By Emily Deferrari
At midnight the bells began.
A cacophony of Chinese wind chimes, and hand held bells, and sleigh bells, Sunday morning church bells, the sound of Eastern gongs, large bells and small bells; every bell imaginable was ringing in a great explosion of jubilant madness through the cold darkness.
Slowly the bells ebbed, the barks of the dogs emerged, and the roosters crowed, and before light the muezzin was calling the Muslim to prayer, loud and near. And then the sun came up as if Orthodox Christmas were any other day in Jerusalem.
After that first night, I visited Jerusalem often in the winter of 2010 and though it is held dear by all the “People of the Book,” Jews, Muslims and Christians, and though it is home to the ancient history of these people, it was a divided, divisive and tense city. Differences (bells and ancient history alike) aside, much of Jerusalem echoed familiar themes. The division between the haves and have nots, the displacement, the clashing cultures, the political intrigues, felt much like Pittsburgh on steroids. And just as a tourist can miss the injustices brought upon Pittsburgh’s working class and people of color, so too could a visitor to Jerusalem’s holy sites miss the plight of the Palestinians. As, apparently, has one Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, January 3, 2018, Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, announcing the US embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This was a campaign pledge, influenced heavily by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who finances Israeli settlements and donated tens of millions to Trump’s campaign and inauguration. Shortly thereafter, Nikki Haley, in her role as US ambassador to the UN, vetoed the otherwise unanimous vote for the UN security council’s resolution to recall Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. She then “took names,” as the General Assembly tallied 128 in favor, 9 against and 35 abstaining from a vote that condemned the USA’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The name taking was to determine which countries would no longer be the recipients of US foreign aid. Trump plans to “save a lot of money.”
What can be expected in the wake of this announcement? Reaction from the UN was swift, but what about from the Arab governments, the Israeli right wing and the Palestinian people? What difference will this make for the prospect of peace and justice in Palestine/Israel?
I’m writing this on January 9th, so things may change before publication. So far, the UN has condemned the move as a violation of international law. The Arab heads of state have been outed by the New York Times in their attempt to put on a public face of outrage, while privately supporting Israel’s claims to Jerusalem. The Israeli right wing is emboldened, planning to annex more land and grow the settlements, annexing everything from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This would leave bantustans– isolated Palestinian enclaves — and maintain the Jewish majority in Israel. (“There is blood in the water and everyone is smelling it,” as Shalom Lipner of the Brookings Institution put it.)
The Palestinians have vowed that the US will no longer be party to the “peace process,” as this move relinquishes the “honest broker” facade. Trump’s actions have in reality given a very public face to the lack of support the US has given the peace process over the years. Talks continued while more private Palestinian land was expropriated for Jewish settlements. This has left the West Bank essentially an archipelago of detached communities bypassed by Israeli-only roads. It takes inebriation or magical thinking to imagine a two-state solution arising from the conditions the US has been funding, to the tune of $3.5 billion per year for the last 5 years. And one state with human rights for all doesn’t seem to be on the table.
Palestine has no international champion capable of taking on the quest for human rights. The US has never been willing, the EU is consumed with issues of existence and the Sunni leadership is focused on uniting against Iran. The international community of human rights activists (i.e. us) will need to intensify this struggle. Otherwise the Palestinians will be dealt “some sort of justice,” as a Post-Gazette editorial seemed to think is sufficient. Let’s hope it isn’t similar to the justice meted out to the indigenous peoples in our own country. We need to get to work.
What can you do?
Remain informed. Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada are on-line places to start. Keep your eyes open for local activities. Jewish Voice for Peace and FOSNA (Friends of Sabeel North America) are both organizations active in Pittsburgh. Write letters to the editor in response to news or editorials. Contact your representatives as needed. (There is currently a campaign to engage congressional support to free Ahed Tamimi. If you are unaware of her circumstances, there is much to be found on the internet about her situation.) Get involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS Movement). Finally, encourage yourself to speak up when the topic of Palestinian rights comes up among family, friends and co-workers.
Emily DeFerrari is a member of the local BDS Movement.