Raging Greg & contested Jerusalem history

yes-you-can-300x252.jpg[A version of this was also published in New Matilda 31 March 2010]
When I first saw Greg Sheridan’s op-ed piece , I burst out laughing, because it reminded me of capucchino froth–he sure must have been raging and frothing when he wrote this in today’s Australian:
” BARACK Obama’s anti-Israel jihad is one of the most irresponsible policy lurches by any modern American president. It rightly earns Obama the epithet of the US president least sympathetic to Israel in Israel’s history. Jimmy Carter became a great hater of Israel, but only after he left office.”
Sheridan seems to be unaware that Obama’s stand is being increasing endorsed in the serious US media, including the NYTimes, as in an editorial today which says, amongst other things:
“Many Israelis find Mr. Obama’s willingness to challenge Israel unsettling. We find it refreshing that he has forced public debate on issues that must be debated publicly for a peace deal to happen. He must also press Palestinians and Arab leaders just as forcefully.
Questions from Israeli hard-liners and others about his commitment to Israel’s security are misplaced. The question is whether Mr. Netanyahu is able or willing to lead his country to a peace deal. He grudgingly endorsed the two-state solution. Does he intend to get there?”
It’s also clear to me that Sheridan gets his East and West parts of Jerusalem confused, strongly implying that the new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem are parts of established Jewish neighbourhoods. They are not. Yet Sheridan claims that “these are mostly neighbourhoods, as Netanyahu pointed out this week, which are five minutes from the Knesset and a couple of blocks beyond the 1949 armistice line. ”
There are serious errors here. First Sheikh Jarrah is quite a distance from the Knesset, though it is close to the old Mandelbaum gate area, now cleared away with a wide road. Second, in a city built on hills, the notion of blocks is well, wrong–these are geographic neighbourhoods. Third, who would believe Bibi? A case can be made that Silwan is historically Jewish (settled by Yeminite Jews and evacuated in 1939), but only a nationalist extremist would want to reclaim such areas.
It is one of the tragedies of history that the city’s districts are so historically divided, but as long as Arabs don’t have the right to settle in Jewish areas, or the right to claim lost property after 1948 it is pretty provocative of nationalist Jews to move into a current Arab neighbourhoods, even though much of the expansion since 1967 has obliterated Arab presences. There are a lot of Jerusalem Arabs who bitterly resent losing their homes in 1948 or 1967, and no more of this is needed.
If you can find the DVD of the film Bayit by Amnon Gitai, about the history of an Arab home in Emek Refayim (today no. 14 Dor veDorshav Street), in Jerusalem, you can see how sensitive the issue is. The film was banned from Israel TV in 1980. Gitai made an update to the documentary in 1997 and another in 2005.
In fact, a few minutes fact-checking on the internet shows that the Dajani family, one of whose members, a doctor, owned the house, is a large Jerusalem clan with its own website, amongst whose members is a prominent Palestinian academic, Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi. I doubt that Sheridan, and particularly people in Emek Refaim (now an upscale, prized Jewish neighbourhood) like to dwell on the past history of such houses in the community, even though it is obvious that the houses were built by someone else.
Consequently, current activity settlement activity in East Jerusalem is has all the subtlety of the proverbial red rag to a bull.
Sheridan also misses the point that Obama’s apparent change of tack is not ‘pro-Islam’, but out of a realisation that a non-resolution favours extremism and pushes the region to war. As the the US Nation put it this week
“This year [the usual policy] .. was challenged from unusual quarters, when Gen. David Petraeus, Centcom commander, told the Senate that the Israel-Palestine conflict–and widespread anger in the Middle East over Washington’s favouritism for Israel–is hampering regional partnerships and fueling recruitment by Islamist extremists. And while Biden delivered the usual boilerplate about standing “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel in his public remarks there, in private he was harsh; according to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, he told Netanyahu, “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.””
Update: A detailed report on the situation in Sheikh Jarrah can be found at http://www.adalah.org/newsletter/eng/feb10/docs/Sheikh_Jarrah_Report-Final.pdf