On Trump's Announcement on JerusalemBy Rich Siegel
12 December 2017
Reprinted by permission from Rich Siegel's Facebook Page
I would like to present an opinion on Trump's announcement on Jerusalem using my friendship with Ayman Nijim, a native of Gaza, to offer important perspective. I have his permission. We discussed it the other night. Having a conversation with someone from Gaza is unlike having a conversation with someone from anywhere else. Me: "Ayman, how is your family in Gaza?". Ayman: "Trying to reach them for 30 days. Maybe electricity will come on soon and I will be able to connect with them."
Ayman's family comes from Isdud, Palestine, which has since become Ashdod, Israel. Ayman has never been there. He has never been to Jerusalem. He is not permitted into any part of Israel or the occupied territories except for his native Gaza. Aymanís family fled Isdud in 1948, after they heard about the massacre at Deir Yassin and other such incidents, and when it became clear that Zionist terrorists were attacking across the region. They had a very real fear of losing their lives if they remained. They fled intending to return. That never happened. They ended up in Gaza, like so many other victims of the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic, the word used to describe the events of 1948). Ayman was born and raised there.
Ayman came to the US and earned an MA of Arts in Intercultural Leadership and Management at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. He is now Director of Programs at Maine Immigration and Refugee Services in Portland. He frequently gives talks at universities and churches about Gaza and the Palestinian situation generally.
When I visited Jerusalem this past October, I took photos which I then texted to various friends, including Ayman. Ayman texted back a request: Would I write his name on a piece of paper and take photos with it? I was confused. He explained, "It will be like my soul is in Jerusalem". I did as he asked. I wrote his name in English and asked a hotel clerk to write his name in Arabic. (I stayed in Sheik Jarrah, in an Arab hotel in an Arab neighborhood).
Taking photos with my friend's name changed my experience of Jerusalem. Of course I was aware that Palestinians hold Jerusalem very dear to their hearts and consider it their capitol, and I was aware that many Palestinians are prevented from going there, (those who live in Gaza, and those who are refugees in various places). But having traveled with my friend Ayman, having spent time with him in different parts of the US, the fact that I was in a place that he cherishes but is not permitted to visit, suddenly became very painful.
To fully understand the impact of Trump's announcement on Jerusalem an appreciation of the history of the international community's relationship with Israel and the Palestinians must be understood. Due to holocaust guilt in Europe and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in America, Israel has been allowed to attack Gaza repeatedly, to attack neighboring states, to expand settlements, to build a wall outside Israel's "green line" effectively stealing more land, and to visit any number of humiliations on the Palestinians, all with impunity. The one crumb that has been thrown to the Palestinians, the one thing that leaders around the world have given to show the Palestinians that their plight is seen at all, is the refusal to give in to Israel's desire to have Jerusalem recognized as its capital, and to insist that embassies remain in Tel Aviv.
An understanding of the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also necessary. Jerusalem is holy to three faiths. For Christians it contains the Via Dolorosa and Calvary. For Muslims it is the site of Mohammed's night journey and al Aqsa Mosque. Zionist Jews claim exclusive entitlement to Jerusalem as site of the ancient temple, but this fails to recognize the significance of this city to the other two faiths. Prior to Zionism members of all three faiths lived in harmony in Jerusalem. Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians, and yes, Arabic-speaking Arab Jews and those who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and were welcomed. It is an ancient city, and it is an Arab city, albeit much of it now dominated by Jews from all over the world. It remains dearly beloved by Palestinians as their capital.
Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 by 60 Jewish families on the outskirts of Jaffa. Even though it is part of historic Palestine, it is a Jewish city, not significant to other faiths. If there is to be a Jewish state in historic Palestine, a situation of dubious morality but never the less a modern reality, its capital should be there. Of course, Israel will put its capital where it wants, but the rest of the world doesnít have to recognize its decision.
Trump's statement can be compared to Sharon's march on the Temple Mount in 2000, which ignited the 2nd intifada. It is a flagrant insult to the Palestinians, and a nasty provocation. While Sharon knew he was making a provocation and did it deliberately, it is likely that Trump is too ignorant to appreciate the ramifications of his actions, and did it just to please factions in the US. He stated that it would help "the peace process", but he did not state how it would help, and what peace process exactly he was referring to. It was a ridiculous assertion.
The actual results of this action are unknown at this point, but clearly it has inspired anger among those who support peace and justice, and among those who will be adversely affected: The Palestinians. Most Israelis are cheering. It is very likely to strengthen the convictions that most Israelis and many Zionist Jews around the world have, that they are entitled to all of Jerusalem, and embolden actions related to ethnically cleansing and Judaizing Arab neighborhoods there. It is already commonplace for Arab families in East Jerusalem to be booted out of their homes with full cooperation of Israeli authorities, and then replaced by Jewish settlers. The number of such incidents is likely to increase due to Trump's announcement, along with an increase of settler activity in other areas, taking Trump's support as a pat on the back for Zionist expansionism generally. It is a tragic step in the wrong direction.
I am old enough to remember when Jerusalem was "unified" in 1967. My mother was full of joy when she told me that Jerusalem was now "OURS!" And that sounded great to an 8 year old. But what "OURS!" meant was "not theirs any more". And what that meant to people whose families had lived there for centuries, was not even part of our awareness at all. It has been a painful but very gratifying process to see beyond Zionist narrative and Jewish tribal loyalty, to appreciate the reality of my Palestinian brothers and sisters who experienced Zionist conquest from the other side. (To her credit my mother has taken that journey, too).
"If we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us." -1 John 4:12
(In the second photo I am with Ayman in Washington, DC. Unlike Jerusalem and Ashdod, Ayman is allowed to visit Washington, DC).