Special Evening on Jerusalem

On April 16, the Al-Hewar Center in metropolitan Washington, D.C. hosted a special evening about Jerusalem featuring presentations by Ra'fat Dajani and Sam Husseini, and the film, "Jerusalem: An Occupation Set in Stone," a video produced by the Palestinian Housing Rights Movement in 1995. The event was cosponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Ra’fat Dajani is Director of the American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ), a coalition of the major Arab-American organizations that is devoted solely to educating and informing the American public and policy makers about Arab and Palestinian historical, cultural, religious and political claims to Jerusalem. He is also responsible for producing ACJ’s monthly newsletter, the Jerusalem Monitor. Sam Husseini is Media Director for ADC. He has been published in numerous outlets and has been a guest on several radio and television shows.

The film opened with chilling scenes of Israeli soldiers forcibly removing a Palestinian family from their home in order to demolish it and then opening fire on neighbors who surrounded the home to protect it. Twelve people, including two journalists, were wounded, and several villagers were arrested. Despite the protest, the home was destroyed by bulldozers.

Unfortunately, this is a part of daily life for the Palestinian population in Jerusalem. Approximately 50 Palestinian homes are destroyed in Jerusalem by Israeli authorities every year, as part of the Israeli government’s development planning strategy to establish a Jewish majority in Arab East Jerusalem by conquering strategic points and settling them with Jewish neighborhoods, all in contravention of international law.

The film also traced the devastation endured by Palestinians since Israel was created in 1947 by the United Nations (by dividing Palestine in half). Jerusalem, which was to be an international city, was completely within the land left to the Palestinians. Through wars and expansionist policies, the Israelis seized West Jerusalem and now maintain occupationist control over Arab East Jerusalem. The film documented the many ways in which Palestinians are denied their rights and even their identities: They are denied the right to build in Jerusalem (whereas Israelis can build at will), and they must obtain special identification cards just to enter Jerusalem whether to return home, go to school, church or mosque, go to work or visit the doctor. More often than not, they are refused entry by Israeli soldiers posted a checkpoints at all entry points to the city. On the other hand, Jews can travel throughout the city at will. Since the so-called "peace process" began, the situation for Palestinians has rapidly deteriorated as Israelis no longer feel subject to international laws or scrutiny. The situation will only get worse unless people are made to see and acknowledge the tragedy the Palestinians are made to endure daily.

 

Sam Husseini spoke about the media and ways in which they affect the peace process and the public’s perceptions. He pointed out that even though one aspect of the Oslo Accords is that there should be no prejudging of the final outcome, that is a large part of the media do, especially on the issue of Jerusalem. They do this, said Hussein, by not recognizing it as occupied territory (for example, they are beginning to call it "disputed territory" and when the violence erupted after the tunnel opening, they said there was violence in "Israel."). There is a series of mechanisms that the media use to underline to the American public that Jerusalem is "legitimately" a part of Israel and "off limits" to the Palestinians, said Husseini, such as labeling the settlements "housing" or "neighborhoods," and thus making them seem benign.

He also noted that the subject of international law has been totally ignored by the media. The illegality of settlements, the violations of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and all other Israeli violations of international law are off the agenda. As a case in point, he noted that the two recent U.S. vetoes of UN Resolutions condemning Israeli settlements on occupied land both occurred on Fridays, which he believes was intentional so that the news would get buried in the Saturday papers, which nobody reads, and it would be completely forgotten by Monday that the U.S. blocked the will of the world

He also talked about how difficult it has been to get the media to acknowledge that Israel’s settlement activities are illegal. He encouraged people to write letters to the media and representatives and to call into radio talk shows and pursue every method available to let the Palestinian side of the issue be heard and make the American public aware of the brutality and illegality of Israel’s actions in Jerusalem. He also said that public access television is a great avenue worth pursuing, suggesting that "Jerusalem: An Occupation Set in Stone?" and other videos, including "People in the Land", a film shown in several PBS stations recently, be shown on public access television. In addition, he suggested that people contact their local PBS stations and encourage them to show "People in the Land." [See Sam Husseini’s article elsewhere in this issue of The Arab-American Dialogue for more information about monitoring media coverage of Arab issues


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