by S. Amjad Hussain
WASHINGTON, DC, November 12 -- You would not expect a soft spoken young man of a different religious persuasion to champion the cause of the Palestinians of Jerusalem. Marty Rosenbluth has sifted through decades of rhetoric, misinformation and propaganda to focus on the plight of people who for almost thirty years have been treated as second class citizens and denied the basic human rights enjoyed by non-Arab population of that city.
His fascinating and absorbing video, "Jerusalem: An Occupation Set in Stone?" is about the oppression of the Arab population of East Jerusalem and has won the Lindheim Award at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Since Israel captured East Jerusalem after the six day war in 1967, successive governments have pursued a consistent policy of containing and limiting the Arab population of the city through arbitrary laws that are not applied to others.
Even a cursory look at the map of Jerusalem shows that its eastern Arab sector has been changed drastically to the point where it has no semblance to the 1967 map. In the intervening thirty years a record number of 150,000 Israelis has been settled on the Arab land. The Arabs on the other hand don't have the right to live in other parts of the city. Fifty thousand Arab residents of the city have been forced out and now live in the West Bank. They have lost all claim of residency and like other West Bank residents have to obtain permits from the Israeli army to enter Jerusalem, a permission that is often refused.
Here, for example, are some of the daily facts of life for Arabs, Muslims, and Christians:
Arabs, Muslims as well as Christians, are invariably refused permission to build on their own land. Total number of building permits issued to the Palestinians since 1967 equal the same numbers issued to Jews in one year. Of a total of 64,880 housing units built in that period there were only 8,800 for the Arabs.
An Arab from the West Bank can't move into Jerusalem even if married to an Arab resident of the city. They have to go through a long and frustrating process to obtain permission for uniting the family. Some never get it. The spousal visits in the meantime can only be made by permit and that only during the day time hours of five in the morning to seven in the evening.
The Israeli authorities refuse to register children born to split families hence denying them the right of residency as well.
Fifty-six percent of the Arab land, more than thirty-seven thousand acres, has been expropriated and used to build Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem. These Jewish settlements are connected to Jerusalem by super highways that go through Arab land but provide no access to Arab villages. Today less than 14% of East Jerusalem remains in Arab hands. Zealotry has always been in abundance in the Middle East and is not limited to only one side. In Jerusalem however a dominant group with active support of the government is usurping the rights of a minority that has lived in that ancient city much much longer than majority of the new settlers.
The opening of the archeological tunnel that sparked recent violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank was yet another deliberate act of provocation against an increasingly frustrated and cornered Arab population. The Economist called the tunnel a trivial issue that developed into a symbol of Israeli arrogance towards Muslim and Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem.
Now there are apologists who would find flimsiest of reasons to justify the suffocating choke hold around East Jerusalem and its Arab population. Karen Armstrong, the noted historian, calls this the tragic passage of the burden of suffering from the State of Israel to the Palestinians.
It is a tribute to the time honored liberal Jewish traditions that people as Martin Rosenbluth and thousands of others in Israel are willing to stand up and be counted. They are not anti-Israel but they symbolize a growing feeling of discomfort among fair minded Israelis. Unfortunately Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu, his hard line followers and a good number of their Western apologists don't seem to care or understand.
[Surgeon-writer S. Amjad Hussain lives in Toledo, Ohio where he writes a bi-weekly column for the Op-Ed pages of The Blade.]