Reflections on Jerusalem today

Reflections on Jerusalem today

The reflection below was written by Mr. Zack Sabella.  Zack is a graduate of Blavatnik public policy school of Oxford University; a native of Jerusalem and a new father to a lovely girl Naya. He and his wife Liza live in Jerusalem.

His father, Dr. Bernard Sabella, wrote an introduction to the reflection.  Bernard is the Executive Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees, and is a professor of sociology at Bethlehem University.

Bernard Sabella writes, “It has been a tough and difficult week in Jerusalem and throughout the country. The primary reason has been the continuing political stalemate between the occupier and us. The attempts by some extremist messianic Jews to enter into Al Aqsa Mosque compound and to assert their right to pray on the place have contributed significantly to the unrest. As Israel shifts to the right and extreme right and as hysteria becomes a way to deal with the attackers and would-be-attackers, who are acting alone and with an overwhelming majority of them under 18 years of age, and as the social media become abuzz with the events, it appears that all of us in the Holy City of Jerusalem have become hostage to a cycle of violence, extra judicial killings and emotions that are no longer under control. The level of frustration and anger felt by Palestinians, especially young Palestinians, is dangerous and if the root causes of this frustration are not addressed, then the cycle of violence will continue to the detriment to all of us here in this land.”

Zack’s reflection follows, here:

In a meeting in Bethlehem this morning, a colleague sitting across the meeting table gets a phone call. His facial expression changes, and he becomes very distressed. I ask him what’s wrong, he says: “They killed Mustafa, my colleague Adel’s son. We have to wrap up, we have to go.” I immediately went on both Israeli and Palestinian news sources, and the discrepancy in reporting was evident. Israeli press depicted Mustafa as a terrorist who tried to stab an Israeli policeman at Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem, whereas Palestinian press along with eye witness reports tell a different story altogether. Mustafa was shot after he refused the policeman’s order to remove his hands from his pockets. Pictures of Mustafa, lying in his pool of blood, his body stripped of its clothes by Israeli police, confirm the Palestinian story, there is no knife or screwdriver around.

On my way home from Bethlehem, I sense a feeling of anxiety in the streets of Jerusalem. There are Israeli police, border control, and commando units every 100 meters. I get closer to a key junction on road 1, and I see an Israeli man waving a large Israeli flag with an orange strip of cloth on top. The orange cloth depicts the color associated with Israeli settlers. As I drive further towards my neighborhood of Beit Hanina, I pass more cars with Israeli flags flying outside their windows. One Israeli driver was holding one large flag in his left hand, while his right was on the steering wheel. One gets the sense that it’s a national holiday in Israel.

When I get to Beit Hanina, I get down to buy some bread from our local baker. As I stand on the counter, an old man walks in distressed and anxious. I look at his face and ask him what’s wrong. He looks at me and says: “Have you ever seen anyone get shot in front of you?” I tell him, fortunately no. He says: “I saw it, just now, they were chasing her, five of them, taunting her, trying to pull her hijab, frightening her, she was petrified.” I tried to calm him down, but he continued: “The moment she crossed the road, a border policeman jumped out of nowhere and fired five shots point blank into her body. It was an execution, it was merciless and I can’t get the image out of my head.” The old man was talking about Farah Bekir, a 17-year-old student from the nearby Abdallah Ben Al-Hussein High School. It later occurred to me that the Israeli man that was waving a large Israeli flag was standing at the very same spot where Farah was shot, celebrating her shooting wave after wave.

At this time, my phone rings. It’s my wife Lisa, telling me to avoid driving through the nearby settlement of Pisgat Zeev. She tells me that they just shot a 12-year-old Palestinian boy on suspicion of trying to stab an Israeli settler. I check my phone for news, and the picture of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy lying in a pool of his blood traumatizes me. I thought to myself, if they can shoot children without blinking, I can be next in line at any moment if some Israeli decides to accuse me of attacking them, stealing their cat, or any other arbitrary or invented crime. It appears that the police and military rules of engagement have been relaxed to the point where almost any Palestinian who is seen as acting in a suspicious manner can be killed on the spot. This is in line with a recent Facebook post written by an Israeli peace activist working for ICAHD USA confirming that, according to his sources in the Israeli government, the Israeli leadership has given the green light to policemen and soldiers to shoot first and ask questions later. Anyone who shoots a Palestinian is instantly rewarded with praise from the Israeli public, lauded as a national hero who has done his share to save the people of Israel.

I open the door to my home, and there I see my beautiful three-week old baby girl, Naya, waiting for me. I grab her, kiss her, and thank God that I managed to get home safe and sound this time, but I am worried. As a Palestinian young man, I am in danger of being shot at any moment in time in my own city, especially if my behavior is interpreted by an overzealous, trigger-happy, and praise-craving Israeli policeman as suspicious. The scary bit is, that God forbid this happens, no one from the Israeli government, police, or public will bother to launch an investigation or ask questions. This has been the case with every extrajudicial killing of Palestinians that has taken place in the past two weeks. The killing of Palestinians has become as routine as drinking water in Israeli society, and it is being celebrated by the vast majority of the Israeli public as Gideon Levy wrote in his recent Haaretz article entitled “Israel’s lawless death penalty without trial buoyed by cheers of the masses.” Like that man who stood on the main street, where Farah was shot, waving the Israeli flag, taunting the non-Jewish residents of the city, celebrating her shooting. This is Jerusalem today; this is a day in the life of a Palestinian Jerusalemite.