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Date posted: September 26, 2012
By Melkam Lidet for MIFTAH

Putting the annexation of east Jerusalem aside, I’ve always thought of Jerusalem as a city with two distinct parts: West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. I know the state of Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would beg to differ but if the two-state solution was to come into effect, west Jerusalem would be the Jewish Israeli side and east Jerusalem would be the Arab Palestinian center. But taking part in a walking tour of some of the most expensive neighborhoods of west Jerusalem last Friday taught me differently: west Jerusalem was home to Palestine’s most affluent Christian and Muslim Arabs before the 1948 war.

It might be hard to imagine Palestinians living and owning magnificent homes in the west Jerusalem neighborhoods of Baqa’a, Katamon, Talbiyeh, and the German Colony given the complete Jewish Israeli façade these areas exhibit today. But before the “Nakba” befell these neighborhoods, the Salame’s, the Karmi’s, Said’s, Sakakini’s, Kalabian’s, and many more Palestinian families lived in these neighborhoods alongside Jews, Britons, Armenians, Greeks and German Templars.

Walking on these streets and stopping by some of the houses to listening to the stories of the people that built, furnished, lived and raised families in these houses as recounted in their own journals and memoirs, I realized how the neighborhoods that now look peaceful were battle grounds in the wake of the Nakba. I tried to imagine the fear and terror that drove Palestinians out of their houses: news of the Dier Yassin massacre and the constant patrolling of the Haganah and the Lehi in their neighborhoods warning or forcing them to leave. Most left in the rush of the hour with nothing but hope – not even certainty - that they would be back soon when the ordeal is over. I can only imagine their shock, disbelief, and sense of loss when some came back to their homes right after the war or after, to find strangers living and thriving in their house as if they have always owned it. Most went back to Jerusalem to find out that they no longer own their house because of “absentee law” or court rulings that decided that they left “voluntarily” since leaving due to terror is not considered “forceful eviction”. But it is not only a question of their houses; this is also about their identity, history and even homeland that was scrapped out by the Nakba - without any compensation or acknowledgement that it once existed.

The books attesting to the Palestinian culture, poetry, art, literature – their actual existence and identity may be “protected” by Israel (around 30,000 books looted from Palestinian neighborhoods in west Jerusalem are found in the Hebrew University and other academic institutes in Israel). And the witnesses to history may have been slaughtered, exiled, displaced, imprisoned, or silenced by suppression, but nonetheless, walking in these neighborhoods the stones and houses tell a different story. You will know that the past and the present have diverged at some point in history when you walk down the streets with Hebrew/Jewish names but the houses on your left and right exhibit the Arab Palestinian art of their time.

What I find appalling is not only the injustice in writing Palestinians off their land, property, history and identity at the wake of the Nakba in the name of Zionism, but the absence of any kind of acknowledgement of this injustice. There are numerous monuments paying tribute to Jewish Israelis killed in battle and evicted in times of war. There are numerous signs and memorials in remembrance of almost every Jewish Israeli civilian killed in terrorist attacks at home or abroad.

But as if Jewish Israeli life is more sacred than Arab Palestinian life, there’s no monument in remembrance of the civilian Palestinians slaughtered in Deir Yassin or several other massacres. No sign or dedications to those forcefully evicted or who fled their homes in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias, and West Jerusalem. History books at Israeli schools only talk about the “war of independence” of Israel but the ‘Nakba’ or even the word ‘Palestine’ is taboo. The Haganah, Palmah, Lehi and Irgun of the 1940s, and the current Israeli army are praised for “defend [ing] the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel.”But there’s no recognition of the crimes committed by the army as air strikes in Gaza fall on the heads of children as a form of collective punishment. Rather, Israel adds insult to injury and Israel continues to commit injustices in the present.

While trying to process everything in my head as one irony after another hits me, one word is all I could think of that would knit together what I learned that day – injustice. But how much injustice can a people bear? How much injustice can the land endure? How much injustice is enough to sustain the state of Israel and assure it of its “security”? How much injustice will average Israelis turn a blind eye to? How much injustice before all this is over and a just peace is achieved?

Melkam Lidet is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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