Tom Teicholz , CONTRIBUTOR
I write about culture and the cult of luxury
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The Temple Mount
Nir Hasson covers Jerusalem for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz with particular attention to the residents of East Jerusalem. Hasson approaches Jerusalem very much as a city beat reporter, although the municipal issues in Jerusalem concerning real estate, zoning, water, power are, more often than not, political and at times even existential. Hasson’s reporting reflects the ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians and as to Jerusalem itself. Last summer Nir Hasson published his first book “Urshalim: Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem 1967–2017,” which will be published in English in 2018. We spoke first two years ago about his perspective on Jerusalem (Nir Hasson: Mr. Jerusalem, Forbes.com) and met again recently to continue the conversation in light of his new book and recent events.
Tom Teicholz: When we spoke two years ago, you told me how the residents of East Jerusalem were increasingly working, shopping, becoming educated and sending their children to be educated in West Jerusalem while maintaining an “Anti-Normalization” campaign against Israel [a refusal to participate in any activities that validate Israel or the status quo in Jerusalem or in the West Bank]. Is that still the case?
Nir Hasson: Yes. There is more non-cooperation. It’s more pervasive. But at the same time, in daily life there are even more Palestinians who move between the two sides of the city. These two developments are happening at the same time, like they go together. It’s very interesting.
Tom Teicholz: But at the same time, I feel like the Jewish residents of West Jerusalem go even less to East Jerusalem.
Nir Hasson: Of course. When we met last time, it was during the Gaza War of 2015. Or was it after?
Tom Teicholz: It was after.
Nir Hasson: Since then it’s actually never ended [the resistance of East Jerusalemites in the Anti-Normalization campaign]. It’s continued in waves-
Tom Teicholz: But do you see the recent Temple Mount protests in East Jerusalem as a turning point?
Nir Hasson: I think it’s a turning point in the sense of the Palestinian society of East Jerusalem. The way they act. The way they got this victory over Israel. This is something no one expected.
Tom Teicholz: What they seem to have realized, for the first time, is the power of nonviolence.
Nir Hasson: Right.
Tom Teicholz: To have people protesting by praying in the streets was powerful … and effective.
Nir Hasson: Yes, but it worked because it’s Jerusalem, and because it concerned Al-Aqsa [the mosque that is the third holiest site to Muslims]. The Palestinians tried to do a non-violent protest in the West Bank in Bethlehem and it didn’t work because there was no media there. It worked this time because Israel was really afraid of violence at the Temple Mount – and not only there. During the protest in Jerusalem there was a bloody terror attack in the Halamish settlement in Samaria. But the big question is, will it work for other protests in Jerusalem, like when there are house demolitions, or can it work only when it concerns Al-Aqsa?
Tom Teicholz: Two years ago, I went to the Temple Mount and it was very unpleasant. From the moment we were on the Temple Mount, there were groups of women and children screaming “Alu Akbar” at us – there was nothing solemn, spiritual or meditative about the experience. By contrast, I went again the other day, coincidentally, on the same day as the Members of Knesset (MK)’s [members of the Israeli Parliament] went, and it was completely calm and quiet.
Nir Hasson: Since the agreement between Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan at the end of 2015, the situation on the Temple Mount is pretty quiet. The police hold back the Jewish religious activists. And they didn’t let the MKs go there for almost three years. What happens on the Temple Mount affects East Jerusalem and it affects the West Bank. Even though the Mount is quiet, what happened two months ago was amazing, because so many people went out in the streets to pray – And the people were nonreligious. These were young people who have never been … I believe the Al-Aqsa protests have made a very strong impression in the hearts and mind of the Palestinian Jerusalemite. But the question is: Can they take this new-found power to other areas?
Tom Teicholz: And there is also the question of the Palestinian leadership. Palestinian Authority President Abbas is in his 80s.
Nir Hasson: You have to understand that the situation in Jerusalem is different than in the West Bank. More and more lately, you hear people in East Jerusalem saying that the Palestinian authority does not represent us.
Tom Teicholz: Really?
Nir Hasson: Yes. In East Jerusalem I hear people saying that: We are part of the Palestinian people, of course, but the Palestinian leadership is not our leadership. We need our own Jerusalem leadership.
I wrote an article during the Al-Aqsa events that said: “As of this writing it’s hard to know how the crisis over the Temple Mount will end. But recent days have shown that the real sovereign on the Temple Mount is not Israel, Jordan or the Waqf, the site’s Muslim custodial trust. The real bosses are the Palestinians of Jerusalem.” [ https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802402 ]
The article was translated into Arabic just hours after it was published, and so many people came up to me on the street to say it’s a great article, it makes us feel so much pride. And so, it’s not the Palestinians’ fight, it’s the Jerusalemites fight.
Tom Teicholz: The present Israeli government seems to get more provocative each day – and, at least in the U.S., one gets the sense that there is nothing that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his ministers could do that President Trump and his administration would object to. And I think we’ve seen, since the moment of Trump’s election, Netanyahu is more and more unrestrained to do as he pleases. The U.S. won’t object.
Nir Hasson: Right. You can see it in Jerusalem. You can see it in what’s happened – since the night of the U. S. election — as regards homes of East Jerusalemites (Over 80 % of the houses in East Jerusalem don’t have permits). Even though Obama was still in the office, they started to demolish those houses. Trump’s election has had a dramatic effect on the way the Israeli authorities behave, on their sense of freedom to build wherever they want, to demolish what they want, to do whatever they like in Jerusalem. Absolutely. This is absolutely true.
You know, Hillary Clinton was in Jerusalem, I think it was in 2009 [when Clinton was Secretary of State] and she had a very short meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. And after that meeting, house demolitions dropped dramatically, from about more than 100 per year to less than 10. And it stayed that way until the end of the Obama Administration. And since the election we’ve already seen the numbers rise again.
Tom Teicholz: And last week Netanyahu declared that “the settlements will stay in the West Bank forever.”
Nir Hasson: Exactly. Just now there’s a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, because the Shamasneh family are being evicted [they have lived in the house for 53 years – but Israeli authorities and right-wing activists say the house was never properly registered as owned by them]. We haven’t seen anything like this in years.
Tom Teicholz: When we spoke two years ago you told me that when you covered the opening of a new movie theater in East Jerusalem, none of the East Jerusalemites wanted to be quoted by name in an Israeli newspaper – even one like Haaretz which is very left. Which is a long way of me asking if, as a journalist, you’re able to develop good sources in East Jerusalem?
Nir Hasson: Some will not go on the record. However, they will if you are writing about their daily life, or the problem of house demolitions; violence against them, and all the ways that the police act in their neighborhood or their problems with the settlers. What they are not willing to do is to cooperate with you if you are writing about culture.
The thing about the anti-normalization movement is that it’s not black and white. This principle that ‘You have to have no connections with Israelis’ – is the same obligation for Palestinians whether you live in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. But it’s very difficult for someone to live in Jerusalem and have no connection with Israelis. So, the more aware among the East Jerusalem residents make certain distinctions regarding daily life. They try to hold the line between daily life and other non-necessary activities. They say: I have to work in West Jerusalem, I have to get my Israeli visa to deal with the authorities, but I will never go to a movie in West Jerusalem. I will never go to an evening discussion event or a conference in West Jerusalem. This is a privilege, I don’t have to do it.
Tom Teicholz: Right.
Nir Hasson: But it changes. It changes very quickly. For example, a few years ago it was taboo to ask for Israeli citizenship. Today, there are thousands of Palestinians and East Jerusalemites who ask for Israeli citizenship, a full Israeli citizenship, and an Israeli passport. Today it’s okay. If you’re a businessman, or if you are a student who has to go abroad for studies, it’s okay if you ask for the passport. That’s no longer considered a normalization of the occupation.
So, the question is: what’s going to happen in the next election? Will they break the taboo of voting in the municipal election? Because voting is a recognition of the occupation. But there is a lot of debate around this topic, saying that maybe it’s about time for the Palestinians in Jerusalem to step into the Israeli political field.
Tom Teicholz: But didn’t they get greater representation in the last election?
Nir Hasson: No. Less than 1% of the voters from East Jerusalem- went to vote. Less than 1%. It’s the lowest percentage since ’67. This taboo is still very strong.
However, a young teacher from the Al-Tur neighborhood, announced a new party about four months ago, the East Jerusalem party, a Palestinian party and that he would run for election, and that he would try to promote this new party. However, he was asked not to talk about politics – he can talk about social services, street cleaning (garbage pickup), that’s all.
But since the Al-Aqsa event, this movement seems to have gone under; no one knows anything about it. I believe there will be a very strong debate around voting in the Jerusalem Municipal election next year. They have a lot to lose by voting because then the Israelis will say, “Here you go, even the Palestinians recognize the Israeli sovereignty of East Jerusalem. So, what do you want from us?”
They have a lot to lose — so they will only vote if they can make a very strong showing. If they get two seats on the city council, that’s nothing. It will make no change. But if they get real political power on the city council then…. Still, I think we’re still very far from that happening.
Tom Teicholz: At the same time, those Israelis on the Left who are the most sympathetic to the concerns of the people in East Jerusalem, have seen their power shrink. Right?
Nir Hasson: Today, so few Israelis want to know about what’s going on, or even understand what’s going on, or want to change anything. The only thing the Israeli mainstream media speak about is the terror, and the violence. The day I decided to write this book was the eve of the general election in 2015, when a very well-known prestigious journalist in Israel called me and asked, “Can the Palestinian Jerusalemites even vote tomorrow?”
And I said to myself, if he doesn’t know the simple fact that the Palestinians who live in Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens and that they have no right to vote in the general election for the members of the Israeli Parliament, what’s the point? I decided right then that either I’m going to quit my job or I’m going to write a book.
Tom Teicholz: Both in the United States and Israel, we’re in this crazy period where governments speak in half truths. So, for example. the Israeli tourist office advertises Rainbow Tel Aviv as this place where gay life thrives – which is true. And yet in Israel gay couples can’t get married. Those facts don’t make it into the popular perception or discussion.
Nir Hasson: Right. The Israeli government covers up those facts. Do you know what the name of the book, Urshalim means?
Tom Teicholz: No.
Nir Hasson: In September ’67, three months after the Six Day War, the Israeli government had a meeting where one Minister said, ‘It’s impossible that on Israeli radio, we use the name Al-Quds. Al-Quds is the name of the city in Arabic. It’s connected to the city’s Islamic heritage. it’s not connected to its Jewish heritage. We have to find another name for the city.’ And they found the name Urshalim, a name that had been used in translations of the Christian Holy Bible… They didn’t want to use the name Al-Quds, so they used the name Urshalim – Jerusalem.
Tom Teicholz: Really?
Nir Hasson: I write in my book that: “On your way from Tel Aviv, or Ben Gurion Airport, to Jerusalem you could notice the point where the landscape changes from the lowland to the Jerusalem hills. This is Shaar Hagay, the Gate of the Valley, about 30 kms before Jerusalem. However, not only the landscape changes at that point of the road, the names on the road signs change too. Till Shaar Hagay, the name of Jerusalem is Jerusalem in English, Yerusalaim in Hebrew and Urshalim Al Kuds in Arabic. After Shaar Hagay, the names in English and Hebrew stay the same, but the Arabic name becomes only Urshalim.” In the last years a new road has been built and new signs were posted – and the name Al-Quds was deleted.
The strange thing is that no place called Urshalim exists. It doesn’t exist in the Hebrew Bible. No Arabic-speaker uses that name. For him, it is considered to be an artificial and even insulting name whose sole purpose is to delete the Islamic and Arabic heritage of the city. In the ears of the Palestinian residents of the city it is also a daily reminder of the occupation
This is exactly the kind-of Israeli Government cover-up of facts which the Israeli population should know about, but doesn’t. Israelis think they know about Jerusalem, but they don’t know anything. Where else can you find a capital with two names, one used by the people, the other by the government?
This is exactly what I wanted to describe in my book: There’s a huge gap between the daily life, the reality of Jerusalem, and the cliché image of Jerusalem in the mind of Israelis. It’s two different places. The Israelis really believe that Jerusalem is just like other cities. They don’t know that 40% of the people who live here are not Israeli citizens.
This is the simple fact that every Israeli has to know. What Israel did in ’67, is that it annexed the territory. But it didn’t annex the people who live on the territory. And until today, it’s the same situation. What I tried to do in ‘Urshalim’ is to explain the real Jerusalem.
Tom Teicholz: It’s an existential problem.
Nir Hasson: Exactly. I mean the way the Palestinians in Jerusalem see it, they will always use the verb, the word, occupation. That is the point. The Israelis will never use the name Al-Quds. And if they do, it’s to make fun of it.
For the Palestinians, the occupation is the air that they breathe. That is their reality. They live under a regime that they have no part in it. It affects them in many ways. And this, too, is the occupation.
And if you say occupation to Nir Barkat, he will make fun of you. ‘What do you mean? There’s no occupation here’. It’s like when Netanyahu said that Jerusalem will never be divided again, and there is nine meters of concrete wall that divides Jerusalem today. The Israeli politicians of Jerusalem are not connected to reality.
Tom Teicholz: Are there any reasons for hope?
Nir Hasson: The last chapter of the book is about this question, is there a place for hope? I don’t have a clear answer. But, my conclusion is that even though the city today is more united than it was ever before, the situation in Jerusalem is not stable.
The fact that 40% of the residents of Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens cannot last. I analyzed a few solutions. The solution will be, I hope sooner than later, some kind of sharing of sovereignty without a fence, with no border line.
Sometimes I think that the only good thing that Netanyahu did for the State of Israel is that he withheld finding a solution for so many years that maybe there will be a technological solution.
Have you heard about the organization, “Two States One Homeland”? (http://2states1homeland.org/en) It’s a very interesting, intellectual idea of how to solve the problem. It was established by two guys, an Israeli Journalist Meron Rapoport and Palestinian activist Awni Almsni who say we can solve the problem without having to move anyone and without a border between Israel and Palestine.
Tom Teicholz: Virtual Nations? That’s interesting. Like the way my phone knows where I am. The minute I’m in the West Bank it says, “Welcome to Palestine.”
Nir Hasson: Right. Exactly. It knows where you are. And when you are driving on Road Number Six that cuts across Israel from North to South, there’s no checkpoints, no tolls but at the end of the month, you get an invoice to pay – the road knows where you are.
And what they say is that if you have 400,000 settlers, then you have to take 400,000 Palestinian refugees into Israel. They will become citizens of Palestine, but residents of Israel. In the same way that some of the settlers would become residents of Palestine but remain citizens of Israel. In addition, they would create both property compensation panels and a reconciliation process. It’s very interesting. They don’t solve all the problems but it’s gone on for a few years now.
But the main obstacle we must overcome is the mind of the Israelis — to have them trust the Palestinians to maintain their own security in their territory. Because, 35,000 plus Palestinians work in West Jerusalem, and they go into work every morning, — they don’t want to cross a fence or go through a checkpoint. But the Israelis fear that if there are no borders then all the Palestinians will come through Jerusalem to live in Tel Aviv.
The last negotiation was in 2008. It’s been 10 years now, and many things have changed. It’s even more complicated to solve the issues in Jerusalem. But at the same time… Let me tell you what I wrote on almost the last page of the book. I tell a story about Nelson Mandela.
On Christmas in 1986, he was in jail, when one of his prison guards asked him, “Would you like to see the city?” He’d been in jail for more than 20 years. Mandela agreed and the prison official drove him around Cape Town. Mandela saw people walking in the street, and the officers bought him some juice. They brought him back to jail, and it was as is nothing had happened. No one knew about this trip. But it was about only three years later that he was released, and only four years later that there was free elections in South Africa. And what I say is that things started to change in South Africa when the white people started to understand the situation is not stable and cannot last.
No one can say when this change started to happen. And the last words I write are: I don’t know if Nelson Mandela has traveled around Jerusalem yet but I I can’t say it hasn’t happened.
Maybe, in the mind of the Israelis, a solution has begun. When the Israelis will understand that their occupation cannot last, and they have to find a solution, and it can happen, then maybe … maybe that has already started.
All we can say is that Nelson Mandela was traveling in the streets with one of the officers.
Tom Teicholz: It’s a beautiful image. It reminds me of a breakfast with Shimon Peres that I attended about 15 years ago around the time of the second intifada, at the end of which someone asked: Is there any reason for hope? Peres answered “There’s always reason for hope. Imagine if you were a Jew in Europe in 1944, and someone said to you, “In four years, Hitler will be dead, Germany will be defeated, and there will be a state of Israel.” You would’ve said he’s crazy.
Nir Hasson: Right.
Tom Teicholz: Things can change and they usually do, fast, when you least think they can.
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Copyright 2017 Tommywood