every political conversation online, and even many real-life political conversations here in Ohio. People have asked me what I feel about what’s going on. Here are some answers I’ve given.

The Political Science-y Answer: The misinformation and double-speak around this issue is staggering. The vast majority of the world already recognizes West Jerusalem as part of Israel. The reason embassies have not been moved there in the past is due to Israel’s decision to unilaterally annex East Jerusalem, which the vast majority of the world views as occupied, and to claim that it is a “united city.” As MK Ayman Odeh put it on Twitter: “If Israeli gov’t wants the world to recognize W. Jerusalem as the capital all it has to do is recognize E. Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine!” This move by Trump and the Israeli government and other various right-wing allies was obscene and noxious and unnecessary and may put the lives of my friends and family members in danger, or may not, but will still be obscene and noxious and unnecessary.

The Confessional Activist-y Answer: It feels awful, and I feel helpless. At least, when we were living in Jerusalem, I only felt 98% helpless in the face of geopolitical awfulnesses; at least there, I could go join a protest against the awfulness, or, more likely than that, ignore the Proclamations and Headlines and Predictions and instead try to survive and be decent, or take part in some small joint action against the daily realities of occupation and segregation, necessary at all times, but all the more necessary in such times. Here, I feel far away, I feel guilty for being far away, for how beautiful and relatively peaceful it is here (and yes, I realize that the peacefulness of Amerikeh is largely an illusion, that the scale and scope of daily violence wielded by this state both within and without is unparalleled in this world, especially under Trump, but also in general — but it is really peaceful and decent here in Yellow Springs). I feel useless.

Then, this morning, in another self-pitying/self-flagellating fit of feeling useless, I remembered this trusty blog. Remembered that most of the time in Jerusalem I used this blog to channel my angrier thoughts and sharpen my gummier feelings and hope that the words might have a digital life of their own (and sometimes I could even hear the echoes). Remembered that when I lived in Jerusalem, I vociferously defended the right of people living far away to comment on and critique and challenge the goings-on in my city, and now that I am one of those people, those far-away ones, that applies to me too. Remembered that I said, many times: if someone genuinely cares about the futures and lives of the people living in Jerusalem, Palestinians and Israelis, then not only do I think it is legitimate for them to speak out: I want it, I need it, I think it is desperately, crucially important.

So, after all of this, which has largely been a rambling preface, to regain my orientation, to regain my voice, what is it I actually want to say?


(1). Fuck the occupation, and fuck the concept of Jerusalem. Fuck the wall, and fuck the stones (which are, ultimately, blameless, given that they are just stones). Fuck the flippancy with which Donald Trump and the Israeli Government have chosen to toy with people’s lives, with friends and vendors and runners and drivers and writers and babysitters and aunts and teachers and grocers and activists and worshippers and painters and loungers and bus station security guards and children.

(2) Jerusalemites are what matter. Not the stones. Not the concept. The human beings who live in the city. Who love the city. Who hate the city. Who cares how they feel? Their lives are worth far more than anyone’s ideas. They all deserve to live in freedom and with equality, which many hundreds of thousands of them are deprived of daily as a result of a cruel, dehumanizing, and inexcusable occupation. And they all deserve to live in safety. And in happiness. And just to live.

(3) I’ll refer back to 2012-me here also:

That’s all for now. I may write more in the coming days. In the meantime, sending love and solidarity to all who are doing the work of creating and protesting and fighting for Jerusalemites.