On unsettling ground in Israel

Even after working for years with several deeply knowledgeable, insightful writers to cover the morass known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, perhaps the only thing that’s really clear to me right now is this: It is ever atop the list of the world’s most daunting problems. And while no problem is more fraught with righteousness and political posturing (on all sides), at the heart of it is the long-running battle over facts on the ground. Sometimes that battle is more open, sometimes it is more clandestine — but always the struggle for the land, that seemingly tiny yet politically enormous sliver of it.

Despite my strong desire to see the region for myself, I’ve not yet had a chance to visit. And that’s one reason why Eric Orner’s recent piece, “The Land Grab out My Front Door: A Memoir of Jerusalem in Pictures,” grabbed my attention.

land grab - orner

In a subject realm where anger and outrage are the norm, Orner’s work is an understated and intimate account of what’s happening on the ground in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood, where Orner has been living.

“Israelis call Abu Tor ‘mixed’, meaning both Arabs & Jews live here,” he writes. “This doesn’t really capture the reality of the place, though. Well-off Jewish American ex-pats live in fancy condos at the top of the hill… while Arab families live further down the street as it makes a twisty descent towards the valley floor…”

He goes on to depict what appear to be dubious actions by Israeli authorities to demolish an Arab community that apparently stands in the way of developing “an archeological theme park” in a coveted part of Old Jerusalem. Such a development, Orner notes, is likely to draw lots more “Euro-Yankee tourist Shequels.” (Not to mention what it would add in terms of Israel-favorable facts on the ground.)

land grab2


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Check out the whole piece (at the above link), both visually engaging and eye-opening.

Meantime, while there seem to be some hopeful signs of progress for Palestinians in the West Bank these days, according to a report from the Times’ Isabel Kershner, few people believe that the right-wing government of Bibi Netanyahu is sincere when it comes to the Israeli prime minister’s recent talk of peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has been under pressure from the Obama administration, particularly on the issue of Israeli settlements.

But as Kershner reports, “even senior officials and prominent figures of his conservative Likud Party have been busy explaining, privately and publicly, why they think there is not likely to be a Palestinian state any time soon, in ways that raise even more questions about the current government’s commitment to reaching a final peace accord. And Mr. Netanyahu’s diplomatic turnaround was greeted by a notable silence among the Likud firebrands and hawks, widely interpreted here as a sign that they feel they have nothing to fear.”

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu claimed this week that Jerusalem is an “open city” that permits all its inhabitants, Jewish and Palestinian, to purchase homes in both its eastern and western parts. “An examination by Haaretz, however, presented a rather different situation on the ground,” reports the paper, under the headline “Most Arabs can’t buy most homes in West Jerusalem.”

Haaretz also reports: “Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Tuesday that Israel had an ‘indisputable’ right to build anywhere in Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, following international calls on Israel to halt construction in the disputed area.”

The political picture apparently has grown tense enough that a senior aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — whose country usually displays staunch support for Israel — commented in a German publication that if the settlement building does not stop, Israel is running the risk of “gradually committing suicide as a democratic state.”

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