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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Reflection: Jerusalem - unified or occupied?
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 Today I am in Jerusalem, for a couple of days of rest. It is good to get away briefly from the work in Hebron, but there is no escape from the reality of this conflict, this occupation. This week, Israel celebrated 'Jerusalem Day', commemorating '40 years of Reunification."' There are signs and banners all over the city. It is 40 years next month since the 1967 (Six-Day) War, during which Israel conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula in a stunning and sweeping victory. Israel has continued to occupy East Jerusalem ever since 1967. Initially, Israel annexed East Jerusalem by simply extending the municipal boundaries for Israeli West Jerusalem. They then declared a united Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital. No other country has been willing to recognize this diplomatically. All countries currently maintain their official embassies in Tel Aviv, the internationally recognized capitol of Israel. The 66,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem who came under attack and saw the beginnings of the Israeli military occupation cannot look back with nostalgia. In the first night after taking over East Jerusalem, Israeli contractors began tearing out buildings in the Arab neighbourhood just adjacent to the Western Wall. By the next day, Israeli Army bulldozers were busy demolishing the homes in the Old City's Mugrabhi Quarter to clear the area near the Western Wall. Residents of these homes were given just minutes to evacuate. At first they refused to leave. But when the bulldozer crashed into the first house, crushing the inhabitants, the others fled immediately. One hundred thirty-five families were left homeless in a matter of hours. It is hard for me to see how to celebrate this as a 'reunification' I am glad, even grateful, that Jews can now visit the Western Wall - the last remaining part of the Second Temple. It is clearly a place of great religious significance and prayer for many. But the vast plaza that stretches out in front of it still calls out with the voices of the families whose homes were destroyed, whose neighbourhood ruined without discussion or delay. I wonder how they feel about these last 40 years of 'reunification.' In the coming weeks, Israel will continue to celebrate anniversaries of the 1967 War. In many ways, for Israelis, these events equal in importance to the celebrations of independence in 1948. The victory in the Six Day War represents Israel's overcoming any national feelings of self-doubt or inferiority. For Palestinians, it represents the start of what has become 40 years of foreign military occupation and continual loss of territory. The armistice of the 1948 War established what is known as the Green Line, delineating between the State of Israel and the West Bank. However, since 1967 Israel has continued to seize land to build settlements on the Palestinian side of the armistice line. This is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which specifically prohibits an occupying force from settling its own civilian population within occupied territory. The Israeli settlement enclaves within Palestinian territory, and the numerous "Israeli-only" roads that connect them, now present a major obstacle to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state along side Israel. Even now, the Separation Barrier Israel has erected continues to confiscate land deep inside the West Bank, further diminishing what territory is left to Palestinians. I hope one day that this land heal from the scars and wounds of the conflict and this occupation. It is a terrible thing to see the walls and checkpoints and barbed wire slicing through the land, separating people. I hope one day this land will see a peace worth celebrating. That will be a real victory to commemorate. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world. Many of its members are retired people. To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, see:
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