A Guardian essay on a new Israeli open-rooftops project in Jerusalem, part of a Season of Culture, sadly falls into a standard trap for feelgood articles of this kind. It fails to provide the main context for Jerusalem: that the native Palestinians live under a belligerent Israeli occupation that is ultimately trying to evict them from the city.
Ignoring that context when reporting on life for Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem is gravely irresponsible journalism.
Does this misrepresentation simply reflect author Hannah Ellis-Petersen’s ignorance? Or is it a consequence of who is footing the bill: the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the article.
Note these infuriatingly misleading introductory paragraphs:
For its Season of Culture, the ancient capital has thrown open its rooftops to encourage residents to see beyond their blinkered boundaries. But the reality is a city where the divides are growing deeper
The standfirst sets the mendacious “balanced” tone, as though Palestinians could ever afford the luxury of choosing to be “blinkered” in a city where the Israeli-run, occupation municipality is openly hostile to them, and where their homes can be demolished for the smallest infraction of opaque, Israeli-imposed planning rules.
The city’s divides are not “growing deeper”. They were always deep in a city where the occupying power has sought for five decades to colonise Palestinian East Jerusalem with Jewish settlers. There are now more than 200,000 of these settlers gradually displacing the native Palestinian population.
Living side by side in Jerusalem are communities who exist with no interaction with one another – kept apart by fear, nationalism and religion.
No, that is not what keeps them apart. Just imagine an article on apartheid South Africa stating that whites and blacks had no interaction because they were “kept apart by fear, nationalism and religion”. In reality, the two populations were kept apart by the colour of their skin. For blacks under apartheid, and today for Palestinians under occupation, their inferior status is dictated to them. They have no say in the matter.
Palestinians and Israelis are kept apart by the structural violence of occupation, which confers on them entirely different rights and life choices. Jews in Jerusalem have Israei citizenship; Palestinians have a residency that Israel can easily revoke. Potentially, Jews can live almost anywhere in the city; Palestinians are confined to ghettoes, where they are being suffocated of space and services to encourage them to leave.
Israel has even built a wall cutting some Palestinian neighbourhoods off from the rest of East Jerusalem and the services they pay for through their municipal taxes. They do not live apart because of fear, nationalism or religion. They have been cut off from family, friends and services by concrete walls and armed checkpoints.
While Israelis typically live in the west and Palestinians in the east of Jerusalem, mixed neighbourhoods do exist. In the winding alleys of the old city and the streets of downtown, the diverse inhabitants peacefully cross paths every day.
“Mixed neighbourhoods”? Is the author referring to Jewish settlers who have forcibly taken over Palestinian properties in areas of occupied East Jerusalem like the Old City, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah in violation of international law and have then turned their apartment blocs into armed compounds? Is that her idea of “paths crossing peacefully” – that Palestinians must live submissively, in terror of armed Jewish interlopers?
What’s more, the only rooftops of Palestinians that were made accessible are in the old city; there are none in east Jerusalem. … The project traces a line across a divided city via its rooftops. And the stories of the volunteers who have opened their homes to strangers, regardless of ethnicity or creed, speak to a multi-layered Jerusalem, one rarely seen in a conflict-obsessed news cycle: a colourful, fractious and potent city.
Is it really a failure of the news cycle that it wishes to highlight “conflict” rather than accentuate the supposed rough-and-tumble co-existence proposed by this article, and achieved after Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem?
Israel professes to have created an “eternal, united capital” of Jerusalem, but nothing could be further from the truth. We don’t need from the media less of an obsession with “conflict”. We need greater honesty from them about Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and the harsh reality of a Jewish settler colonial society slowly disappearing the natives.
Only the gullible or dishonest could believe that opening rooftops in the privileged, Jewish side of the city challenges or mitigates the ugliness of what is going on on the other side of Jerusalem, for Palestinians.