All eyes on Jerusalem – Newsletter by Executive Director Stefanie Fox
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recalling a conversation he had in July 1948 with Ben-Gurion: “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. [Yigal] Allon repeated his question, ‘What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!’ Rabin added, “I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out.”
I’ve been intending to begin this weekly member newsletter for a long while, as a place to share analysis and updates, workshop organizing strategy, and lift up what is happening throughout our organization and the broader movement for Palestinian rights. What a devastating week to start. The horrors on the ground in Palestine/Israel are enormous, as the Israeli government propels the imminent settler theft of homes in Sheikh Jarrah, bulldozes homes in Silwan, storms Al Aqsa mosque to attack Palestinians at prayer, and protects rioting mobs of settlers as they accost Palestinians.
As we train our eyes and hearts on the crisis in Jerusalem, it feels important to start where this story begins: 73 years ago.
The Nakba, the catastrophe for Palestinians caused by the founding of the state of Israel, remains a fraught topic for many Jews. The actions of the Israeli government today are grounded in the founding of the state: there is a straight line between Sheikh Jarrah today and the devastation wrought by Zionist militias who displaced and dispossessed 750,000 Palestinians, depopulated and destroyed 400 villages, and created the blueprint for the ongoing ethnic cleansing and apartheid that Israel continues to perpetrate against Palestinians.
My heart is shattering over and over for Palestinian comrades both in Jerusalem and afar, living the exhaustion and terror of this moment, and reliving, through it, the past seven decades of unrelenting trauma from Israeli persecution and violence. As Yara Asi writes on Twitter: “Watching Jerusalem this week is almost too much. This has been my whole life…And my parent’s lives. And most of my grandparent’s lives. They didn’t have social media, just stories passed on that every Palestinian has. Not a single Palestinian doesn’t have stories.” The oppression and also the beautiful resistance on display in Jerusalem is, for Palestinians, the same story with a new timestamp.
But for those in the Jewish community newly horrified at the images coming out of Jerusalem, the reflex is to compartmentalize: this is the rightwing settlers; this is Netanyahu maneuvering; this is different. So our task, as organizers who take seriously the responsibility to move our community, is to insist on the consistency of what we’re seeing. The Nakba wasn’t a single event, it is a structure. It is an organizing principle.
And the fact is we cannot understand the current crisis in Jerusalem without connecting it directly to the goals established at the outset of the state. When I say the Nakba was a blueprint – it’s not a metaphor. The Nakba was – and IS – the plan. The very well–documented goal of the Israeli government has always been, explicitly, to steal the maximum amount of land with the smallest number of Palestinians.
The horrors in Jerusalem are the latest attempt by the Israeli government to accomplish that same, unrelenting objective. As this excellent 2016 Al Shabaka report, this report from Al Haq in 2019, and the recent Human Rights Watch report on Israeli Apartheid detail: Israel’s “master plans” for Jerusalem are explicitly focused on accomplishing the “Judaization” of the city. Urban planning in a settler-colonial apartheid regime means driving out, dispossessing, disenfranchising and expropriating the land and homes of Palestinians. The regime of colonialism and apartheid in Israel is implemented through an interlocking, holistic system of state violence: adminstrative, judicial, pyschological, military. In this context, it is clear that the brutal Israeli police and settler violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem is not a “clash,” a “conflict” or an “eruption.” It is the deliberate execution of Israel’s longstanding attack on Palestinian lives, land, and freedom; it is the unabated, ongoing Nakba.
This acknowledgment is key to responding with genuine solidarity. As Al Haq wrote in their report on apartheid: “Truth and acknowledgment are one facet of justice. By first acknowledging that the Palestinian people a whole, have been impacted by Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime since 1948, we lay the foundation of a collective strategy upon which the Palestinian people and solidarity groups from across the globe can develop accountability efforts..”
It’s not an accident that in spite of plentiful documentation and the constant assertion from Palestinians, it took me – and still takes many Jews like me – far too many years to acknowledge the totalizing structure and plain reality on the ground in Palestine/Israel. The Israeli government, supported by most American Jewish institutions, has worked from its inception at the dual aims of continuing the Nakba while obscuring it from view. At a time when so many of us wake up each day to these horrifying images of Israeli violence against Palestinians, it is astonishing to watch some in our communities work to forget with such callous will and determination. Not ignore, but ardently, institutionally, erase.
Such a great catastrophe unfolding for 73 years requires enormous complicity on every level: Corporations like Elbit and G4S facilitate and profit from the police and prison systems in Israel. The Jewish and Christian Zionist organizations driving these evictions in the US channel money to settler groups in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan and into vicious attacks on the movement for justice in Palestine. Police exchange programs support, back, glorify, and strengthen the tactics of Israeli apartheid. And the US government sends $3.8 billion taxpayer dollars each year to fund Israeli injustice against Palestinians. What is happening in Jerusalem is not an aberration, but the devastating outcome of shared values and goals between the US and Israel.
So, how do we show up to this moment? Mohammed el-Kurd, a key leader on the ground in Sheikh Jarrah, says it clearly: “You can help us by placing political pressure, boycotting, divesting, being with us in person or protesting abroad. You can help us by understanding that Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine.”
Here are a few thoughts and ideas about what we can bring as organizers, as those living in the US, and as Jews in solidarity with Palestinians this week:
- Demand immediate action from the US government. Insist the State Department demand an end to Israel’s illegal evictions of Palestinians and demolitions of their homes, by signing this petition to Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and by supporting the rally outside the State Department on Tuesday in person or online. Our JVP Action team is working to push Members of Congress to apply pressure on the US State Department. 15 have already spoken out, but it should be 535. Follow the up-to-date thread of all the members we’ve seen speak out, and if your representative isn’t on the list, call them immediately.
- Listen to and amplify Palestinian voices, and resist the government and corporate censorship trying to shut them out. Hundreds of Palestinians and others sharing on-the-ground video and information from Sheikh Jarrah have had their videos deleted and/or accounts suspended on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook); we are coordinating with our Facebook campaign partners and working to get media attention to keep pressure on. Listen to and share, share, share the voices of Palestinians on the ground and around the world. Use #SaveSheikhJarrah, #SaveSilwan in all your social media posts.
- Escalate international pressure where we know it counts: Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel. There’s a reason Palestinian Civil Society calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions. BDS campaigns work. They tell the story of who profits from apartheid, break up governmental and corporate complicity, sever ties that uphold Israeli injustice, and build pressure a global scale. From our Deadly Exchange campaign to corporate targets like AnyVision, HP, and G4S, to targeting the settler organizations like Nahalat Shimon International and Ateret Cohanim (both of which have tax-deductible status in the US), we need to explore every opportunity to mobilize, organize and escalate.
- Stop the blank check. The $3.8 billion a year we send to Israel directly funds Israeli injustice in and beyond Jerusalem. We must shift US policy from protecting Israeli impunity and funding Israeli war crimes to holding Israel accountable. This month saw the introduction of Betty McCollum’s watershed Palestinian Children and Families Act, which is a critical first step on that road. H.R. 2590 is the first legislation of its kind to ensure US taxpayer funds stop paying for: The Israeli military arrest, torture, and imprisonment or Palestinian children; The Israeli government’s demolition and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities; and Further Israeli annexation of Palestinian land. Make sure your representatives support this historic bill.
- Help our Jewish family face catastrophe. It is our responsibility and mandate to bring in our fellow Jews who are freshly waking up to the horrors in Jerusalem, and to invite them to the kind of remembering that resists the lies we’ve been fed, creates real solidarity, and prompts powerful action. Invite your mom to this panel, bring your childhood best friend to our Nakba commemoration rally next Saturday with partners (details soon), consider hosting an event with the Facing the Nakba curriculum.