50 Years of Occupation (Part 1): A Reflection on Jerusalem Day
I looked at the multi-colored light show on the Old City Walls next to Jaffa Gate a few days before Jerusalem Day, preparation for the audio-visual show to celebrate the state’s grand “50th year since the liberation of Jerusalem.” There is no single name to reference what this day commemorates as each name reflects the perspective of the ones who experienced it differently: the June War or the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (in somewhat “neutral” terms), the Six-Day War (according to Israel, a name indicating the expediency of triumph), and Naksa Day (referring to the first day of the war according to Palestinians, meaning “the setback”). Iconic images flickered across the walls showing the famous photo of the paratroopers’ awe as they gaze at the Western Wall now in Jewish hands, the holiest site where Jews can pray. It was spectacular to see this moment of emotion magnified to such a grand, expansive size, sure to be properly awe-inspiring to others, especially accompanied by the crowds and music on the evening of the event.
Fifty years ago, from June 5-10, 1967, Israel engaged in a war that altered the course of its future. A sense of sheer dread washed over the Jewish people as we faced a real, imminent threat. Yet the war was swift and fast, resulting in national jubilation and liberation as one of Israel’s strongest enemies, Egypt, was crippled. As Israel fought towards victory, however, a few hundred thousand Palestinians fled their homes, and by the end of the war Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem. The Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and West Bank began, and over the years hundreds of thousands of settlers flowed into these lands. While Israel withdrew Jewish settlements from Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005, no such action commenced in East Jerusalem or the West Bank where steady land confiscations followed, the settlement enterprise still grows, and the military occupation is alive and well. Well-manicured communities on lush mountaintops ignore the daily injustices perpetrated to maintain their existence. It’s been 50 years since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, controlling the lives and fates of all who live there.
These days of national celebrations of unity and reunification (“A United Jerusalem Unifies” is the slogan marking many of the logos) are misleading, because they do not in fact demonstrate a true unity, but a false one, tainting the word as the dominant group is apt to do. The pictures on the walls are not for all who live in the Old City, but for those who control the Old City. The iconic images are for the conquerors, not the conquered. It’s an oppressive unity that sweeps other identities away, viewing them as threatening, insignificant, and inconsequential. It’s a purposeful act of neglect, not of ignorance but of choice. It’s a way of saying our identity is better and best, so our symbols will mark your walls (the walls of the Christian Quarter of the Old City, in particular) and our national emblems will mark the night sky as you listen to our triumphal music.
I’m not yet 50 years old and I have not lived through all these experiences as they happened to see with my own eyes what has changed. But I can stand on the mountains around Jerusalem and see a city that is clearly segregated, settlement enterprises creeping their way into strategic Palestinian areas to cut off their access from other Palestinian areas to prevent the presence of a united strip of Palestinian land. I see activists around me who struggle between bouts of weariness, despair and resilience. And as this next Jerusalem Day passes, I cannot help but think that we have not succeeded. Collectively, we have not done enough.
And so I stand on another mountaintop and I look around me at a city I love dearly. I close my eyes and the skyline remains imprinted upon my memory. And I know that we have not done enough, and there is more for me to do.