After last night’s dinner, the trip feels properly started. The whole group is together, and last night we shopped for groceries and prepared our meal. Before we ate, I said justice which was well received by the group. I was glad people were interested in recognizing the labour and trade conditions behind the food we were eating, and also our privilege of in being in Jerusalem – a luxury not afforded to many who have a far greater right to be here than us.
One thing that keeps coming up is the difficulty of naming – where is “Israel”, where is “East Jerusalem”, where is the Green Line (you’ll have to consult google maps – you can’t see it in person, and it isn’t on most modern maps of Jerusalem that you’d buy here)? What is happening when you appeal to “the reality on the ground” – isn’t that a form of submission to military conquest, a legitimization of the annexation of territory by the use of force? What does it mean when you walk through a district in downtown Jerusalem and it looks like Yorkville? And what about militant groups not associated with state power, are they “terrorists”, or “fighters” or “paramilitaries”, and are their actions “resistance” or “terrorism”.
Of course, I have opinions on all of these terms, and how I think we should use them. But, I think it’s more useful sometimes to ask about the use of terms as a question – and if there is going to be a debate, to debate the manifold meanings of the terms rather than simply asserting which is correct. If there is one thing I want to impress on others on this trip, it is the need to apply the same standards to different situations – which means distinguishing between the relevant features which characterize a happening, and it’s infinite particularity that of course makes it “different” from every other happening.
Yesterday we walked by the King David Hotel, but didn’t stop. Personally, I found this conspicuously un-political, but also offensive because it is a place of personal significance for me as well as historical significance for the founding of the zionist state. The hotel was used as central offices in the British Mandate administration in Palestine, and was bombed by the Irgun, a right-wing zionist paramilitary group, on the 22nd of July 1946. My grandfather on my mother’s side was deployed in mandate Palestine at that time, which means that he very well could have been in a briefing at the hotel when it happened (though luckily he wasn’t), and he certainly would have known people who were hurt or killed in this bombing.
I think it’s disingenuous to come to the state of Israel and not recognize that it was formed in violence – violence against British forces attempting to keep the peace between Jews and Arabs in a region where traditionally they have lived peacefully alongside each other, and violence against Palestinian Arabs who were murdered, terrorized, and forced off their land creating the largest refugee problem in the world (near to 5 million). It’s also a lie to claim neutrality – the facts themselves are not neutral because as soon as they are put into a narrative, those events and stories can’t help but be grasped in terms of moral failures – which means listening can’t help but be judging, and while it is useful to suspend judgement and provisionally not take a stand, it is a mistake to think that not-stand-taking isn’t already playing a political role in this region – specifically one of acknowledging and de facto legitimating the status quo.