Jul 05 2007

When I screamed at the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem

Published by at 11:50 pm under Blogs

July 4, 2007

The July 4th reception at the US consulate in west Jerusalem is always a unique event. This is probably the only place that you will see Israelis and Palestinians mingling freely. While the majority of Israeli officials attend the Tel Aviv party, Jerusalem’s event is largely attended by Palestinians, Israeli local officials, NGOs and some journalists as well as American citizens who live in the city. Religious leaders with their colorful gowns and head covering are also plentiful.


I spoke for a short while with my friend Jamal Ghosheh director of the Palestinian National Theatre whose board I served on for many years. With him was Zuheir Abu Soud the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce. I asked him what the Chamber was doing to get it reopened. He had little to say except that they are trying to do things quietly to serve the merchants of the city. Whey don’t you sue the Israelis I asked. No way was his emphatic answer. The only place we can sue the Israelis would be in the Israeli High Court and if we do that and loose there is no appeal. I am not willing to take a 50 50 chance, on a precedent like that being set and the chamber for ever closed. I tried to argue with him that the alternative is waiting for ever while the city falls apart. He insisted on his position and I realized that there was nothing I can do to persuade him to think in a different way.

For me the highlight was seeing my friend Riyad Malki who is now minister of Justice and Information in the emergency government of Salam Fayyad. I chatted with him and when I realized he didn’t know as many people as I did, I started introducing him to people I knew. Since he and I had a discussion just a few weeks earlier about the need to raise awareness on issues of democracy, I introduced him as the leading Palestinian democrat. At one time I said he is the leading democrat in the Arab world. We had both attended the World Democracy Forum in Istanbul where he led the forum of Arab activists of democracy.

When Riyad Malki found people he knew, I decided to look for some other people I haven’t seen in a while but I had to stop as the Star Spangled banner was being played out. The US consul general gave a talk on the occasion of the signing of the declaration of Independence giving special attention to the speech given by Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Cemetery. I was standing next to two women (one Israeli and one Palestinian) when the consul read a statement from the declaration which he said no one can improve on. The funny thing is that while the statement made a strong argument for democratic values, it used the word men to refer to the entire human race. I looked at the two women and said MEN, and they both said, this can’t be improved on??

A little later and standing near the podium where the US Consul general had given us his lecture on US history was none other than the new Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad. I had met Mr. Fayyad on a plane coming back from the states, and I had a strong affection for him for what he has done as finance minister, among other things by posting the entire Palestinian budget on line and streamlining all the loose income to Palestinians that was not being monitored.

I started to suggest to Fayyad to do what Bush and before him Clinton do on  a weekly basis, namely to make a short address where they speak about a current issue or an important thematic topic. Fayyad was telling me how this idea had started with Ronald Reagan when the US consul general approaches Fayyad with the idea of introducing him to the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem. Realizing that this would be rather awkward for Fayyad and slightly upset that they interrupted what I thought was an important conversation with my prime minister, I decided to mess up the meeting. Before either had a chance to say anything I lunged at the Israeli mayor. ‘ When are you going to fix our streets in East Jerusalem,’ I demanded. Just compare them to the streets of west Jerusalem, I continued, there are sidewalks and lights while our streets are broken. The Israeli mayor was surprised with my forthrightness. He didn’t know what to say, then something came to him. “I wish you tell the people in west Jerusalem what you just said, they think that their streets are not good.’

That was a silly response but I decided I am not going to let him go that easily, what about our chamber of commerce, I asked why can’t you use your good offices to get it reopened. This is business not politics. You should be helping our merchants, I demanded. He responded, why do you need a separate chamber of commerce join ours, and if you want the streets to improve we have elections coming up why don’t your people participate.

Not letting up on him I continued: we pay taxes you know. No taxation without… then I stopped. Fayyad noticing that I didn’t continue the sentence, he looked at me and said why didn’t you continue. It was clear that because of the stupid forty year old boycott, our people in East Jerusalem have given the Israeli residents of Jerusalem a carte blanch to do what they want.

By this time, the Israeli mayor realized he wasn’t going to get much of a discussion with the Palestinian prime minister and quietly withdrew leaving Fayyad and me to continue our earlier discussion about issuing a weekly address to the people. Fayyad told me he has done a few programs on Palestine TV. I told him that you are reaching 10% of the Palestinian population that way. But how can I do this address, he asked genuinely not knowing the answer. Simple, I answered him, tape a short message and release it to all the media outlets, this way your message will get in all the media and not just one, I offered to help him if he needed help, and then said goodbye not wanting to abuse my time with him

A few minutes later two Israelis who were with the mayor approach me. One of them handed me his card and said that he is the deputy head of international affairs at the Jerusalem municipality. ” I can’t promise much but I can try to help,’ he said. He also introduced me to the spokesman of the municipality. I took their cards and promised to call them later if I needed anything.

I left quite happy, having vented out the frustration that I and I am sure everyone in east Jerusalem feel every time they hit a pot hole or cross from dark and dirty east Jerusalem to the different world of West Jerusalem.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “When I screamed at the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem”

  1. Andrewon 18 Jul 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Good for you, Mr. Kuttab! 🙂

  2. Faris Ghawion 02 Aug 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Perhaps it’s better to leave the streets unfixed. The more East Jerusalem starts looking like West Jerusalem, the less likely it is that we’ll ever get it back.

  3. alanwainbergon 02 Aug 2007 at 2:03 pm

    hi,just read your item about tony blair,i agree with you and wish him luck! but,your comments about removingcheckpoints,etc are unrealistic and misconceived!the history of palestinian culture and action provides too much evidence tha such an opening would invite terrorists to take advantage!!

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