Jul 06 2004

Hunger Strike Against the Wall

Published by at 2:50 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

The Jerusalem-Ramallah road is no longer the same once you get to Dahiyat Al Barid. The return lane is all dug up and huge cement slabs fill the area. For the people of the East Jerusalem suburbs of Al Ram and Dahiyat Al Barid the reality of the Wall has become very concrete. The 30,000 Jerusalemites living in this area have just realized that they are on the other side of the WALL. Their trips to school, business, hospital or to pray in the old city of Jerusalem will now become a major ordeal.
The Dahiyat al Barid junction which has not witnessed much protest has just become a bee hiv. Azmi Bishara the outspoken Palestinian member of Knesset has got everybody running by his decision on Saturday July 3 to declare a hunger strike in opposition to the Wall.

A local recreational center has been quickly converted into a protest tent and plastic chairs fill the tented area. A nearby room has been converted to sleeping quarters. Within days, Azmi Bishara gathered over a dozen activists to join him in the hunger strike and the tent of protest has quickly become the focus of delegations from as far north as the Golan Heights, from Israeli peace activists as well as some press.

Whereas the wall has been the center of much press coverage for its affects on Palestinian agriculture and land the situation in Jerusalem is quadruple what it is in many other Palestinian areas. The wall is doing to East Jerusalem what 37 years of Israeli occupation and annexation policies have failed to do. It is isolating the Arab inhabited sectors of the city from their natural Palestinian neighborhoods in the rest of the West Bank. While Israel is eating up some territory within the West Bank as the wall snakes around the former Green Line, in Jerusalem, the Israelis are building a wall that considers the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem a fiat. The idea of a Berlin like wall might not be so obvious in rural Palestinian areas but in Jerusalem the wall is dividing homes and people with an arbitrary line that will create such long term effects for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians both those in Jerusalem and those who are normally commuting to or through Jerusalem.

The hunger strike, however, is exposing a major problem that has been long pushed under the carpet. Jerusalem’s Palestinian population is apathetic and has little commitment to the national Palestinian cause. While many try to explain this phenomena by stating that the Holy City’s indigenous residents have long left the city to the four corners of the world, it is hard to explain why people whose lives will be adversely affected by the wall are not taking part in various protest activities.

Apathy has a lot to do with the lack of faith that people in Jerusalem have with their national leadership. Most of today’s Jerusalemites are people who came to the city for business or work. Such individuals normally are very individualistic, and have little connections to the city that they are working in. Many East Jerusalemites today are of Hebron origin. Such individuals often consider themselves Hebronites rather than Jerusalemites and thus are not willing to participate in any activities in defense of Jerusalem.

In many such urban situations, even a nomadic type population can be encouraged to get involved if there is a civilized process of choosing their leaders. Elections which are the usual mechanism for determining leadership has been absent from Jerusalem for years. With the East part of the city illegally annexed to the Israeli sector and with the Palestinian population repeatedly boycotting elections of the ‘unified” city a vacuum of leadership has resulted. Even in some of the civil society bodies like unions, chambers of commerce, scouts and religious organizations, internal elections are rarely allowed for a variety of reasons.

For some time the leadership vacuum was filled by Faisal Husseini, but his untimely death from a heart attack while visiting Kuwait has left the city leaderless and entirely incapable of dealing with the huge challenges facing it.

The Azmi Bishara initiated has acted as an important alarm bell. People young and old are meeting under one tent and talking about their own future and that of their beloved city. Hopefully a young committed and effective leadership can emerge out of this latest tragedy that has befallen Jerusalem.

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