One State, Two States, Three States, Four – or More? & The Language Question

Say the US now agrees & the UN Security Council resolves to recognize a Palestinian state. What happens next?

Do the Arab Palestinians & the Jewish Israelis then hold referenda to decide whether they want two states or one?

What if one side decides one state & the other decides two?

If one side decides one state because it feels it has a demographic majority which will give it superior power over the minority, then the other side should not agree, unless it feels it will relatively soon have, and retain, a demographic majority.

Or three states? I have a vague memory that maybe Sayed Kashua once suggested something like this, anyhow, now Arad Sharon has suggested it (in a post on Facebook): a secular non-nationalist state of all its citizens of Tel Aviv & Haifa, with “room for anyone who believes in peace, the rights of the other, public welfare, & proper relations with the peoples of the world, without difference of race, religion or nation”; a nationalist-Messianist state of “Jerusalem & its periphery”, for “those who prefer to continue with Bibi and a government of the extreme right & to go on engaging in nationalism, graves of the forefathers, religious/nationalist Zionism, etc.”, & a “state of Palestine to be established in the territories occupied in ’67 & in Gaza”.

Or maybe four? Cantons rather than states, maybe: secular,  Arabic-speaking; secular, Hebrew-speaking; religious, Islamic; religious, Judaic? So maybe more – add a Christian canton, a Druze canton? & maybe Arabic-speaking & Hebrew speaking yogic cantons, Rasta cantons, etc., etc. ? Mightn’t a cantonal system based on life-styles be an interesting civic innovation?

Still, however far I take such imaginative flights, I come back to the language difference.

So, say a majority on both sides agree on one democratic state of all its citizens.  Then, I imagine, this would have to be a truly bi-national state, with equal rights of national self-determination for all citizens.

Why this proviso? The lines in the meme below (I felt I just had to make it a meme) should make it clear. I thinks that if we can imagine a resolution for this issue, we can then go on to the next, which in some sense is its corollary – the right of return.

palestrine crop

So: two equally independent national cultural autonomies in one state, with equally (per capita?) resourced independent national school systems, cultural institutions?

Or one educational system in which classes are held in both languages?

Or: everyone will have to learn the language of the other?

Maybe a federation of two states makes more sense ? Like Canada, say, or Belgium – in principle (because in practice I hear things don’t always go so well there). You can choose to live in the Hebrew-speaking part or the Arabic-speaking part. You can move freely through all the land. The federal laws apply to all residents of the federation. The state laws apply to all residents of the states. Sounds OK so far.
The federation will have an army but the states will only have police? I can’t see either side agreeing to this. & with other shit happening in the Middle East, surely every state needs an army.

So first there’d have to be trust between the majorities on both sides. There’s the rub. Can such trust be built upon what exists now: the mutual fear, resentment, suspicion, hatred, etc., etc.?
Perhaps, through committed interactions between people from both sides, even while the majorities & their leaders are pulling in the opposite direction. It would have to build into a ground swell of people who are unwilling to continue maintaining the status quo…

I again think Jewish Israelis who want to advance a solution might want to think along the lines of a Sulha Party, like the one I imagined in The Sulha Party Poem.

But hey, I don’t know, I’m just imagining…

Two Nations, Two Languages, Two Cultures, in One (Little) Land: A Short Preamble, & 2 Translations — of a poem by Tamer Massalha, & of a Facebook status by Ayala Shalev in which she shared Tamer’s poem

A Short Preamble

I’ve written about these things before (see IsraelandPalestine), but now they seem to be getting clearer, to me at least. It’s also clear to me that a two-state solution, with a “State of Palestine” limited to the territories left to the Arab Palestinians since Oslo, is no longer viable, if it ever was. But it’s becoming equally clear to me that only a two-state solution (which need not be based on territorial division) can fulfill the emotional & spiritual needs of the people of the two nations that live (in terrible inequality & inequity) in this little land. & the reason for this is that these people have two different languages, two different cultures, with all their symbols, etc. I see all these images of Palestinian protesters waving their flags, & of Israelis waving theirs, but the crux of the matter goes deeper, & it begins with language, the first of all these things that people need to feel they belong to a nation. & apparently most people do feel this need. Could two nations do this in one state? Perhaps in time, if some sort of cultural autonomy were assured for both.  But more probably, it seems to me, before such a time, the Arab Palestinians will need to feel at long last the dignity & pride of national independence, & Jewish Israelis will need to feel (also at long last) the dignity & pride of no longer being oppressors.

How a just two-state solution could be achieved is still beyond me: I have not yet been able to imagine it, & have not seen any imagining that comes close to offering anything practical. But if I believe in anything, it’s the power of the imagination. & so I continue to contribute what I can to the discourse on this issue — sometimes my own thoughts, sometimes translations of writings by others that I feel add to our understanding of what is at stake. Today I’m publishing two translations — of a poem & of a Facebook status that deeply & very movingly touch on the core of these issues. The poem was written in Hebrew by Tamer Massalha, & was translated by him into Arabic.  (My English translation follows, & can also be read separately here.) I found it on Facebook, where it was shared  by my friend Ayala Shalev, who also wrote a very moving status about her experience of reading the poem with a group of Jewish & Arab adults who meet together regularly to discuss matters relating to their shared life in Israel in Palestine.  I’ve also translated that status, & it appears below the poem. It can also be read separately here.]

The Hebrew original, as posted by Ayala. The Arabic translation appears below my English translation

The Hebrew original, as posted by Ayala. The Arabic translation appears below my English translation

The Muezzin’s Prayer / Tamer Massalha

A voice that sounded like the Muezzin’s praying
called to me between the words of my poem:
Who is it that’s there?
It’s me, Imam, I replied to the prayer,
Your son who’s lost in the web of Hebrew,
who suffers from its curvings and its lack of will
to carry my pain for me.
But who is it that shackled Arabic to you, my son?
And why will you sing in a foreign tongue?
Who is that tore the word from the place
and exiled the Arabic melody?
I replied, my voice a choking rupture in my throat,
The Naqba, Imam.
It was the Naqba that expelled my language
to beyond the border,
and since then, my father, I’ve been tracking my pain
in the foreignness of the Hebrew language.
And how do you lament, my son?
How do you lament? the prayer’s voice asked pityingly.
I wait for the darkness of night, my father,
like an illegal inhabitant in his homeland.
like a ghost that steals in at a checkpoint,
like a food-smuggler in the tunnels of Gaza,
like a worker marching to his daily bread,
like a terminal patient on a stretcher in a line
like a husband and wife waiting for a permit at the Wall,
for a moment of family unification.
And when all the poets of the Hebrew language are sleeping,
my father,
quietly… quietly… my dear father
I gather from their poems the loveliest threads of language,
weave from them the flag of my homeland
and hang it, every night anew,
on an electricity pole.
tamer muezzin arab

Ayala Shalev’s Facebook status

Words, words, words… Mountains of philosophies have been written about words & language & still, the power, the representational character & the meaning of words always remains partly subjective & mysterious, not fully grasped. Something that can’t be defined precisely, something you can only understand something about through examples, a little like God, or love.

Our group of adults for joint Jewish-Arab life here met again yesterday, and together we worked on this poem that is attached here – The Muezzin’s Prayer, by Tamer Massalha. This poem threw me – for whom words are such a major and important part of my world – in so many directions, that there’s not enough space, and in any case there’s never enough time to pause over everything, so I’ll lay them down here, the words that filled me, so as to see what picture they’ll return to me.

A Personal Experience
When we were asked to share a personal experience the poem evoked in us, I remembered one time, long ago, more than a decade ago, when I was facilitating a meeting of Jews and Arabs in an activity of the Peres Center for Peace. I remember in particular how astounded I was, then, that the meeting of Arabic speakers & Hebrew speakers was being conducted in English. How can this be, I thought, it’s ridiculous, especially since everyone speaks Hebrew. “We don’t want to speak in the language of the occupier”, they said then, though all of them could speak Hebrew fluently, and only then I began to understand what this means.

Another Personal Experience
In the group there are people who prefer “to do” than “to be”, & one of the proposals for doing that’s always on the table is the matter of signs on the Israel National Trail. I’m not a trekker, so I haven’t seen this myself, but I understand that all the signs along the trail are only in Hebrew, not in Arabic.

During the talk yesterday the matter of signing came up again, from another angle. The disregard for signing. How on signs throughout the country the writing in Arabic is full of errors, distorted names and incorrect spelling of existing names.

& I recalled yet another angle, how, years ago, for some reason, I agreed to go to a meeting at the Shiloh settlement. I think it was the first time I’d been in the [Occupied] Territories. The landscape was spectacular, a truly biblical experience. & within all this beauty I was astounded to see that all the signs pointed only to Jewish settlements, in Hebrew. Every trace of the Arab villages that exist there was simply erased. I remember how horrified I was then. How was it possible to nullify parts of reality like this, what does it say about the people who do this, & how easy it is to do this by means of language.

“There are words,” some Arab friends said in this conversation, “that we, among ourselves, in our everyday speech, will say in Hebrew. We have no words in Arabic for those things”. A shackled language, Tamer Massalha wrote in his poem. & I recalled conversations I have with my relatives in the USA, in English, which I speak very well, yet there’s not even one time that I don’t have the feeling that no matter how precise I am, it will never be as precise as I can be in Hebrew, my mother-tongue, my language. A feeling of sadness & loneliness & helplessness. True, it passes, it’s momentary, but it’s always there, that moment of knowing that there’s no chance that they’ll understand me truly, in English, the way I intended. Because a language is a culture & a history & a society, & when the language doesn’t develop, when it’s shackled, that diminishes the culture & the history & the society.

Haneen Zoabi
& so the conversation came to this disputed woman. Zoabi, said one of the Jewish participants. Say Haneen, an Arab woman corrected him. & I thought: how is it that she’s insisting on something that to me seems like a diminishing. When I see that in the newspapers they refer to Tsipi Livni as “Tsipi” and Isaac Herzog as “Herzog”, I see it as a classic expression of male chauvinism. And here, it’s the opposite. Another little instance of a different language, behind which is a representation of a different culture. A different understanding of the nuances of the language, which in the best of cases produces friction, and in the worst – war.

Our discussions are conducted entirely in Hebrew. Initially we were strict about translation – whatever was said in Hebrew was translated into Arabic, and vice versa. But as the relationship developed & trust was built, we understood that this complication slowed us down, and we remained with “if something’s not understood, it’ll be translated into Arabic”. And for me, every time I hear them speaking that soft language of theirs – with its sounds that I’ve found pleasant from encounters since I was 18, but I’ve never been able to make time to learn it – for me it always brings sorrow. & appreciation. I respect & appreciate them for their deep knowledge of my language, & am sorry I don’t have such a knowledge of their language. There’s a statement there, in the fact that there really isn’t a common language.

“Death and life are in the hands of language”, it says in Proverbs (18.21). Aha. Exactly.

A new word I learned yesterday. It has no equivalent in Hebrew, as far as I know. “It has to do with music”, the friend who taught me the word explained. “it’s when you fully enjoy music, you’re entirely in the music, you reach a transcendence through music”, he said, searching for words to describe it. & I felt a new field opening up in my mind, & I started to sprout this word there. Tarab. It’s like tarbut [the Hebrew word for ‘culture’], I thought. A culture of music. & in this new field, this connected for me with the well-known saying that the Eskimos have lots of words for snow, because snow is so much a part of their lives. & here, opposite us, there’s a culture that we don’t trouble to know, and indeed we even seem to do the opposite.

This was a powerful meeting. A meeting with others, with other opinions, other ways of looking at a shared reality, a collision of concepts. & nonetheless, & above it all, we already have such a cloud that cannot be defined precisely, that we can only understand something of it through examples. A little like God, or love, or Tarab.

For other posts with translations of Ayala Shalev, see Hope for Palestine[..]? & Identity?


I tweeted this (my third tweet ever!)

twet wewhohow

today, after Facebooksharing the Spiegel interview with Naomi Klein:

to which I then added two comments:

comments wewhohow


& that’s how I came up with #WeWhoHow!

Because it’s
who have to

(the global corporate oligarchs with all their power&profit-ensuring international threaties [that was a typo, now it’s a deliberate ‘double word’ choice] & institutions won’t, so it’s #WeWhoHow! who have to…)

imagine & communicate
organize & activate
regulate this capitalism
cut these emissions
reinstitute honest social welfare
delegitimize this neoliberalism
improve our Earth’s condition
end all “national” or “religious” warfare

(models might be like the people’s organizations in Spain that gave rise to Podemos, or similar organizations in Greece to Syriza, or in Delhi to the Aam Aadmi Party [AAP]; & see also the essay in The Monthly by Tim Flannery &  & Catriona Wallace,


A friend of mine, in life (although we now live in different countries. many years) & on Facebook, posted a status that moved me. I told her that, in a comment where I also said it was beautifully written. & I’ve also moved to translate it & to comment some more on it. I’ve inserted some comments into the ‘body’ of the translation — in italics & inside square brackets — and a few more at the end, for now…

ayali id

When I set out in the direction of Taibeh in the afternoon, to a meeting with a group of adults, the five o’clock news was on. The newsreader reported in her nonchalant voice about the Prime Ministress of Denmark, where something it seems is no longer rotten, who scolded our Prime Minister for calling on the Jews of Denmark to migrate to Israel. “The Jews of Denmark have been living in Denmark for centuries”, she said, “they’re part of us, and we wouldn’t be the same without them”. The newsreader went on to other matters, but I kept musing about what she’d said. I wondered if Danish Jews are more Danish or more Jewish, and I thought that really why should they leave their country, their birthland, the house of their father, their language, and come to another country, a foreign one, so different from theirs.

Then, at the meeting, the facilitators scattered pictures on the floor in the center of the circle, and we were asked to each pick a picture that connects us to some event in our lives. After the minor flurry of activity we sat down again, each of us with a picture,  in silence, as is customary. The first to speak was one of the Arab participants. She told us about another meeting she had taken part in, where she”d responded to the commonly-used designation “Israeli Arab”. “I’m a Palestimian”, she told us she had said there, “an Israeli Palestinian”. There were diverse responses and the discussion went to all sorts of places: the difference between citizenship and nation; between religion and nation and what does it mean when in our I.D. cards there is no [indication of?] citizenship or nation[ality?] or religion [!!! on my old ID card it says (in Hebrew): NATION: JEW !!] Who determines a person’s identity? He himself? The surroundings? & can you impose an identity on a person?; & perhaps identity also entails a process of development, & we don’t necessarily hold on to the same identity in different stages of our lives [I think this is so true.]; &, just a moment, what’s the difference between an Arab identity & a Palestinian identity? & can one have more than one identity? & perhaps there’s a complex identity? [Yes!]; & who profits from the tracking of identity & passing on the separation between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Arabs?

& I, most of the time I kept quiet, & listened, & looked at the expressions of the people who spoke, & I saw the fervor they spoke with, or the cautiousness, or the confusion, & the new understandings that began to sink in, & I recalled another Prime Minister, from long ago, he was called Joseph & he was Prime Minister of Egypt, just this morning I’d read about him, in the book of Genesis, chapter 42, when he said to his brothers/[attempted]murderers: “& Joseph said to them on the third day: “Do this & live, I revere God”, and I wondered what his identity was, & how my identity connects both with him & with the people in this room.

I like the way these three paragraphs connect, & I especially like the meditation on identity & its many aspects that it both reports & evokes. The questions it raises are profound & I think the more more of us ponder on them the better for all of us.

As for the “separation between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Arabs” — I think we can guess who profits from that. But I have a different take on this as well: I think the Israelis are Palestinians too. After all, Israel is in Palestine. So in Palestine now there are Arab Palestinians and Jewish Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, & (more than four million) Arab Palestinans who are not Israeli citizens & … (well, you know) & then there are Arab Palestinians who don’t & can’t live in Palestine & … (you know that too)… & Jewish (Israeli) Palestinians who don’t live in Israel in Palestine, etc. etc….

… Habermas (84!) + some thoughts on a Podemos(We Can)-like social democracy

Viva Jürgen Habermas (at 84!)! now ‘criticiz[ing Germany’s] Social Democratic Party (SPD) for supporting – both in opposition and now in coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel – the “drastic treatment” she forced on crisis countries – & warning them that ‘the Merkel government’s investor-friendly approach is damaging to democracy’, while its technocratically sustained ‘hegemonic position’ in the EU ‘has ‘built up huge resistance against Berlin […] and . . . has created an explosive situation,” he said.’ & he said a few other things too… (I’ve copied the above from the intro I wrote to my sharing of the article below on Facebook. To read the article, click on the photo or the article’s title.)

I’ve only recently begun to understand (I think) how in our time most governments aim to serve the interests of the investors, the corporations, not those of the people who elect them. I understand this is what is called Neoliberalism:
Neoliberalism[1] is the resurgence of ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism beginning in the 1970s and 1980s,[2][3][4] whose advocates support extensive economic liberalization, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. (Wikipedia)

Reductions in government spending: at the expense of education, health, social welfare, culture, sport & whatever is in the interests of the public, their electors. This is called austerity. What it means is deprivation, impoverishment, on all levels of life, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, for multitudes of people of all ages living in such a regime.

So Habermas is castigating them. How can someone be in such a coalition & call him or herself a Social Democrat? A Social Democrat is concerned with social issues, with the real public’s interests, is something (at least) of a socialist — & surely something of a democrat?

This coalition government is not democratic. Although elected by the voters of the country, it does not represent them. It does not listen to them, it does not act in response to their decisions. There as yet exists no system in which the voice of the voters may be heard by those who govern, so there exists as yet no real democracy in any state system in any country. The buds & even some fruits of such a system have begun to appear in two of the poorer countries in the EU, which are among the more struck by the austerity demanded by their “national debt”: Spain (about which I know a little), where I hope the Podemos party will win the next elections & Greece (about which I know less), where Syriza has now come to power. I think that the various “waves” (as the Spaniards call their organizations of people who specialize in different public spheres, such as sanitation, education, health, housing, etc. etc.) & the neighborhood councils (in which chairpeople & office bearers serve for limited periods so as to prevent any corruption) out of which the Podemos [“We can”] party emerged & which form the backbone of its strength are a working prototype of a participatory (rather than a “representative”) democracy that could develop into the system of governance after the present parliamentary system is seen for what it really is, the servant of the oligarchs, the investors, & is replaced by the will of the majority. No violence need be required if before this the majority have elected a Podemos-like government.

But for that to happen you’d probably need conditions at least as bad as in Spain & Greece, & maybe in a few other places. & maybe you’d need a history of some serious militancy and solidarity among the common populace in your country, as both the Spaniards & the Greeks do. I don’t know. If things get bad enough for them, people may move in such a direction. Perhaps by then the Spanish example will have helped to persuade people in other countries. But as things are here in Australia, & probably not a few other places, most people seem to be willing to leave things be. Indeed, laissez-faire. I don’t see many people making a move to change anything in the system. There are activists & people who express their angst or anger at all kinds of injustices the state is responsible for or complicit in. Such people would probably participate &/or such ‘waves’ or ‘councils”, but unless those waves & councils can gain mass support they can do nothing, even in their own spheres.

& Habermas is warning them — while also telling them that there are ‘good reasons to demand greater European integration’, & indeed there are many, apart from peaceful cooperation among the member countries & joint projects for common ecological & other goals — he is warning them that if Germany continues its high-handed forcing of countries it has “rescued” into austerity it will disintegrate (I take the liberty to use this as an active verb here) the EU, & I seem to hear behind this warning a vision of more wars among the many nations of Europe, who knows, maybe a world war (both previous ones, I note in passing, were begun by Germany).

But I don’t want to end on this pessimistic note. & perhaps Habermas’ words will stir the SPD? Anyhow, I prefer to share here two gleanings from the Wikipedia entry in Habermas:

1. Habermas’s works resonate within the traditions of Kant and the Enlightenment and of democratic socialism through his emphasis on the potential for transforming the world and arriving at a more humane, just, and egalitarian society through the realization of the human potential for reason, in part through discourse ethics. While Habermas has stated that the Enlightenment is an “unfinished project,” he argues it should be corrected and complemented, not discarded.[10] In this he distances himself from the Frankfurt School, criticizing it, as well as much of postmodernist thought, for excessive pessimism, radicalism, and exaggerations.

2. Habermas outlined how our everyday lives are penetrated by formal systems as parallel to development of thewelfare state, corporate capitalism and mass consumption.[15] These reinforcing trends rationalize public life.[15] Disfranchisement of citizens occurs as political parties and interest groups become rationalized and representative democracy replaces participatory one.[15] In consequence, boundaries between public and private, the individual and society, the system and the lifeworld are deteriorating.[15] Democratic public life cannot develop where matters of public importance are not discussed by citizens.

If I forget you, East Jerusalem: a response & a translation

The title above came last. Originally it was to be the same as that of the piece I translated, which I found on Facebook today posted by Rachel Elior, sharing a powerful piece by Ilana Hammerman that I felt impelled to translate. Reading it, & then translating it, was for me a way of living — at least vicariously, & for some moments — with some feeling of what the people of East Jerusalem have to live with every day. & appreciating the piece & feelinע the author’s feelings & translating it & publishing it so others who don’t read Hebrew can feel it too, is my response.
& for readers who can & want to read it in Hebrew, here’s the link.

Rachel Elior wrote: To all who think that the occupation is OK & that the Palestinians can live with it & they’ll get used to it as the people in the parties of the right think, please read this piece by Ilana Hammerman:

Freedom of the Individual in the Shuafat Refuse Heaps

Ilana Hammerman
29 January 2015

On my desk lies an invitation to the 2015 Jerusalem Prize awards ceremony in the presence of the President of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem. The ceremony will inaugurate the 27th International Book Fair on the 8th of February. “The Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society” will be awarded this year to the Albanian author Ismail Kadare. If I go to the ceremony, & if I have the civic courage, I’ll raise a handwritten placard in the hall. It’ll say that the Jerusalem Municipality does not have the right to award a prize for the freedom of the individual in society, because it does not respect the rights of the individual of myriads of its residents.

For example, the right of freedom of movement of my Jerusalemite friend. She’s a teacher. The school where she teaches is about five minutes drive from her home, but it takes her a lot longer to get there because her home is in a neighborhood that is enclosed by a high concrete wall. On one side of the wall is the spacious French Hill neighborhood. Not exactly a neighborhood of the wealthy, but its streets are clean, its sidewalks broad, with decorative trees planted in them, and there’s even a bicycle path. When you cross to the other side of the wall, not far from the fortified & cultivated compound of the Hebrew University, your eyes see & your nose smells only ugliness & filth. The alleys are narrow, they have no sidewalks and no traffic signs & no parking places. Trash rolls about in them & piles up here & there into heaps from which stinking black smoke rises. This is the Shuafat refugee camp, which is within the bounds of the Jerusalem municipality. The neighborhood’s residents are the Municipality’s residents, they have blue ID cards [as do all Israeli citizens] & they are required to pay rates.

When my friend makes her way to school, she crosses the wall that encloses her neigborhood through a checkpoint. At times the crossing is quick & at times it’s very slow: every car is checked, everyone in it & all its contents. Not long  ago I crossed the checkpoint in her car, on the way from her home to the university. We were three women in the car, two Arab women & one Jewish. All of us residents of Jerusalem. The soldier at the checkpoint was astonished to see a Jewish passenger. Jews don’t come in here, to this Arab ghetto, &  anyone who does come in and also wants to come out is suspicious.

He demanded our ID cards, glanced at them, and bent down to the window again. & interrogated. Only me: Who am I & where from & for what purpose. I told him that I don’t have to give him any details apart from what’s on my ID card. I’m here in the city I live in, not in an army camp or at an interrogation, & I have freedom of movement. But I didn’t have freedom of movement: the barrier was closed before me & the soldier had my ID card. He looked at me with hostility & ordered us to get out of the car & to take out everything inside it.  We got out & threw everything on the ground, blankets, sweaters, bags & purses. Hurriedly, quickly. Because dozens of cars were stuck behind us because of us. But the soldier didn’t hurry at all. He handed my ID card to his commander, another soldier checked in a computer, another made a call on a radiophone, another went off to eat something. We gathered up our belongings & waited.

For the residents of this imprisoned neighborhood — like the residents of more Eaast Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been imprisoned behind walls & fences &  checkpoints — this limitation of freedom of movement is a routine matter. But this is not the only right of theirs that is infringed every day. They are also denied the right to live in human conditions. The Jerusalem Municipality does not remove the trash from their streets, & does not look after the infrastructures for transport, electricity, water & sewage. Recently four neighborhoods were cut off from the water supply for weeks: Ras Hamis, Ras Shahada, the Shalom neighborhood and the Shuafat refugee camp. All of them, about 80,000 residents, imprisoned behind a wall even though they’re residents of Jerusalem.

But it’s not only the residents of these neighborhoods who are deprived of their rights. Here are some data about the state of human rights in Jerusalem: more than one third of the city’s residents, about 300,000 people, are Arabs. Since 1967 about 14,000 of them have lost the right to live in their city, most of them because they went abroad for several years for various personal reasons. Tens of thousands of others have been denied the right to build a home in their city, for 35% of the areas of East Jerusalem have been appropriated in order to build Jewish neighborhoods. More than 50,000 residential units have been built there for Jews only, while the Arab residents of the city have been given no more than 4,000 building permits.

The rest of the data can be seen with one’s eyes: Jerusalem today is a city with walls & ghettoes & checkpoints at its heart. The Jews mostly keep away from the neglected neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. But there are neighborhoods that they push into, like hoodlums. With the power of finance & arms & with the backing of the police & the municipality  they evict Arab families from their homes & erect fortified compounds, They’ve done this in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan, in Bab el Amud.

Does the excellent author Ismail Kadare know the state of the freedom of the individual in the city whose municipality is awarding him the “Freedom of the Individual in Society” prize this year? Perhaps not. He comes from a long way away. But we, residents of Jerusalem, need to know that the giving of this prize by a city that for decades has denied basic rights to such a large public of people who live within its bounds is a mockery of the ongoing & continually worsening tragedy of this public. It is an impudent & arrogant challenge to the very concept of the freedom of the individual in society.