First thoughts in Jerusalem

I just got here. I mean, I really just got here. I haven’t even checked in yet, and this place has already laid itself bare for what it is. Again.

The share taxi didn’t take the route I expected from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem – the normal Tel-Aviv – Jerusalem highway snakes up Israel’s within the green line corridor to Jerusalem. It is lined with trucks destroyed in the ’48 war trying to supply Jerusalem during the blockade enforced by Abd Al Qadir’s al Hussaini‘s forces. It passes many Israeli towns built on top of, or out of, Arab towns depopulated in the Nakba. But at least you can say that it is within UN recognized Israeli territory. No, the highway our share taxi took is a Israeli-only road that cuts through the West Bank passing a half dozen Arab villages and a similar number of settlements. If you are part of the social justice protests in Israel and you are wondering where all the construction of houses is – well, you should already know that it’s in the settlements. And you really see it driving along that corridor. But what hit me harder was all the barbed wire, military checkpoints, and walls that separate the highway from what Israel clearly considers to be enemy towns, Arab towns. And this isn’t something you only see if you’re a crazy settler, this isn’t a minority of Israelis that use this highway – it’s a completely normal road. The idea that you can Boycott the settlements without Boycotting all of Israel is proposterous – every firm uses roads that cut through the Westbank. And besides it misses the point, because it isn’t companies that decide to colonize this extra territory – it’s the government, settlement is a state project. There’s a reason it blooms – massive subsidy, as well as investment from rich ideologically motivated capitalists. If you want to Boycott the cause of the settlements, you have to target the state itself – which means sanctions are actually a much more appropriate form of coercion. Unfortunately, individuals can’t impose sanctions on a state. Anyway, I digress…

There is a point where the settler highway seems to end, there is a checkpoint (only on one end though, weirdly) and the bus slows to let soldiers glance inside (I know from experience they are likely just looking for Arabs). But that’s a mistake, the checkpoint can’t be on the border (although, to be honest, I haven’t checked the map) because right after the checkpoint we found ourselves in occupied East Jerusalem. The settlements of the “West Bank” blend into the settlements of “East Jerusalem” (of course, East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank by any legal definition other than Israel’s, but the world seems to manage to ignore that most of the time). As the bus snakes around what are clearly Palestinian neighborhoods, dropping of Jews, the everydayness of the occupation, the erasing of the border, all come rushing back. These are things I experienced repeatedly last year, but always tend to forget when the region is experienced through text and argument. And that’s important – there really are two worlds here, the world on paper where social zionists continue to defend a two-state solution, and the world of colonialism where “facts on the ground” has become an argument for the legitimization of a racist two-tiered society.

And then I get to the hostel. And, as things go in West Jerusalem, the Abraham hostel is pretty good. They stock Palestinian beer, they are not overtly Zionist in any way. But they don’t control the people who visit here, and while quietly eating my breakfast and having a coffee, I heard comments to the effect of,

*sigh*, don’t go to the Arab section of the old city. They are so annoying. Those fools. I can’t stand the sound of their language.

Unfortunately for her, the old city is 3/4 Arab (although settlers since ’67 have been buying up and expropriating property wherever possible). But that’s not the point – the point is she’s just a tourist. I’m trying really hard here not to call her an american airhead, because she spoke in that style and accent. I think it’s not entirely unfair to call her an airhead, actually, simply being a metaphor for being an unthinking person, which her comments clearly demonstrated. But I’m not angry with her personally – that is simply the reality of where this is.

To be really honest, this place is an American battleship against the enemy of Radical Arab nationalism, which is the idea that the Gulf countries might use their oil for their own good rather than sell it cheap to the USA. And support for the various stages of Zionist colonization, and the preponderance of anti-arab racism simply fit into that, they follow naturally from the objective strategy of this place.

Don’t think all this racism and colonization has spoiled my day – I’m chuffed to bits to be here, and excited that in a few hours I’ll see my good friend Hamza again. And this hostel, although it’s certainly not a place with overtly solid politics, has really good associations for me – I stayed here a bit last year during the end of the official Operation Groundswell trip and had some really positive times with that OG group. Riding into town on the share taxi, I was a bit sad that I wasn’t going to our old house in the German Colony. That place was great, and a great bunch of people lived there for a life changing month last year.

I’m not usually up this early. My flight got into Tel Aviv at 3:30, I had cleared security by 4:30, and I profited a bit longer from the free internet at the airport. Leaving by share taxi, the sun was just coming up. I’m not sure what time it is for me – there is only an hour time difference between Lyon and here, but also I only slept a few hours last night. I imagine tonight I’m going to crash hard, because it feels like afternoon already.

I don’t want to make promises, but I will try to blog regularly during my time here. I’m not staying with a big group, so hopefully that means more time to myself to write.

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