Guess who's coming to dinner
If Jerusalem were truly an open city, with political leaders who strive for tolerance and diversity, Kurd might well be allowed to go back to the home she fled from in 1948.
"After we attend different churches on Sunday, or no church, Americans share meals or movies ... We have thrived on our diversity - religious, ethnic, racial - to become the world's only superpower. We don't merely tolerate diversity, we embrace and celebrate it. To ... extremists, the concept of a melting pot is as alien as the concept of a theocracy is to us."
- Mike Huckabee, addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, D.C., September 28, 2007.
This week, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee shared a meal in Jerusalem with a group that attends a very different kind of church - one whose members do not embrace or celebrate diversity. Huckabee was the guest, and not for the first time, of the extremist settler organization Ateret Cohanim and its American counterpart, the Jerusalem Reclamation Project. This time, he celebrated with them in the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem, on whose property the organization's American benefactor, Irving Moskowitz, recently received a permit to build up to 31 housing units. This project will constitute a new Jewish settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Huckabee's rhetoric of "tolerance" and "diversity" echoes that of his friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who responded to U.S. government criticism of the Shepherd Hotel project by invoking "openness," declaring that, "There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city, and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city's east. This is the policy of an open city."
But Jerusalem is not an open city, and invoking the principles of tolerance, diversity and openness in defense of the settlement movement in East Jerusalem is cynical and disingenuous.
Since the 1970s, Israeli settlers have been trying to wrest an 18-dunam (4.5-acre) plot of land, just a few hundred meters from the Shepherd Hotel, from the 28 Palestinian refugee families who have been living on it since the United Nations settled them there in 1956. After prolonged and complex court battles, on November 14, 2008, the settlers began to win their battle. Since then, one of those Palestinians, Fawzi al-Kurd, has been living in a tent on an adjacent plot, after she and her now-deceased husband were evicted from their home after 52 years.
If Jerusalem were truly an open city, with political leaders who strive for tolerance and diversity, Kurd might well be allowed to go back to the home she fled from in 1948, in the West Jerusalem neighborhood now officially called Komemiyut (better known by its Arabic name, Talbieh). But Israeli law, which vigorously defends pre-1948 Jewish land claims in East Jerusalem, flatly denies pre-1948 Palestinian land claims in West Jerusalem.
Two weeks ago the evictions continued. On August 2, 53 members of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (including 19 children) joined Kurd, just down the hill from the Shepherd Hotel. In an early dawn operation, they were forcibly evicted by Israeli police from the homes the UN had provided for them as refugees in Sheikh Jarrah five decades ago. Hours later, the police escorted Israeli settlers, carrying babies and leading young children, into the homes, as the newly homeless Palestinian children watched, begging their parents to let them go back to sleep in their own beds.
These settlers bear no resemblance to the quiet community of pious Jews who lived around the tomb of Shimon the Righteous under Ottoman rule. Rather, they are foot-soldiers in a movement whose aim is to extend Israeli hegemony over the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem - which every government in the world, other than our own, considers to be occupied territory - and to prevent the possibility of a negotiated resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the city.
This movement is aided, overtly and covertly, by Israeli authorities. When it is supported as well by international figures, potential stability in the region is undermined. Politicians like Huckabee - who cynically seek to regain their standing in the American political system by befriending extremists among settler organizations in Israel - are doing this at the expense of the immediate interests of Jerusalem residents and the Israeli public in general.
Sarah Kreimer is associate director of Ir Amim, an Israeli nonprofit organization engaged in issues that affect Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem and the city's political future.