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Warschawski: Settlements around Jerusalem intended to make it a Jewish city

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Jerusalem with Michel Warschawski, the author of On the Border and the founder of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. Thanks for joining us again. So in the last segment we talked about how pre-1948 Jerusalem was more or less an irrelevant city for both Jews and Palestinians. When does it become so important to the Israeli government that Jerusalem becomes the symbol of their state?

MICHEL WARSCHAWSKI, FOUNDER, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: The symbolic value of Jerusalem existed before. And there were huge pilgrimages to Jerusalem of Jews before ’67 to West Jerusalem, which creates a problem for the ministry of cults, of religions, because there was no holy site whatsoever. So they invented one. One of the biggest jokes of Jerusalem was the Tomb of David on Mount Zion. And I was part of tens of thousands of people coming in the summer [inaudible] in the summer, tens of thousands praying at King David grave. The day after Israel occupied eastern Jerusalem, there was no King David and no grave anymore, because everyone knew that King David was buried far away in Silwan, not at all there. But they need a fake holy site to concretize the myth of Jerusalem: we are coming back to our roots. Our roots are not Tel Aviv. Our roots are not Beersheba. Our roots are Jerusalem, the kingdom of David.

JAY: And why? Why do they need that when it creates such a problem for them because there are so many Palestinians there? At what point—?

WARSCHAWSKI: The myth, Jerusalem, in the tradition, in the prayer, you have—in the prayer of the morning, you mention Jerusalem 100 times at least. It’s part of the Jewish culture, the Jewish [inaudible] And the return of the Jews to their land in the future, when the Messiah will come, is always a return to Jerusalem.

JAY: But from ’48 to ’67 there wasn’t this, like, imperative that we have to have East Jerusalem. I was talking to a historian here who said that in the ’67 war, after Israel knocks out the Egyptian Air Force, it was almost an afterthought to say, oh, let’s also get East Jerusalem while we’re here, ’cause there’d been some assessment before that from a security point of view the Israeli military had said that East Jerusalem, and in fact the West Bank, too, was more a problem than it’s worth to occupy. So why does it become so important, in ’67 particularly, that we have to have East Jerusalem?

WARSCHAWSKI: I agree with you that although there were drawer plans, what to do if, and how to do when, like any army, the war of ’67, in ending, was not a kind of premeditated plan to liberate East Jerusalem. But I remember the days first—even before the war. With my father I used to climb to the top of Notre Dame church every Friday to pray in the direction of the Temple Mount and to relate to the Wailing Wall as a place which has been lost. I think it’s not very peculiar to Zionism or to Israel. Every nation creates its own myths, which are also geographical myth. Jerusalem was definitely part of it. The most popular song before the war—and it was not connected to the war of ’67—was “Jerusalem of Gold”. Everyone was singing it. I remember I taught it to my sisters and brothers. It was kind of more important than the anthem of Israel, the Hatikva. So the myths of Jerusalem—and Jerusalem was really East Jerusalem, not West Jerusalem—always existed, always [inaudible] Zionism. Maybe only the founding father didn’t put a sheet on it [sic]. Then it became something else. It became the target of enlarging the borders of Israel. And this was not any more Jerusalem, but using the name Jerusalem to annex part of the West Bank, to re-create a Jerusalem which has nothing to do with historical Jerusalem in order to annex as much as possible with as less as possible Palestinians.

JAY: And that process goes on now. So talk about the current state, what’s happening in terms of new settlements and what the plan is for Jerusalem.

WARSCHAWSKI: I think we are entering a new stage in the last few years. While the first stage was creating these new suburbs, these settlements around Jerusalem, but trying to keep separation, physical separation between communities, to build these settlements on empty lands, not in the heart of populated East Jerusalem, in the last few years, the government has pushed a policy which was always a demand of the hardline settlers (but they were a minority) and the municipality, especially under the mayorship of Teddy Kollek, who made separation a supreme value—we will not settle inside the Palestinian neighborhoods and areas, we will settle around, keeping the Israeli nature of united Jerusalem by this wall of settlements around. The policy in the last year has been, now, to dismantle the Palestinian part of the city and to build settlements—sometimes a house, sometimes a group of houses, and sometimes more—in the heart of populated East Jerusalem. This is, for example, the challenge of Sheikh Jarrah, now, settlement. Sheikh Jarrah is a heavily populated Palestinian neighborhood, and the government and the municipality is supporting private initiatives of settlers buying or taking over houses in the middle of this neighborhood. And this is true in Sheikh Jarrah, but this is true also in other places in Jerusalem, and in the Muslim quarter in the Christian quarter in the Old City, which in the past were kept as they were, and building a new Jewish quarter outside the existing Arab, Muslim, and—.

JAY: So is some of what’s going on now, then, what you called, in an earlier segment, administrative ethnic cleansing?

WARSCHAWSKI: This policy is going on with limited success. All the attempts, the administrative attempts—for example, one attempt was every resident of East Jerusalem was living in the suburbs, Palestinian suburbs outside of Jerusalem, will lose his or her identity card of Jerusalem, provoke their return. So the link between the population, the Jerusalemite population, with their city is extremely strong. Another thing which is provoking more immigration back to Jerusalem by Palestinians is the wall. If being outside the wall, outside meaning on the non-Israeli part of the wall, mean that you will not be able to enter Jerusalem, or you will enter Jerusalem as a foreigner, then the choice of many, many families is to try to come back and to have a foot in Jerusalem, even to move again what the Israeli court call the center of their life. To deny residency rights in Jerusalem is based on the center of your life has moved outside the city, so they are moving back to the center of their life, often building a second floor (illegally, because in Jerusalem Palestinians wouldn’t have permit) on the top of their parents’, but saying, “This is my home; I am a Jerusalemite living in Jerusalem.” So it’s counterproductive, this policy. It’s pushing more Palestinians inside. The policy of administrative ethnic cleansing is a permanent harassment, but its efficiency, I think, is very limited.

JAY: So the conflict right now is more about the new housing, the new settlements that are going up that are circling Jerusalem.

WARSCHAWSKI: The main challenge are the settlements surrounding Arab Jerusalem.

JAY: And this is what Obama said, the Americans have said: you need to stop doing this in order to have some negotiations.

WARSCHAWSKI: Absolutely. Absolutely. But what is the most provocative is these very limited, for the time being, settlers settling in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhoods. Whether in the Old City or in Sheikh Jarrah or in Ras al-Amud or in these Palestinian neighborhoods, it’s creating friction. And like you will destroy thousands of houses, you will never have a real settlement; you will have some settlers, some families. From a logical point of view—and this was the policy of the previous governments and of the previous mayor of Jerusalem—it is counterproductive. Leave the Palestinian alone. We will make Jerusalem as a whole an Israeli city by increasing the Israeli population inside West Jerusalem and inside the settlements who are surrounding the Arab city. The Arab city—.

JAY: But this isn’t good enough for the far right.

WARSCHAWSKI: It’s not good enough.

JAY: So in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about the far right and what this means towards US policy, because we’ve seen a recent conflict over this question of settlements in Jerusalem between hard-right influence in the government and what United States says is its objectives in the region. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Michel Warschawski on The Real News Network.

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Michel Warschawski is a journalist and writer and a founder of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) in Israel. His books include On the Border and Towards an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society.