Met with Danny Seidemann, founder of Ir Amin (City of Peoples), in Jerusalem (www.ir-amim.org.il). He’s a really good story teller and expert on the complex geo-political layers of this city. “This is where the conflict ends or it doesn’t end at all”, he says. But adds the “Balkanization” of Jerusalem is making a two state solution impossible. Even so, h is cautiously optimistic, as is everyone we have met, due to the change in the US and Obama’s words, and the appointment of Mitchell as his Middle East envoy. Still, he is worried that Jerusalem is being turned into a “settler evangelical theme park.” He has met with more US representatives in the last 30 days, than in the past eight years – such is the renewed interest in the issue.
Danny has been a key activist around the house evictions in Jerusalem. And he gets impassioned about the issue as he talks about the ongoing evictions and how the city is being divided. Later the same day we go on a field trip with Jeff Halper – a great Israeli activist too, whose organization works to prevent Palestinian house demolitions (http://www.icahd.org/eng/).
We inch along jammed streets in a high-density Palestinian neighbourhood, (no sidewalks) roads not fixed for years. We all pay the same taxes says Jeff – but in Palestinian areas there’s rare garbage pick-up, no postal service, no legal water hook ups etc. He takes us to a house being built by 60 young people mostly from Spain. They are building it in two weeks flat from scratch. The Spanish
Government is helping pay for the construction. The owner is beaming as the young folks pour concrete, tile, clear rocks, and sing. His former house was demolished. A young Palestinian boy runs around giving everyone tea with mint. We also meet Salim, whose house down the street has been demolished four times. If you stand in the new doorway of the partially constructed house (they are on day nine) there are striking views. Behind us are layers of housing crushed together, almost defying gravity it seems. In front of us down a steep rocky embankment is the Wall. Still being built ($2 B so far, $2B to go) as it snakes through the city. Its message is powerful. Divide. You cannot ignore the wall. In some places it is covered with graffiti; in others, grim concrete slabs, thick and wide. In the further distance are white, red roofed “settlement” developments. They are on hill tops, serene and look quite beautiful, and illegal. A little further away we can see the police station that is part of the E1 settlement. It is very controversial (3500 homes) and is at this point is not progressing after Obama said it must stop.
I’m a city person and I love cities – the way they work, the way they are run, and how they grow. It comes from my municipal experience as a community organizer in the Downtown Eastside, itself a complex neighbourhood, as well as being a city councillor in Vancouver for five terms. But Jerusalem is quite something different – the contradictions are endless and generate much debate. Of course its historical and religious contexts are unique. But I’ve never seen a city where the roof top water tanks are colour coded to reflect who you are (white-Israeli, black- Palestinian). And a new transit line being contracted going through both Palestinian and Jewish neighbourhoods, but you won’t be able to get on or off in the Palestinian one.
The future of Jerusalem is core to everything, so I am glad I got to see, meet, experience, a little bit of what is happening here.