Homeland Insecurity: Update 3

- by Yahav Zohar -
Yahav's second film Jerusalem Revealed, part of the Homeland Insecurity series, is now in pre production. Please support his work by participating in our Kickstarter Campaign at this link >

May 2020

Dear friends and supporters,
It’s important for me to show you Jerusalem, and not for the reasons you may think. Sure, Jerusalem is holy, beautiful, full of impressive architecture, bustling markets and good food. It’s a great place to come on vacation, but that’s not what this film is about. Instead, I’d like to show you a different side of Jerusalem, one which few visitors ever see, and even many locals don’t know much about. I'd like us to take a look together at segregation.

Growing up in Jerusalem we weren’t wealthy, but my life was pretty comfortable. From our house in the (since gentrified) working class neighborhood of Nachlaot, it was a short walk through a pedestrian tunnel to Sacher Park where we had lawns to run on, trees to climb, and the paved paths where I first learned to ride a bike. As a child, I didn’t know we lived in West Jerusalem, or that there was such a place as East Jerusalem. I don’t remember when I first learned that Arabs lived in Jerusalem too. I guess it was pretty early on, in the Mahane Yehuda market in our neighborhood, where all the labor was done by Palestinians, some of them not much older than me. Still, I never really wondered where they lived or what it looked like over there.

It was only much later, in my 20s, that I first crossed the invisible line and went into Palestinian East Jerusalem. Here were entire neighborhoods with narrow, poorly paved roads, no sidewalks, no playgrounds, no parks and certainly no pedestrian tunnels. By this time, I’d been traveling in Latin America and I could give a name to what I saw: this was the 3rd world, the global south, in the same city I had grown up in.

Ever since then, for more than 15 years, I’ve been crossing and recrossing that line, trying to bridge two sides of this divided city. I found myself chained to bulldozers trying to stop the building of the wall, smuggling vegetables through checkpoints from Palestinian farmers to Israeli customers, hand mixing cement for the rebuilding of demolished homes and several times arrested for crossing one or another line. For a while, I was sharing an apartment with a Palestinian friend, and became a lone Israeli Jew in a Palestinian neighborhood (anomalous except for the hard right settler organizations who move into armoured compounds with state funded security) .

Jerusalem's Segregation Wall
I’ve learned much about the legal and systemic discrimination of Palestinians in the city: how it came to be that the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel’s capital city lack Israeli citizenship and civil rights. I also learned how they are denied building permits and forced to leave the city, crowd in the existing houses or build without permits and live in constant fear of eviction and demolition. I’ve seen how the separation wall was built twisting and turning through Palestinian neighborhoods, separating them from Palestinian suburbs and choking their economy.

I’ve replaced my ignorance with piles of facts, statutes and statistics, but the hardest question for me was and remains: how could I not have known? How and why  do most people in West Jerusalem still not know what entire sections of our city look like, and what life is like for so many of our neighbours? We live in one of the most segregated cities in the world, with separate neighborhoods, schools and public transport systems. Still, most people in West Jerusalem are not even aware of this segregation.  Like myself growing up, West Jerusalemites never go to Palestinian neighborhoods and rarely ever think about them. Official maps are printed omitting them, roads are designed and paved so that we drive around Palestinian neighborhoods instead of through them. Overwhelmingly, West Jerusalamites cannot place or name Palestinian neighborhoods on a map of the city and know next to nothing of the conditions here. 

Guiding political tours in the city, I’ve faced these questions many times from foreigners: how can Israelis tolerate this inequality, how can the citizens of a democracy allow their government to keep their neighbours in such conditions? 

When I answer that  Israelis generally know very little about this, people don’t seem to believe me. How can you not know of conditions in your own city? We’ve gotten good at this, at not looking, at not knowing. And it's not just us. Segregation and extreme inequality are a basic fact of the world we live in.

Where are our shirts made? Where were the minerals mined to make our phones?  Wherever we might live, our comfort depends heavily on exploited labourers without unions or civil rights living under oppressive governments. In almost every case, from Bangladesh to Congo and beyond, there was foreign occupation and oppression, and there is foreign economic and political involvement that keeps inequality in place. None of this could work without the citizens of the wealthy countries supporting governments and corporations that maintain these systems of oppression, and all of it could change if we were willing to see our fellow humans, to look them in the eye.

Jerusalem is not unique, except in the proximity of things, except in the unique opportunity that we have to walk across lines, to meet each other directly and to subvert in small ways the system --  not just by protests and civil disobedience, but also in the act of learning to know each other, of living together, of sending our children to the bilingual school, where they can grow up together.

Leaving Jerusalem would be leaving the opportunity to move between worlds, and coming to tour with us here, and watching our films, is a chance for you to see how that gap is structured, and be a part of bridging it. 

I hope that by coming with us to take another look at Jerusalem, you’ll be able to take a new and better look at the world we live in, at the things we usually don’t see, and of the great opportunities that lie in being willing to see them. I hope you’ll join us on this journey.
In the Image below- on the left- Jewish neighborhoods (top left- the park near where I grew up). On the right, Palestinian neighborhoods. The stark differences are obvious, even from a satellite photo (thanks Google).

- Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >


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