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.


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