It tool about 2 hours to drive from Nazareth to Jerusalem, with a bit of rush-hour near Tel Aviv and major road construction near Jerusalem. On the way you see Israeli Arab towns circumvented by walls. There are dirt mounds or trees to prevent a casual tourist from seeing the walls. Israeli Arabs (Christian and Muslim) make up 20% of Israel’s population. They are never counted in polls, for instance, this week when 86 % of the Israeli’s did not favor a ceasefire, that would have not included Arabs. The discrimination against them is worse than Jim Crow laws in the south, segregation prevents good schools, health services and representation. Israel imposes its own non-growth of Arabs within the nation, they can marry someone from the occupied West Bank, they just can’t bring them into Israel. These new laws are getting worse. Members of the Knesset continually call for these israeli citizens to be expunged from the country.
With great difficulty, because there are no signs, I found the approximate location of the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, wiped from visible history, near the center of Jerusalem. On the night of April 9, 1948, the Irgun Zvei Leumi surrounded the village, after giving the sleeping residents a 15 minute warning to evacuate, Menachem Begin’s terrorists attacked the village of 700 people, killing 254 mostly old men, women and children and wounding 300 others. They tossed many of the bodies in the village well, and paraded 150 captured women and children through the Jewish sectors of Jerusalem. Although the atrocity was publicly denounced after the details had become public several days later, they prevented the Red Cross from investigating the attack until three days later. Ironically, the Deir Yassin villagers had signed a non-aggression pact with the leaders of the adjacent Jewish Quarter, Giv’at Shaul and had even refused military personnel from the Arab Liberation Army from using the village as a base. Deir Yassin is described as one of Menachim Begin’s finest moments. Here is what now exists in its place.
For my last few hours in Jerusalem, I wandered some of the old Ottoman era streets. Not many remain, as Israel tries to build high-rises for all who want to be in the center. I was tempted to yell, “free Gaza”, but then I thought better. There were signs of support for the Gaza invasion.
When I was here a month ago, no one was able to go up to the Dome of the Rock, traditional site of all Abrahamic faiths where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac and from where Muslims believe Mohammed flew to heaven.
And Al-Aqsa Mosque, all on top of where perhaps Solomon’s temple stood, so a very religiously emotional place. I was successful, after showing my passport to 3 police, passing 4 soldiers, then another 10 with helmets, shields and guns at the ready near the top. There was a group of men in front of the Mosque and 2 groups of women also gathered.
One loudly repeated over and over again, “Allahu Akbar”, “God is Great” as others joined in. One would lead until her voice would give out, then another would pick up the chant. I watched as 4 Israeli police stood next to them watching and filming them, trying to intimidate them. No freedom of religion here, but the women were not threatened.
A young Jewish Israeli came up and began harassing some of the Muslim women. He was belligerent and the police asked him to leave. It is the habit of the Israeli police and IDF to let this harassment go on, even to the point of violence before they step in, not to protect the Arab or Palestinian, but the Jew or settler. I heard of the infiltration of demonstrations by the IDF disguised as Palestinians, who will throw stones to get Palestinians to join in, then arrest them. When settlers attack Palestinians, the Palestinians are arrested for simply being there. The IDF have been known to watch while settlers beat old women or kids. The new word for Israeli “extremists” is “the new normal”.
Here is the view of the wall off in the far distance, as it nears Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinians from work and olive trees. According to the United Nations, 85% of the annexation wall is built illegally inside the West Bank, annexing roughly 10% of its land. Palestinians say “to seize an olive tree is like a confiscation of memory”.
Sitting across from the “old city” of Jerusalem, I hear the countless churches ring their bells at 6pm. They are chiming me away until next time. I leave in the morning at 3.30am, with hopes of not being pulled aside or harassed at the airport. It would not be a pleasant way to say farewell.