By J. Taylor Basker

THE COST OF WAR: Former IDF soldier from group Breaking the Silence and Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa, famous “Sheikh of Peace,” visiting a child in Jerusalem Hospital. Photo by J. Taylor Basker.

I have lived and worked in the Middle East since 2007, teaching at an American university in Amman, Jordan. I’ve made frequent trips across the River Jordan to visit Jerusalem, relatives in Israel and friends in Palestine. The first time I entered Israel I was shocked to see the walls, checkpoints and guns pointed at me as I got off the bus. It was like being in a WWII movie, complete with German Shepherds. However instead of German, Hebrew was spoken. This did not match the glossy tourist materials about Israel. Visitors are kept away from Palestine; Israelis are forbidden to enter it—although some form lines at Palestinian mechanics’ shops, bringing their cars for low cost repairs.
Israelis have little idea about the conditions Palestinians live under, and I am amazed that Palestinians are as calm as they are. Most Israelis view all Arabs as terrorists, but there are some who remember when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony. Asaad Al-Azzouni, a well-known Palestinian political analysist and journalist, banned in Israel and now in Jordan, wrote a book that recalls his childhood in Palestine, when Jews and Muslim neighbors considered each other as “brothers.” There are Israeli peace groups such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence (ex-soldiers ashamed of what they had to do to Palestinians). I rode a peace bus to Gaza during a lull in the 2014 war. We visited Palestinians and IDF soldiers in hospitals. On my way back to Sheik Ibrahim’s famous “House of Peace” on the Mount of Olives, I had to walk through tear gas and “skunk water” (a horrific mix of odors of decaying flesh and garbage created by Israelis to spray on homes, shops and Palestinians) although there was no reason for these measures.
This month Israel is bombing Gaza again, causing civilian deaths, casualties and destruction. Every Friday, Palestinians march to the wall in the weekly “March for Return” protest. Most of Gaza’s population are displaced Palestinians and they still have keys to their former homes, as they do in Jordan and other countries to which they were expelled. Israel is ignoring the long and rich history of the many religious and ethnic groups who inhabited Jerusalem. Actually, Jerusalem was only the capital of Israel for around 200 years, not the 3,000 years Netanyahu claims.
Israel intends to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem, and their cruel destruction of Bedouin villages is meant to isolate Jerusalem from Palestine—creating a corridor for illegal settlements to Jerusalem. In 2003 Rachael Corrie, an American, was crushed to death confronting a bulldozer. Frank Romano, occasional resident of West 12th Street and law professor in France, recently confronted bulldozers in Khan al-Ahmar where he has been helping Bedouins preserve their homes. Having been arrested, he is now in hiding in Ramallah, helping to write a brief for the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of human rights violations.
Jerusalem was declared an international city by the Balfour Declaration, before the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. Israel’s policy towards Jerusalem denies its own history and the biblical hope that it will be a city of peace for all nations. Israel is not winning in Jerusalem, but rather losing a chance to fulfill the prophetic vision of harmony, justice and peace in this ancient city.

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