The meaning of this title is two-fold. One very literal, a supposed central place of the entire world, and another whose meaning is much more complicated than a mere two folds: the Palestine Israel conflict being central to the entire world’s attention. Today I stood under a mural of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is/was considered by many to mark the center of the world. There just happen to be a few other significant places in the Church. It is home to the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, another space where he was washed and prepared for burial, as well as his tomb. To stand in the place where a man, who was an epitome of morality, had his life ended for his beliefs and the threat that those beliefs posed to the status quo of the standing rulers is a powerful experience. In a place of such strong religious purpose, you have to wonder where the religious mainstays of equality and compassion get to in this tension-filled pocket of the world.
Following our morning walk through the Old City of Jerusalem with our guide Salim, which included walking the Via Dolorosa (Jesus’s walk through the streets to his crucifixion), stops at the Wailing/Western Wall (Where a few of us went up and placed messages in the wall), the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, among many other sites and some delicious Shwarma/Falafel sandwich lunches, we met with Jeff Halper. Jeff is an American Jew who moved to Israel 40 years ago. He is the Founder and Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He met us at our tour bus outside of the Old City. We began by driving out to a hill overlooking the Eastern side of Jerusalem (The Palestinian Side). The air was dusty and visibility was poor, but he was still able to give us an overview of the Separation Wall/Security Fence, whatever your preferred name, and its relation to Palestinian Villages and Israel’s claim to 25,000 House Demolition Orders for Palestinian homes in the area.
Palestinians who live there are not citizens of Israel. According to Israel, even though the Palestinian homes have been there since before Israel’s creation, they do not have legal permits to hold residences on the land. By that claim they declare the right to demolish houses at their choosing. Leaving the occupying family to find alternative living. Even if your house is not demolished, the living conditions are not to be envied. Israeli State services such as trash pickup are not directly offered in the region, and so the vacant plots of land are covered in trash and ruble from wrecked houses. 70% of Palestinians live below the poverty line. The ever decreasing number of living spaces due to house demolitions only drives housing prices up to unaffordable levels. Water is strictly controlled by Israel, and per capita water usage is 5x greater than Palestinians. Israel has the power to cut off water supply at will. The sure-fire way to identify a Palestinian home is to locate the large black water tank on top of the house which collects rain water in case the water supply is cut off in summer droughts. Meanwhile, Israeli Settlements in the same location have large, decorative man-made lakes with fountains (Picture Below; You can see what I mean by dust), and Olympic sized swimming pools.
After giving us these, he made some very thought-provoking statements about how this was being allowed to happen. Reasons like, Israelis not needing to care due to their high living standard, or their need for protection (which is absolutely legitimate, but not to the point of oppression), the United States’ need for our Military Industrial Complex to be subsidized and so fearing any opposition to Israeli strategic overtaking of the land. The most thought-provoking to me was the idea that the rest of the world was allowing Israel working space in order to use the Palestinians like lab rats for the worlds oppressive regimes to observe and model after. Mr. Halper, an Israeli mind you, was pointing out the fact that they are able to do it by boring administrative/legal induced ways. Things like zoning and creating permit requirements that Palestinians can’t fulfill. Things that a lot of people don’t understand in the first place, let alone know how to change.
I am assuming that this post looks STRONGLY biased. Let me be clear. I believe Israel has the right to exist. Do I believe they have the right to systematically humiliate Palestinians to the point where they are forced to leave their land? No. There is no arguing that Israel’s approach is to siphon off Palestinian’s land until they possess the entire land including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Do I understand the Israeli concern for security? Absolutely. It’s indisputable. However, as I head to bed I point to one of the quotations that I saw spray painted on the portion of the wall we saw today.
“When Ignorance reigns, Lives are Lost”
This applies to both sides. Suicide bombings from the Palestinians are what gave the Israelis the excuse to build the Wall. Needless to say any attack from the Palestinians now is made into justification of all portions of the Israeli system. Violence, particularly of the blind fashion, will only lose lives.
It has been a long day and a half. I have no doubt my opinions will be swayed day by day. The only thing that is certain is that I am standing in the Middle of the World. The world will take its cues from the situation here. The lynch pin of the Human Rights struggle is right here, and we can only hope that justice, whatever that looks like, is what prevails.
Till next time,