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Seven Views of Jerusalem /7 ·

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.

Devarim 16:20.

Shabbat. Eleven years to the day since that Shabbat when I met God.
What did I get from that short trip to Israel and Palestine?

  • One eye of Allah 🧿 that I found on the cobblestones in the Old City (… not far from a stand that sold such amulets), value = 1 shekel.
  • One empty box of dates that we bought under Zacchaeus’s sycamore in Jericho; I mean, it was a full box of dates when we bought it.
  • One rusty bolt that I found where our van ran out of fuel at the junction between the Kvish Ahat and the Kvish Arba-Ahat-Sheva.
  • Four empty jars of date jam; I mean, they were four full jars of date jam before we ate their content.
  • Two bookends (a blue one and a green one) that spell אהבה, “love”.
  • A better understanding of why the Occupied Territories are called the Occupied Territories.
  • The perception that Arabs and Jews hate each other, and the opinion that peace won’t be possible in my lifetime.

It may have been at the Turin Book Fair in 2008, when Israel was the guest of honour, that I walked to one of the Italian Jewish communities’ table and I asked if they had books on Zionism. Of course they had, and of course all books were fervidly partisan in tone, while I was looking for something balanced – what was I thinking? Then the two ladies behind the table started talking national politics, and criticising the party that I used to vote, which is sympathetic to the Jewish cause but also to the suffering of Palestinians. I put the books back, I greeted them and I walked away, unnoticed, while they were still talking politics between themselves.
(I understand that Italian Jews hold a grudge against the Left and the Centre, after the PLO terrorist attacks in the 1970s and in the 1980s, after seventy-five years of “equivicinity” policies towards Israelis and Palestinians, and after two millennia of Catholic antisemitism; but why are they bedfellows with the children and grandchildren of those who sent them to the slaughterhouses?)

It was three years ago when I read an essay by an Italian Jewish leftist intellectual that I used to follow on La Stampa, on the Jewish identity between Israel and the Diaspora, and I realised that she barely mentioned the Arabs who live in the same region. When she did, it was only to remark upon their opposition to the State of Israel, actors in a purely adversarial role, as if before 1948 they hadn’t had a national identity and their own historical reasons to the right of self-determination.
(Sure, I know that the Arabs who live in the same region failed multiple chances to establish their own State of Palestine.)

In the current circumstances, I read that negotiators are pushing again for the two-state solution. I remember my five-day trip to Jerusalem in a peaceful time, I look at some of the pictures I took, and I wonder if they are delusional or else.
In the past few years, even before the most recent war began, multiple human rights organisations [1][2][3] – both international and Israeli – have denounced the effective domination of one side over the other: not only in the territories where one side is legally sovereign, in a regime that these organisations call “apartheid”, but also in the territories that this one side illegally occupies. There is already effectively one State, they say, “from the river to the sea”: scholars call it the one-state reality.
A good idea about who controls a territory is given by whose forces police the territory: I saw Israeli civil and military squads everywhere in the West Bank – from the countless checkpoints, up to the perimetre of the Temple Mount / Haram ash-Sharif – except perhaps in Jericho (Area A), which anyway the IDF have no trouble accessing. Freedom of movement across the splintered territories under theoretical control of the Palestinian National Authority depends on what kind of plate your car shows [4].

Blocks of flats on top of a hill overlooking a highway. Panorama of Palestine with an Israeli settlement in the distance.

Ma’ale Adumim, and Har Homa as seen from Bethlehem.

The junction where our van ran out of fuel is overlooked by one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank: Ma’ale Adumim. A total of 700,000 Israeli settlers are known to live in the Occupied Territories, 200,000 of which in East Jerusalem. My question to those who push the two-state solution would be: what is the plan to deal with these people? More than a million Italians live in direct danger of a volcano and there is no way to convince them to relocate to safer places; what would convince these settlers, who have political and religious motivations, and who often have military advantage over the surroundings, to relocate within the borders of 1948 in a peaceful way?
And before we even get to that, what actions will be taken to stop the low-intensity ethnic cleansing [5] that is ongoing in the Area C? The IDF-backed daily violence, the bulldozing of schools and of other civilian facilities. While in East Jerusalem and in the Old City the land-grabbing is operated through legal means, under the laws of the occupier.
Or, would the two-state solution maintain the same splintered Palestinian territories that dot the land today? I cannot see how such a State, without geographical unity, would be able to sustain itself and survive, let alone develop to decent standards of democracy and living.

In absolute naïvety, I hope that Israelis and Palestinians, supported by the whole world around them, stop thinking of Zionism and of Nakba, and focus on the future, to create and build together one secular State based on the principles of liberal democracy. “The only democracy in the Middle East”, expanded from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, without any racial or religious discrimination, demilitarised but with full protection by the international community, and with free access for all to the holy sites.
Both parties must acknowledge the humanity of the other one, its equal needs and its equal rights. I am aware of the amount of compromise that the two parties would have to make, and of the problems that may arise from the differences in demographics; that is where John Rawls’s concept of the veil of ignorance would come in handy.

In relative pragmatism, as outsiders we must cease to support those who work against that vision of peaceful cohabitation: military hawks, religious fanatics of all sorts, xenophobes from both sides; whether the current geopolitical situation makes them our friends or our foes.
I am pessimistic and I don’t see peace as possible in my lifetime. Today on the dominant side there is a far-right government, favoured by more than half of its citizens, bent on war as survival tactics; on the submissive side there are a clerical-fascist faction that prospers on hatred, and a deeply corrupt authority that has been unable to provide the basics. As outsiders we keep supporting either side, depending on our own domestic benefit. It is a perpetual-motion machine of death that will spin until the end of this tragic siblings story.

An old black-and-tan dog with a white kippah on his head.

Rabbilli, שאלוהים יברך את נשמתו.

  1. B’Tselem › A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid (2021).
  2. Human Rights Watch › A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution (2021).
  3. Amnesty International › Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity (2022).
  4. Car registration plates are often mentioned in the blog of an Italian physicist who lived in Jerusalem around the time I visited it.
  5. This is my shibboleth, tell me yours!