The Entrance for Israel’s Citizens is Forbidden: Dangerous to your Lives

 2019 writing competition

- Jose Maria Cardesin -

The phrase that entitles this text, and that can be read on the signs that mark the access to the segregated roads of Zone A of the West Bank, under theoretical control of the Palestinian Authority, seems to me to be a clear expression of the barriers to social contact between both populations, and therefore to empathy.

In today's Israel, two memoirs coexist, clearly segregated: Jewish and Palestinian. It is not difficult to gain access to the Palestinian memory. Just cross to the West Bank, and visit the Muqata’ah, Yasser Arafat’s Tomb and Museum in Ramallah: a tunnel with video screens and explanatory signs tells us the whole process from the 1948 war and the Naqbah to the Oslo Accords and the two Intifadas. The museum sponsored by Banksy in the outskirts of Bethlehem chooses to focus on the consequences of the Occupation. Next to a small suitcase full of personal belongings we can read: “If you had 30 minutes before your home was demolished, what would you save?”

Any displacement, either individual or in a guided tour, allows us to contemplate the living conditions of the Palestinian populations of the West Bank or East Jerusalem: we identify water rationing by those black deposits piling up on rooftops, the precariousness of public services by seeing tiny trucks collecting garbage in the Muslim quarter of the old city, we experience military control as we cross the Qualandiya checkpoint… and everywhere we come across the Occupation Wall, which short-circuits daily life. Gaza seems a long way off, but on the television screens of many cafes we can watch live the IDF attacks.

But to all these realities, an official Jewish memory based on a chain of beliefs turns out to be impervious: the certainty that Yahweh granted this land to a people, that today's Jews are the direct heirs of that people and therefore that they have the "right to return" and to populate it exclusively.
However, the return of who? The basis of the Hebrew identity is not race: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews coexist ... or Igbo Jews from Nigeria, on a tourist tour to Jerusalem. At the Tomb of David, a man wearing black robes, fedora and sidelocks informs me in a Spaniard with a marked Argentinian accent how he himself recently discovered that one of his ancestors was Jewish, and from there he decided to convert and immigrate. It is the adherence to ritual observance and to standardized ways of dressing that makes the flood of Jews an impressive spectacle, when they return on the night of the Sabbath, crowned with fedora or shtreimel, walking up to Jaffa or Damascus’ Gates after praying before the Western Wall.

In Jerusalem's Citadel a museum summarizes the history of Israel, from Solomon's reign to the tragedy of Babylonian captivity, the return and building of the Second Temple, and expulsion by the Romans. A thousand and three hundred years of Arab, Mamluk or Ottoman history are reduced to a meaningless waiting parenthesis; neither seem to make sense the impressive architectural inheritance of Islamic times crumbling inside the city walls.

In the courtyard of the Citadel we see a reproduction of Verrocchio's David, and at his feet Goliath's head, the Philistine giant. Israel's history is interpreted as the miraculous triumph of the righteous, who rebels against a millennial series of iniquitous persecutions that would culminate in the Shoah; and in that light all the clashes with the Palestinian people are read. The Beit Yaakov Synagogue, destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and rebuilt after 1967, houses the center of studies that prepares the construction of the Third Temple. How this could be verified without the previous destruction of al-Haram ash-Sharif, the Esplanade of the Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and one of the most beautiful spaces I've ever contemplated?

On the northwestern periphery of Jerusalem, in a very beautiful landscape setting, we visited Lifta, one of the hundreds of Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were expelled by the Haganah during the 1948 War: in this particular case their housings were preserved from destruction to accommodate successive waves of Jewish immigrants, but are now threatened by real estate speculation. As I return to Tel Aviv airport, I contemplate the pine forests that stretch on both sides of the highway, and I can no longer ignore that its roots grow on the ruins of Palestinian villages that were razed to the ground in that war.

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