English adaptation by the author of the original French version published by CoolAmNews
by Nidra Poller
18 January 2018: Full house in the small IREMMO [Institut de Recherche et d’Études Méditerranée Moyen-Orient] bookstore in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Though the subject of the talk- Jerusalem: objective annexation – might provoke anxiety, two self-confident speakers and a partisan moderator are there to reassure the audience: President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not a serious setback, not a game-changer. At best it’s an illusory victory for those who think the American president has established, once and for all, Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem. But they don’t say “Jewish,” they say “Israeli.” Moderator Caroline Delage introduces the speakers- historian Vincent Lemire and commentator René Backmann-and sets the stage for their presentation.2 Delage, former Jerusalem correspondent for Canal + and Europe 1, is cozily familiar with the “thrice- holy city, coveted by so many,” and now perturbed by Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize it as the capital solely of Israel.
And we’re off! For the next two hours the speakers will demonstrate why the infamous declaration cannot withstand the determination and brilliant strategy of the Palestinians that, effectively, covet the thrice holy city.
Historian Vincent Lemire knows Israel inside and out… he’s been visiting the country for 25 years. He starts his review of Jerusalem’s history by saying he’s not going to dig deep into the past. This allows him to avoid the first and second temple periods, and go straight to the British, “the first to make Jerusalem the capital” (of Palestine in 1922). Then he makes a quick hop over Jordanian Jerusalem, from 1949 to 1967; not much is known about it because it is hard to consult the archives. Jordan did its best to “marginalize” the city, choosing Amman for its capital, celebrating the coronation of King Abdullah as King of Palestine in Jericho. On the occasion of one of his rare visits to the mosque plaza, the king was assassinated by a Palestinian militant.
One can hardly recognize, behind the curious notion of “marginalization,” the reality of Jerusalem under Jordanian occupation-gleefully sacked, stomped, sullied, desecrated, and forbidden to Jews. Even without archives it is hard to deny these concrete facts. Is the historian satisfied with his explanation for Islamic indifference to Jerusalem when it was under Jordanian domination, and the sudden fervor that arose after 1967, when the city was reunified and declared the eternal undivided capital of Israel? That’s when Jordan became guardian of the Muslim holy sites it had previously “marginalized.” Not troubled by this paradox, Lemire continued:
The Israelis did all they could, after 1967, to make this decayed city into a capital. But the historian suggests they only half believed it themselves. Realistic, they set up their institutions at a good distance from the Green Line. In fact, he blurts, Jerusalem is a Palestinian city! Because the Jews did not succeed in Judaizing it demographically. He shores up this affirmation with figures and percentages that I can neither confirm nor contradict …or even understand. However that may be, the Jews vanish in front of our eyes in the first of a series of magic tricks that will, from beginning to end of the evening, transform the Palestinian setback into a victory.
Here’s an example of a Judaization policy that backfires: if a Palestinian resident stays away from Jerusalem for seven or more years he loses his residence permit. So? So, they leave and they come back, they hang onto their Jerusalem. Only 14,528 permits have been cancelled since 1967. That’s 14,528 too many, but not so many compared to a population that grows and has multiplied by four. That’s demographic résistance, the only kind that succeeds. For lack of building permits they climb upward, adding floors to existing structures. It’s very dense, says the historian, as if he’s talking about solid gold.
René Backmann, on the other hand, has harsh words for the Occupation that grabs up the land around Jerusalem. A motion was made in the Knesset on 29 October 2017 for annexation of 5 blocks, including some thirty colonies and vacant land, that would add anywhere from 120,000 to 150,000 residents and create a solid Israeli majority. Palestinian localities outside the wall “that was built on a pretext of protecting Israelis” would be detached in order to get rid of that population. As a consequence of the de facto annexation that would become de jure, the population balance would be 680,000 Jews for 180,000 Palestinians. That was followed by a motion of Naftali Bennet forbidding any modification of the contours of Jerusalem without a super 2/3rds majority.
All of the above was delivered with slaps, kicks, and punches at the Israelis, which seemed to please the audience, but it is hard to understand how the triumphant demographic résistance manages to resist the dastardly moves exposed by René Backmann. He continues: the annexation plan, kept under wraps for a few months so as not to embarrass President Trump, became effective in January. In fact, the dream of a greater Jerusalem that cuts the West Bank in two goes back a long way; that’s what determined the placement of the wall. Peace negotiations were interrupted because the Israelis don’t negotiate.
Fait accompli? They took what they want and nothing can be done about it? Not exactly. The moderator opens a new window: It’s not enough to declare! Trump says one thing, but the facts on the ground say something else. The historian picks up from there.
There are two levels of reality that coexist. Business in East Jerusalem is something else, he exclaims. It’s booming. People come there to do their shopping. Caroline Delage nods. You can just picture her with a broad smile, going native in the bustling souk. Not like Hebron. The destruction of businesses there is a disgrace.
The crisis of the metal detectors is emblematic. Palestinian youth didn’t wait for instructions, didn’t look for leaders. They understood what was going on. The metal detectors weren’t for security [see above, the wall], the purpose was to close the [mosque] plaza. To close it! And the youths understood, they resisted, it was non-violent, they won! Deep in the heart of the historian’s enthusiasm whispers a “we” he doesn’t dare pronounce. We won! It was a political gesture, he says, not religious. The plaza is the only place where Palestinians can gather. You think of a vast open-air Starbucks.
Backmann intervenes, offers a less vibrant explanation: the two Jordanians assassinated [sic] by an Israeli security agent. One of them, it seems, was an assailant. Netanyahu accepted the deal offered by King Abdullah: I release your diplomat, you dismantle the metal detectors.
Did he mean that the victory over the metal detectors was not, as claimed, a triumph of Palestinian youth? It’s not the only paradox of the evening.
The audience frowns when Lemire refers to the purported Saudi peace plan, with Abu Dis or Ramallah as the capital of Palestine. But the tempo picks up with a question from the house…about Marwan Barghouti. For Backmann he’s a man who would win by popular acclaim. He is respected, first, because he’s in jail-on trumped up charges. He belongs to the Intifada generation. He’s a normal Palestinian. The negotiations would go much better if Barghouti were in a position of authority.
Lemire adds emphatically: Barghouti is a combatant of a militarized Intifada. He speaks as a veteran of an armed struggle. [Is that what might explain the trumped up charges?] The historian mentions in passing another hero, la passionara Ahed Tamimi, who dared to slap a soldier.
Then he turns to the speech by Abbas in Ramallah, without bothering to mention the abundant insults and shocking revision of history. What matters is the binational option. It’s the DNA of the Palestinian struggle. The original Palestinian nationalism. In fact, Lemire announces as if he’d just discovered it himself, Israel is a binational state today. What defines a state? A currency, frontiers, an army. That’s Israel.
Caroline hisses: But it’s a Jewish state.
Lemire: The Israelis are obsessed by the dilemma: Jewish state or democratic state.
Backmann: Oslo, the two-state solution… now we know it’s impossible.
A question from the audience: Does Trump have a clear vision or is it just domestic politics? Backmann: He did it to please his Evangelical voters. But it backfired. He was negotiating a peace plan with prince Salman. Now that’s jeopardized. Is he even sure of his decision? Right after he made the declaration, he signed the waiver [postponing by six months the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem]. Then, at the UN Security Council, they were 14 against 1. It’s a decision for show. But the result is, it will be absolutely impossible for the Americans to propose a peace plan. The question is: what will France do?
Question from the audience: Are the Israelis interested in Jerusalem?
Backmann: They’re demonstrating every day against corruption. Netanyahu is a low-life, a scoundrel.
Vincent Lemire develops: Jerusalem used to be pockets of religious neighborhoods scattered in a secular city; now it’s small secular neighborhoods scattered over a surface dominated by the orthodox. In fact, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish Diaspora. Ghost owners of empty apartments. The Israelis are ambiguous. They don’t really like Jerusalem. For people living in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan or Beersheba, Jerusalem is another planet. But for the Palestinians…what fervor! People in Gaza that have never been to Jerusalem know all about it, its history, topography, the streets and the holy sites. In fact, West Jerusalem is less and less Israeli.
Question: Could Trump’s decision actually help encourage the BDS movement?
Vincent Lemire: Absolutely. And you know how you can tell? Netanyahu has just increased measures to fight BDS.
Question: the demonstrations against corruption… isn’t that a sign of the despair of the peace camp?
Lemire: Netanyahu is politically extenuated. Then, in a spirit of fair play, he adds, Abbas too. It’s a critical moment. That’s when things can tip. Like they did in South Africa. The Israelis are in a state of political impasse. Far worse than the Palestinians.
Question: The Pope?
Lemire: The Pope has always stood for the internationalization of Jerusalem. The Israelis won’t hear of it.
Backmann: The Evangelical Christians are anti-Semites in the USA, Zionists in Israel.
Question: What should the Palestinians do to combat Trump’s decision?
Backmann, sharing information gleaned from his sources on the ground, replies that the youths are thinking, for example, of organizing mass peaceful demonstrations … to make life hell for Israelis. Vincent Lemire is impressed by the political maturity of Palestinian civil society …. On the contrary, Israeli civil society that he has been following for 25 years is losing its intelligence of the situation. The Palestinians don’t trust their political or religious leaders anymore. The victory against the metal detectors is very important. Along the same lines, he goes back to the good example of Ahed Tamimi. She accomplished a political gesture by slapping the policeman [sic] because he was in the courtyard of her house.
Question: What about Hamas?
The historian seems particularly pleased to reply: Reconciliation was off to a good start. Hamas wants to get the administration of Gaza off its back. “It’s not our trade,” they say. And, with a wink of complicity, he repeats the charming distinction. They’re not interested in municipal management. You can practically see them in the back of the room… heavily armed Hamas soldiers with face masks marching out of a state-of-the-art offensive tunnel. That’s their trade, n’est-ce pas?
We’re coming to the end of the evening when someone remarks that we haven’t broached the question of refugees. Backmann replies that the Americans have stopped financing UNWRA because its very existence makes exist the fact that the refugees exist. Vincent Lemire, matter of fact, concludes: some host countries don’t let them settle permanently and some refugees refuse to settle permanently where they are. The refugee problem, he says, is tougher than Jerusalem. No one understands Trump’s decision. It will only take two weeks before Gaza explodes.
With that joyful prediction, the event comes to a close. Without a false note. Meaning, without a single troubling question that might suggest the slightest disagreement with the speakers. At one point, the historian felt the need to indicate that his rôle is to remain neutral, without taking sides.3 The reader will judge for himself.
2. The speakers, as presented by l’IREMMO:
Vincent Lemire, historian and professor, Université Paris-Est. Author, notably Jérusalem. Histoire d’une ville monde des origines à nos jours (dir. Flammarion, 2016)
René Backmann, chroniqueur at Médiapart, former editor in chief, foreign desk, Nouvel Observateur, author, Un Mur en Palestine (Fayard, 2006, Folio 2009).
Moderator: Caroline Delage, member of iReMMO, journalist, television anchor, C 8, former Jerusalem correspondent, Canal + et Europe 1
3. Two excerpts from an interview with Vincent Lemire shed light on his vision of the situation: « Toute définition exclusive de l’identité de Jérusalem produit de la violence ». [Every exclusive definition of the identity of Jerusalem produces violence]
[shared holy sites] “In fact, when you look at the realities, these sites are often shared. Samuel’s tomb, for instance, is capped with a Byzantine church; today the crypt is a synagogue and the nave is a mosque. They all honor the memory of the prophet Samuel, who designated David as king of Israel. And David’s tomb, on Mount Zion, was successively a Christian holy site in the Middle Ages, Muslim in the Ottoman period and, lastly, Jewish since 1949.”[anti-Semitism] “…was, for a long time, concomitant with an ancient, structural, Christian anti-Judaism, whereas Muslim anti-Semitism is more recent, contextual, and associated with the Israel-Palestine conflict.”