June 17, 2013 The occupation lives at home

Sami Abu Shahadeh, Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipal Council Member and semi permanent graduate student in modern history at Tel Aviv University, notes with a mixture of bluntness tinged with irony, “Our state is killing our people since its establishment as part of daily life and it didn’t stop in ’48.” So much for the happy co-existence fantasies for the “mixed cities” in Israel.

Sami explains that until the Second Intifada, the one million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were largely invisible, despite being 20% of the population and living under military occupation until 1966. Only 9% of such Palestinians currently live in mixed cities. Jaffa, like Lyd and Haifa, have Arabs and Jews demographically living together, but not in actuality and there is minimal public conversation about the racism fundamental to this reality.

Jaffa joined Tel Aviv in 1950 as a southern suburb of one combined municipality, but the city is one of the oldest in the world, dating back some 6,000 years. During the past 200 years the city was transformed by the Jaffa orange export economy, becoming one of the largest Arab cities in the world with a population in the vicinity of 120,000 with thousands of unregistered Arab workers from all over the world. The southern neighborhood of Ajami developed in the 1800s and was a center of economic, cultural, and intellectual activity. Tel Aviv was founded in the early 1900s by several Jewish families as a northern Hebrew neighborhood of Jaffa and exploded in population over the decades. The story of Jaffa and Tel Aviv is a microcosm of the story of the Nakba, the Palestinian experience of 1948.

Jaffa was occupied in 1948 and many terrorized inhabitants fled, leaving a few thousand “present absentees” herded into the fenced in ghetto of Ajami. The street names were all changed to Jewish leaders and religious references, the wealthy Palestinian homes were seized as absentee property, although the owners were often living a few blocks away, some Arab homes were subdivided to absorb Jewish refugees from Rumania or Bulgaria, leaving the original Palestinian family in one room with a shared bathroom and kitchen with the Jewish immigrants.

As we walk the old stone streets, passing massive gentrification projects, gorgeous purple bougainvillea cascading over walls, I am struck by the rows of bike rentals and the big recycling bins; coming from East Jerusalem it is amazing to see what a funded and functional local government can actually accomplish. We stop by an old pharmacy dating back to 1924. The pharmacist’s grandfather graduated with a degree in pharmacy from Istanbul and came to Jaffa in 1919. In 1915 he joined the Ottoman army. His father graduated in pharmacy from Beirut and now the son Yusif is carrying on the family tradition.

We turn on to Sha’rev Nik Anur Street, formerly Talamas Street, and stand in front of a graceful villa, once the Talamas home, a wealthy Christian Palestinian family active in the orange trade. They even sent oranges to the Pope! Oranges were the most important commodity in the Palestinian economy. In the 1930s, five million boxes of oranges were shipped per year with over 400 million oranges picked, sent to warehouses for individual wrapping in silk paper, and then sent to the port to waiting ships. (Didn’t I learn in Hebrew school that the kibbutzim brought agriculture to the region and Arabs were shiftless and unproductive? But I digress.) Because there was not enough local labor, starting in the late 1800s, thousands of workers from Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and all over the Arab world were brought in. After the Nakba, Palestinian workers were dispersed all over the Arab world and this elegant old mansion was turned into eight apartments, “A travesty,” comments Sami.

We continue wandering towards the majestic Mediterranean Sea and Sami explains that there are 17 neighborhoods in Tel Aviv/Yafo and Ajami is the “weakest.” We snap photos of magnificent mansions, old wealthy Palestinian homes facing the sea, now gentrified and selling for many millions as the locals are priced out of existence with nowhere to go. This is clearly expulsion via the free market. One of the for sale signs on a gorgeous seaside apartment is being sold by a company appropriately misnamed, “Home Land.”

Sami reviews the attack on Jaffa in 1948, the lack of any Arab army defenses, the violent siege and expulsion, and the clear Zionist intent to create a Jewish state without any of the bothersome indigenous inhabitants. Jaffa went from 120,000 people to 3,900 with the remainder killed or scattered all over the Arab world. For those who remained, the trauma is unimaginable. Street signs were Judaized, children and parents separated, lost, injured, mothers gave birth in the midst of the fighting, friends disappeared. Perhaps Jews should be able to empathize with this history? The remaining Arabs were rounded up and fenced into the neighborhood of Ajami which European Jews fresh from their own catastrophe, aptly named “the ghetto.” Those who fled beyond the state borders were now declared “enemies,” although Sami remembers his grandfather taking a train to Beirut which he considered part of his world. The survivors were not allowed to ask what happened to their lost relations, “Where is my mother?” because she was now part of an enemy state, if she was alive at all. The physical and emotional trauma and loss were profound. Normal social expectations like weddings, court systems, dressmakers, carpentry shops, five hospitals, all disappeared in the war and its aftermath. Sami exclaims ironically, “Now we are a minority in our homeland and the Israelis are immigrating to us.”

For Sami, the second Nakba was the seizing of all Palestinian property, libraries, possessions, “The biggest armed robbery in the twentieth century.” Under the Absentee Law, all Palestinian property was counted as “neglected property” if the owner was not present in the home from which he had just been expelled and tossed into Ajami ten minutes away. Even more painful for the Jaffa Palestinians was seeing their homes, their furniture, their gardens, occupied by newly arrived Jewish immigrants. Poverty stricken locals would go back to the now Jewish homes and beg for a blanket or some personal item. Wealthy factory owners became impoverished workers in their own factories. Wealthy businessmen like the Hassouneh family, major orange exporters, became workers in their former orchards. The psychological humiliation was as great as the physical loss.

The third Nakba, states Sami, is coexistence. He asked us to imagine the Arab family sharing their home with the new immigrants who periodically go off to the Israeli military for a mission in Gaza where that Arab family’s relatives now live. “Maybe they will kill my brother?” And then the soldier returns and shares the bathroom and the kitchen. With this further psychological catastrophe, many men became dysfunctional, drug addicts, alcoholics, probably supplied by Israeli soldiers and Bedouins, while the women coped as women will do. In the course of three terrible years, Ajami was transformed into a small, poor, criminal neighborhood.

From the 1960s to 1980s, Ajami was slated for destruction, 3,000 apartments were razed, engineers planned a park along the water and hotels. The garbage from the demolished homes was thrown along the beach creating a huge mountain of toxic materials. Ultimately the plans were scrapped because the chemicals kept exploding and the area was unsafe to build. It is now a lovely park with bright new playgrounds and palm trees hiding this dark secret past.

Similar to West Bank Palestinians, folks in Jaffa were unable to obtain building permits, renovations occurred with growing families and no place to go, and now the State is claiming that not only were fines due 40 years ago for the transgression, but with interest, the fines are now millions of shekels. Thus 400 Arab families, who are by the way, citizens of Israel, are under demolition orders due to the crime of renovation. Sami describes a host of other Kafkaesque situations. For instance, the state owns all the houses from 1948 in Ajami, the “owner” pays for 2/3 and the state owns 1/3. The Palestinian children cannot inherit the house unless they are living with their parents at least six months before the deaths of the parents. But it is also illegal to live with their parents if they are married, so it is unlikely they will be there with their dying parents. If I made this stuff up, you wouldn’t believe me.

Since the 1990s gentrification and neoliberal market policies have dominate the scene. Since the welfare state cannot “fix” these problems, let the free market take over. The wealthy move in and the locals cannot afford to stay, then schools close, local markets close, “We are a beautiful cemetery of thousands of houses.” While 5-10% of local Palestinians are doing well, 50% are on welfare.

The latest threat is the plan to build national religious Jewish settlements in the Arab neighborhoods to “strengthen” the Zionist ideology of lax secular Jews and to change the demographics of the neighborhoods. Thus the ultra-Orthodox want to “settle in the heart,” ie within the Green Line, and if any settlers are removed from the West Bank, these right wingers will “burn the State from within.” Interestingly the Yossi Beilin left agrees that demographics are a problem, but disagrees with this solution, while the Avigdor Lieberman right is ready to transfer Palestinians without any further charades. Sami muses, “So my beautiful eight-year-old and five-year-old are demographic bombs,” while large Jewish families are, “Blessed by children.” He describes a recent tortured political fight between Palestinian activists and businessmen versus the settlers. The fight went to the High Court and involved illegal dealings by the Israeli Land Authority and court decisions wreaking of racism and cowardness. Mixed cities are now considered the “greatest danger to Zionism,” and people talk openly of “clean kindergartens, clean schools, clean neighborhoods.” Racism? Fascism? Echos of the Third Reich?

As Sami reflects, “We are trying to survive, we lost in 1948 and we have nowhere to go.” The housing issue is critical but all the city planning is done by Jews for Jews with no concern for the social impact on the local community. The problem is, “Most of the wars, we are here and they are there. Our wars ended but we are here and they are here and this is the cultural reality.” Sami wonders, what kind of multicultural reality is possible in this racist reality. What are the rights of the Jews in this situation? What kind of society do we want to create? He suggests that a mixed educational system instead of the current Arab, ie poorly funded and inadequate, secular Jewish, and Orthodox might be a start. He notes that already 20-25% of Arabs send their children to secular Jewish schools to get a better education. But then what kind of history would be taught? Do you tell Jewish children that their grandfathers ethnically cleansed a whole city? These are not popular questions to be asking, but that has never stopped Sami from asking. I do not know whether to scream or cry.

June 16, 2013 Divide and Conquer

The posters in the offices of Stop the Wall grab our attention immediately: three hulking men hack the concrete barrier with pick axes; a cartoon elderly woman lifts a tiny boy off the main gun of a menacing Israeli tank; “To exist is to resist” floats above walls crisscrossing between crowded Palestinian houses, a helicopter hovers above; a disembodied head, mouth screaming, emerges from the wall with a fist in chains.

Jamal Juma (www.stopthewall.org) begins his powerpoint and we are immediately washed by a torrent of bad news. The northwestern city of Qalqilya was the first city to be completely encircled by the separation wall in 2002. It took one year to build, imprisoning 41,000 people and separating them from 32 surrounding villages, their agricultural lands, and ground water sources. Once a commercial hub for both Israelis along the border and local Palestinians, in less than six months, 4,000 inhabitants left in desperation and 600 stores closed. In the first winter, the city was severely flooded by mountain water that flowed in but had no place to drain. Jamal explains ironically, this is the future for the West Bank.

By 2005 it became clear that the Israelis planned three main encircled areas, northern, central and southern, using a combination of walls and the strategic insertion of Jewish settlements. Jamal reviews the long history of Palestinian struggle against a variety of colonial projects dating back to the 1900s and the emergence of Palestinian nationalism. Things took a major down turn with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This divided the West Bank into area A (the ghettoized cities theoretically under Palestinian control), area B, (villages under joint control) area C, (the 61% of the West Bank, less developed, under Israeli control and the location for much of the Jewish settlement project.)

Jamal informs us that in the early 1990s with the Iraqi invasion and decrease in the power of one of Israel’s main enemies, the country turned its attention to its internal affairs. In 1992, the government gathered scientists and thinkers to create a 20 year strategy for the future of Israel, in case of war and in case of peace, in cooperation with more than 30 international research institutions. By 1997 the 18 volume Master Plan was completed, 9,000 pages devoted to Jerusalem alone. The current state of the occupied territories is the direct result of those plans.

Then in 2000 the Herzliya Conference launched a study to plan four major projects that have also impacted the appalling fate of the Palestinians:

1. For Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in the Galilee, a program of development aimed at Judaization of the area

2. For Palestinians in the Negev, a similar development/Judaization program

3. For Greater Jewish Jerusalem, settlement expansion into the West Bank and depopulation of Palestinians

4. For Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, increasing disengagement

The plan is based on controlling Palestinian demographics and increasing the Jewish presence. In the Galilee, major studies figured out how to move Jews from the coast to the mountains by investing in high tech industrial zones with housing, schools, and economic opportunity. In the Negev, 100,000 Bedouins, were collected and brought to five reservations, the word in Hebrew translates to: “concentrating them.” This threatened to destroy their life and culture and Bedouins responded by settling outside the reservations to protect their ancestral lands, creating a host of unrecognized villages, without any services, in abject poverty, constantly under threat of repeated demolitions.

In Jerusalem, a combination of Judaization and ethnic cleansing seeks to decrease the Palestinian population from 35% to 12%. With almost scientific precision, Jamal describes how that will happen.

1. The first step is to expand the boundaries, frame Greater Jerusalem to include the Jewish settlement blocks and surround it all with 181 kilometers of wall snaking deep into the West Bank. Thus, the Adumin Bloc adds 33,000 Jewish settlers, the Etzion Bloc 43,000, and the Givon Bloc another 12,000. Throw in the controversial E1 area to complete the ring and then ghettoize the local Palestinians. 22 villages with 225,300 people once part of Jerusalem are, voila, now outside of the Holy City.

2. The second step is inside Jerusalem, in the Old City. Start in 1967 by destroying the historic neighborhood along the Wailing Wall. Then allot millions of shekels to Judaize the Old City, moving in Jewish families house by house. There are now 90 Israeli outposts inside the Old City, with plans to displace all 50,000 residents of Silwan, now officially the City of David, and fully Judaize the Holy Basin, creating a (racially?) pure area all the way to the Mount of Olives where 4,000 settlers await their happy co-religionists. Top this off with a highly political and heavily criticized archeological excavation in the City of David, designed to prove Jewish exclusivity to a city that has been occupied innumerable times over thousands of years, displacing 1,500 Palestinians to make space for the parking lot for tourist buses. Continue in a similar process in the neighborhoods of Shuafat and Sheikh Jarrah, link them all together with a light rail that ends at the Damascus gate, thus gradually eliminating all Palestinian identity in the area.

Jamal highlights the multiple well funded new projects: museums, hotels, tunnels under the ancient walls, car parks, tourist overviews, 63 new synagogues including one to be built next to the wall of the Old City, taller than the Al Aqsa Mosque, in my view, the architectural equivalent of giving everyone the finger.

At this point we are all sunk in a strange combination of depression, horror, shame and outrage. I can only wonder if there is any historical memory left amongst the power brokers in Jerusalem, descendants from the ghettos of Europe and the survivors of the racist, ethnic cleansing of the Holocaust. Jamal continues undaunted.

He focuses on the growth of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, up to 650,000 since it all began in 1997. He talks about the geopolitical impact of the wall, the 14,000 kilometers of apartheid roads with 48 bridges and tunnels to keep Palestinians and Jewish settlers from actually seeing each other, the increasingly privatized checkpoints, now called terminals, like your local friendly airport terminal, and the industrial zones. I will explain the zones, since that was news to me. Apparently after traversing multiple roads to avoid the bypass highways, and waiting since early morning to stuff through humiliating turnstiles at checkpoints, Palestinian workers now face a new employment opportunity: industrial zones. Israel, in conjunction with the World Bank, is working on 92 zones along the borders created by the wall, which Jamal refers to as “do-it-yourself apartheid.” There are currently industrial zones in twelve of the largest Jewish settlements where 30,000 Palestinians work under oppressive conditions with no labor protections for 50-70 shekels per day. Joint industrial zones are planned with the help of Germany and Japan, to name a few internationals that have taken a concern for the local economy and what is now called “immigrant capital.” The Israelis are busy attracting international investment from Jenin to Jericho; 58 companies have invested in the settlements. He reminds us that the barbed wire that runs along this barrier is made in South Africa.

To give this a sense of reality, we are soon bouncing along in yellow taxis heading for the town of Kalandia, a village totally encircled by wall, separated from the nearby refugee camp, crowded up against the industrial zone for the Jewish settlement of Atarot. Between us and the nearby town of Al Ram are two more walls. All of this was once part of Jerusalem, but now exists in a kind of no man’s land, unclaimed, ungoverned, no taxes are collected but neither is the sewage. Drug gangs terrorize people at night. Jamal moved to this area from Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem after his imprisonment, (he was accused of organizing demonstrations), and release, when he could no longer tolerate the military vehicle sitting outside his house and frightening his children.

From there we go to the once vibrant Bir Nabala, since 2006 a ghost town, completely emptied by the economic impact of the wall, houses locked and deserted, stores shuttered, homes demolished, raw sewage running near the wall where pigeons roost in once elegant homes and a few souls hang on with a couple of goats and a horse. At night this street becomes dangerous and infested by gangs of drug dealers. I sense not only the overall cantonization of the West Bank, but also these micro isolations, village by village, family by family, son by son, the silent expulsion, the ongoing invisible Nakba.

Back in the taxi, the undulating voice of Mohammed Assaff sings on the radio. He is one of the three contestants left on Arab Idol, a spinoff of American Idol, where he is competing with an Egyptian and a Syrian. He sings a beguiling song about a magic keffiyah. I am told that everyone in the West Bank is rooting for him.

June 16, 2013 The prisons within

Randa from Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights, (www.addameer.org) has a cheerful, youthful enthusiasm that contrasts with the grim experiences of Palestinians within the Israeli court and prison systems. Established in 1992, Adameer is a human rights organization supporting prisoners and working to end torture and human rights violations through monitoring and solidarity campaigns, with seven lawyers and a dedicated staff.

I have always been struck by the number of doctors, teachers, ambulance drivers, students, farmers, activists, etc. who report being detained in Israeli prisons at some point in their lives and I have read Physicians for Human Rights – Israel studies of torture within these jails, but Randa had the numbers behind this troubling story.

There are currently 5,000 Palestinians in prison, 20% of the total Palestinian of population has been arrested, 40% of the male population, over 800,000 Palestinians since 1967. The key issues include torture during interrogation and raids, administrative detention, (no charges, no trial, renewable for years), child prisoners, the use of prolonged isolation, medical negligence, arrests of human rights activists, and hunger strikes and their health implications. As of May 2013, there are 4,979 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, 139 of them less than 18, 16 women, half of them mothers. The number of administrative detainees is actually low at 158, but these folks can be held indefinitely with no charges, no trials, and secret files. Think Guantanamo in Hebrew. There has been an uptick in imprisoned journalists with thirteen currently detained, half between January and May.

There are four interrogation centers: three detention centers (including Ofer just outside of Ramallah), 17 prisons, mostly inside of Israel. This is actually against international law as Palestinian families cannot access these prisons due to an inability to obtain permits and this further isolates and demoralizes the prisoners.

Many arrests occur at home in the middle of the night with a massive military presence, military jeeps surrounding the home, soldiers breaking down the door, sleepy family members corralled and interrogated one at a time including small children. The prisoner is taken, blindfolded, shackled, and put into a military jeep which will either go to a settlement or interrogation center. The interrogation can last for 90 days and is renewable; the prisoners can be denied a lawyer for 60 days, a renewable restriction as well.

During interrogation there are regular reports of physical and psychological torture, 20 hour sessions, isolation cells two by four meters in size with a hole in the floor for bathroom needs. The prisoner may be tied up in stress positions for hours during interrogation, experience physical abuse, sleep and sensory deprivation which is very disorienting, and threats of sexual violence, especially against children and their family members. As expected, forced confessions are common and 73 prisoners have died in custody since 1967, allegedly due to torture. This year, Arafat Jaradat died during his first arrest. He was accused of throwing stones. He requested a medical exam due to severe back pain and was rewarded with an extension of his interrogation. At autopsy, he had severe bruising and fractured ribs and no action was taken against his torturers. Even more frightening, Randa reports that when he was originally arrested, the security forces told him to say good bye to his wife and children as he would never see them again.

Interrogation is followed by the farce of a military court where innumerable international laws are violated. Randa describes temporary buildings, an intrusive search for all attending the trial, inadequately trained military judges, and a court inundated with soldiers. The proceedings are conducted in Hebrew, the translators deplorable, misinterpreting and injecting their own opinions, the shackled prisoner has often not met his attorney before, and the average hearing lasts three minutes. Needless to say there is a 99+ conviction rate.

So for what are Palestinians languishing in jail? There are 2,000 military orders in the West Bank but #1651 is the most common, and includes participation in demonstrations, destruction of public order, raising the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem, belonging to an illegal party, (all PLO organizations are illegal), etc, etc. The military frequently goes after political activists who are convicted of writing slogans on walls, throwing stones, ten years imprisonment towards a nonmoving object and 20 years towards a moving object.

90% of arrested children are accused of throwing stones, 60% ripped from their beds at night in front of terrified and powerless parents, and children older than 16 are tried as an adults. Palestinian childhood appears to be an ephemeral and brief experience thanks to occupation. There are 700 child detainees per year, over 8,000 since 2000. Randa describes a number of tragic cases of young children detained, strip searched, mentally and physically tortured, for instance, ripping off braces one tooth at a time, interrogated, and pushed to be collaborators in order to protect their families. Families are also forced to pay huge court fees. These traumatic experiences in children have major long term implications. Some children stop speaking, refuse to attend school or leave home, suffer from bed wetting, a loss of interest in life and fear of participating in any future political activities.

With the females in detention, there have been several births, the women shackled during delivery, the children removed after the age of two, and no extra food provided after childbirth. The women report sexual harassment, and repeated strip searches.

There has been public information about recent hunger strikes protesting issues like repeated strip searches, extended administrative detention, extreme overcrowding, lack of hygiene and inadequate medical care. There are often eight prisoners per cell and they are given three hours in the open yard per day. All of these basic requirements are treated as privileges that can be easily revoked. Because of the increasing privatization of the prisons, much like the US, prisoners now have to pay for the canteen, cleaning products, clothes, and the money raised by often poor families is split between the private company, ie Dudush, and the Israeli Ministry of Prisoner Affairs.

Prisoners are economically exploited and can sometimes exchange a month of sentencing for 2,000 shekels. And then there are repeated examples of medical negligence; 52 prisoners have died from deliberate negligence, such as denial of cancer treatment, and less egregious issues such as malnutrition, deliberate errors in the clinics such as pulling the incorrect tooth, lack of treatment for chronic disease, lack of adequate treatment of injuries that then become even more serious medical problems. Apparently the health care is often “provided” by soldiers in white coats with some first aid training. A recent hunger striker developed hepatitis when non-sterile instruments overtly contaminated with blood were used for a tooth extraction. I wonder where are the doctors, the psychologists, the professionals who above all are trained to do no harm? Where is the outcry from the Israeli Medical Association? When is blindness and ignorance a symptom of racism and growing fascism within a country that claims to be operating according to democratic principles?

Randa explains that clearly Adameer “does not have a whole lot of wins in military court,” but they continue to provide free legal aid, work in the Jerusalem high court to reveal these gross injustices built into the system, provide advocacy work, and put pressure on international governments. 95% of their work is with political prisoners and their office has been repeatedly raided, computers and records removed by Israeli soldiers. They have also attracted the ire of the Palestinian Authority which increasingly collaborates with the Israeli military court system. Adameer works closely with the UN and with the Israeli organization Adalah, and has begun contacts with prisoner support groups in the US, drawing obvious parallels.

We ask if there are any signs of hope and Randa tells us of a new campaign (www.stopadcampaign.com) against the British/Danish security company, G4S, which owns child detention centers in the US, provides security in Israeli prisons, runs immigration detention centers in the UK, and provides security for the hajj in Saudi Arabia.

It seems that once again, we are all in this together one way or another. It seems also that in Israel/Palestine, military might tramples the rights of the powerless, the youth, the activists, the Arabs, the very human people engaged in a struggle for survival that is easily visible if you choose to see. I can only hope their voices can be heard.

June 15, 2013 Through the Looking Glass

After weeks of anxiety and worrisome emails about security at Ben Gurion Airport, possible demands for computer passwords, email addresses, and various troublesome questions, the 18- year-old at passport control barely makes eye contact. I could see her ipod dangling from her ears. I don’t think she saw me at all.

This is day one of the American Jews for a Just Peace – Health and Human Rights Project and we begin in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Al Quds Community Action Center established in 2000 to serve the needs of the Palestinian Jerusalemite community. Hamad Shihabi is an attorney who works on the tortured legal issues facing East Jerusalemites, Palestinians who since 1967 have the unfortunate combination of an Israeli residency ID but no citizenship. They are faced with a myriad of challenges including home demolitions, barriers to family reunification, lack of adequate national insurance, (which includes medical, disability, social security), taxes without adequate local services, and face offs with the malignant Department of Antiquities. Their precious IDs can be easily revoked by Israeli authorities and in 2008, more than 4,000 East Jerusalemites lost their IDs out of a population of 250,000. At that point they became stateless, and began a byzantine and circuitous legal struggle to nowhere.

Under a gracefully arched ceiling, the heat permeating the thick walls, Hamad takes us through the Queen of Hearts kind of world that is East Jerusalem. For instance, if an East Jerusalemite takes another nationality, she loses her ID; if he builds without a permit, (which is virtually impossible to get), he loses his ID. Fines are based on each meter of non-permitted building done, 600 shekels ($180) per meter, accumulate on a daily basis, and are only getting harsher. There are legal ways to request extensions but little possibility of ever obtaining one. He talks about families that “self demolish” to avoid fines. He mentions the extensive zoning and permitting rules, but only Jewish families ever get permits to build in the Muslim quarter. Palestinian lands are unregistered in East Jerusalem according to the Israeli Land Authority, so there are always conflicts about the evidence for ownership. In 2011, Israeli authorities revoked the IDs of all Hamas members in parliament and reserve the right to revoke IDs whenever it is “reasonable.”

Hamad’s personal story is equally disturbing: a father who is an originally from East Jerusalem but has a West Bank ID, family lands lost in 1948 and 1967. His mother has an East Jerusalem ID, but their home which was once in Jerusalem is now outside of the city so they rent in Beit Hanina which is in the city. Because of the different IDs and the lack of family reunification, his father has to travel separately and go through different checkpoints than the rest of the family. I listen to all of this in my post travel exhaustion and think, once again I have arrived in a land of official insanity! Then I remember the over arching goal: to force Palestinians one way or the other, to leave their historic and ancestral homes and much becomes clear.

We make our way through the winding streets of the Old City, up and down stairs, through dark dusty stone tunnels and glorious snatches of sun to the Shehaba family quarters. 100 people from 22 families live in 120 rooms, curling around dark stairways, opening into bright courtyards, kids tumbling and playing, a kitchen tucked behind a door, a glimpse of a living room. Their papers date back to 400 years of documented ownership as a waqf, a form of Islamic trusteeship designed to protect the family from dispossession.

In the 1960s a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews claimed that the entry to their quarters was a “religious site” and began praying and performing Bar Mitzvahs and blocking the entry into their homes. The numbers and aggression increased and then came the demands to knock down walls, to make a male and female prayer area, and to connect to the tunnels under Al Aqsa. The local residents complained and the authorities put up police barricades along their entry to separate them from the meshugas and also installed a “security camera.” The nearby sign says in English and Arabic, “Small Wailing Wall,” but in Arabic it says, “Shehaba Quarters.”

We wend our way up the ancient stones and in classic Palestinian fashion we are soon sitting in another Shehaba home where our host was born and raised. We are soon sipping sweet juice, and enjoying his curly haired two year old daughter. The only sign of tension is his cigarette. He studied antiquities in Italy and now works at the Khalidi Library, founded in 1725, but his true passion is restoring old documents. He shows us an elegant book of Islamic laws he restored, the pages dating back 420 years. The living room is filled with stuffed chairs, an Oriental rug, plastic white lilies, paintings of Al Aqsa Mosque, and a muezzin calls in the background. He is dignified and calm in this sea of disordered behavior. As we leave him graciously smiling and reassuring us about the intrusion, he repeatedly states: “You are most welcome.”

As if this is some kind of bad movie, by the time we get to the bottom of the stairs at the entry to the family quarters, a large crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews has gathered to pray, loudly and boisterously in their self assured religiosity. They are guarded by a cluster of soldiers with large automatic weapons and a clear intent to use them if needed. Dropped down the rabbit hole again. Welcome to the Holy Land.