Friday, April 23, 2010

The Response of the Sheikh Jarrah Activists to the Elie Wiesel Letter on Jerusalem

Haaretz reported this yesterday, but I wanted to bring the full text of the Sheikh Jarrah activists's response to the Elie Wiesel letter on Jerusalem with the following comments.

First, look carefully at the signatures, and you will find some of Jerusalem 's most prominent residents, including philosopher Avishai Margalit, Jewish studies scholar Moshe Halbetal, and a whole slew of people who are liberal Zionists. Although I do not always agree with these people, and in particular, I disagreed with Halbertal over the Goldstone report, their signatures show how out of touch Wiesel is with what is going on over here.

Second, and I say this with great caution, Wiesel's ill-informed comments on Jerusalem will be seized on by others to attack his credibility as a witness. This would be most unfortunate. Wiesel has spoken eloquently on the role of the writer as witness, but his letter shows plainly how often a writer can bear testimony to fiction and myth.

Third, this letter should be published immediately in the same newspapers where Wiesel's letter was published. Every American who read that letter should read this as well. Will donors be found?

Dear Mr. Wiesel,

We write to you from Jerusalem to convey our frustration, even outrage, at your recently published letter on Jerusalem. We are Jewish Jerusalemites – residents by choice of a battered city, a city used and abused, ransacked time and again first by foreign conquerors and now by its own politicians. We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.

Our Jerusalem is concrete, its hills covered with limestone houses and pine trees; its streets lined with synagogues, mosques and churches. Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity - not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one.

For more than a generation now the earthly city we call home has been crumbling under the weight of its own idealization. Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet it is our commitment that makes your homecoming possible. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.

Indeed, your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First, because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries of today's Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. Feigning to unify an ancient city, they created an unwieldy behemoth, encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem. Stretching from the outskirts of Ramallah in the north to the edge of Bethlehem in the south, the Jerusalem the Israeli government foolishly concocted is larger than Paris. Its historical core, the nexus of memories and religious significance often called "the Holy Basin", comprises a mere one percent of its area. Now they call this artificial fabrication 'Jerusalem' in order to obviate any approaching chance for peace.

Second, your attempt to keep Jerusalem above politics means divesting us of a future. For being above politics is being devoid of the power to shape the reality of one's life. As true Jerusalemites, we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city, parts of which are utterly neglected, being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation. All the while, they franticly "Judaize" Eastern Jerusalem in order to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition.

We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You discover see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality's refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.

We, the people of Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar. This-worldly Jerusalem must be shared by the people of the two nations residing in it. Only a shared city will live up to the prophet's vision: "Zion shall be redeemed with justice". As we chant weekly in our vigils in Sheikh Jarrah: "Nothing can be holy in an occupied city!" Respectfully,

Just Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah) Activists

1. Ada Bilu 2. Alon Harel 3. Amiel Vardi 4. Amit Lavi 5. Amit Miller 6. Amos Goldberg 7. Ariela Brin 8. Assaf Sharon 9. Avichay Sharon 10. Avishai Margalit 11. Avital Abudi 12. Avital Sharon 13. Avner Inbar 14. Avrum Burg 15. Barbara Spectre 16. Bernard Avishai 17. Daniella Gordon 18. Dani Schrire 19. Daniel Argo 20. Danny Felsteiner 21. Daphna Stroumsa 22. David Shulman 23. Diana Steigler 24. Dolev Rahat 25. Dorit Gat 26. Dorit Argo 27. Edna Ulman-Margalit 28. Eitan Buchvall 29. Eli Sharon 30. Freddie Rokem 31. Galit Hasan-Rokem 32. Gideon Freudenthal 33. Gil Gutglick 34. Guga Kogan 35. Guy Feldman 36. Hagit Benbaji 37. Hagit Keysar 38. Haya Ofek 39. Hillel Ben Sasson 40. Ishay Rosen-Zvi 41. Itamar Shappira 42. Jonathan Yaari 43. Judy Labensohn 44. Judy Labensohn 45. Julia Alfandari 46. Levi Spectre 47. Liran Razinsky 48. Maya Wind 49. Mical Raz 50. Michael Ritov 51. Miriam Farhi-Rodrig 52. Mirit Barashi 53. Mirit Barashi 54. Moshe Halbertal 55. Naama Baumgarten-Sharon 56. Naama Hochstein 57. Nadav Sharon 58. Neria Biala 59. Nili Sharon 60. Noa Lamm-Shalem 61. Oded Erez 62. Oded Na'aman 63. Ofer Neiman 64. Omri Metzer 65. Paul Mendes-Flohr 66. Peter Lehahn 67. Phil Spectre 68. Ra'anan Alexandrowicz 69. Ram Rahat 70. Ray Schrire 71. Reuven Kaminer 72. Roee Metzer 73. Ronen Mandelkern 74. Roni Hammerman 75. Sahar Vardi 76. Sara Benninga 77. Sharon Casper 78. Shir Aloni Yaari 79. Shir Sternberg 80. Shlomi Segall 81. Silan Dallal 82. Silvia Piterman 83. Tal Shapira 84. Tamar Lehahn 85. Tamar Rappaport 86. Uri Bitan 87. Yafa Tarlowski 88. Yaron Gal 89. Yaron Wolf 90. Yehuda Agus 91. Yonatan Haimovich 92. Yoram Gordon 93. Yotam Wolfe 94. Yuval Drier Shilo 95. Zehava Galon 96. Zeev Sternhell 97. Zvi Benninga 98. Zvi Mazeh 99. Zvi Schuldiner


dave boxthorn said...

'...will be seized on by others to attack his credibility as a witness.'

You must be one of the very few Jews who cares about the opinions of those who 'attack his credibility as a witness.'

Jerry Haber said...

Why do you say that, Dave? I think there are many Jews who care about Holocaust denial.

Anonymous said...

can someone coordinate fundraising for this to be published?

Anonymous said...

oh, look, j street sort of is. they came too early and already had the sarid thing lined up before the new letter came out. but still! this is one of the reasons j street is important. they can pull off things like that.

Alex said...

Elie Wiesel often says that he does not wish to make a political stand; a recent example is an interview he gave for Haaretz this past Friday. He has enormous credibility as a witness to crimes against humanity, as a survivor. But he has stepped into the fray, intentionally or not. And his position is, well, wrong. Jerusalem should not be "last" in the final status agreements, if they ever take place after this terrible, violent interlude. As a writer for, which is a Jewish media hub based in Kfar Saba, I'd love to interview him myself. His eminence as a moral figure should not take away from discussing the points in his letter, of course. But we should preface a critique with the proper respect. I'm not saying you don't, Jeremiah; others may, unfortunately.

Jerry Haber said...

Alex, this is not Elie Wiesel's first abdication of his moral responsibility with respect to Israel and the Jewish people. His idealization of Israel, his mythification, (Read "A Beggar in Jerusalem", where you will see an entirely mythical portrayal of Israel on the eve of the 67 war), and worse, his refusal to say anything at all negative concerning Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is disturbing and reprehensible, precisely because he has assumed the mantle of a moralist. In recent years it has gotten worse -- he wrote viciously against Judge Goldstone -- and it is hard to forgive him these lapses of judgement.

I have much more to say but I will save it for an appropriate time. Perhaps I am overly harsh on him, but then my disappointment is proportionate to my expectations. There is a tragedy here -- how somebody could have survived the Holocaust, written eloquently about it, and then be blinded by it, as well. Had he remained a Jew of Silence on these matters, I would have let things go. But now he has not only hurt his own moral stature but -- something which he surely will appreciate -- he has unwittingly hurt the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

evets said...

I was most put off by Wiesel's lyrical, sentimental tone. It bothered me more than the factual misrepresentations. That Yerushalyim shel ma'ala-ish lyricism, which he's used effectively in some other contexts, had no place in this sort of dispute. It certainly did not tug on my Jewish heartstrings (and they're tuggable). I can't imagine how it would've sounded to me if I weren't Jewish.

Anonymous said...

I know this is going to sound strange, but is it possible that Wiesel has it right about Israel and you don't, Mr. Haber?

Is it possible that what you call his "blindness" is actually your blindness? That your ideology is so fixed in a vision of Israel doing no right that you're unable to see a larger picture that he can see? It's not just Sheikh Jarrah, but the idea of Jerusalem that is his focus.

The letter by these critics talks about real world versus imaginary world, but to forget that Jerusalem is not just a place but also an idea that has lived with the Jewish people for a long time, is to forget history. Recent history, even.

Maybe he recognizes the importance of the idea while you are so troubled by your perception of Israel's follies, that you cannot see a bigger picture. Even if that bigger picture isn't reality, one can understand why Wiesel would treat it as an important view of the city.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, I have no problem with Elie Wiesel's invocation of a mythical Jerusalem. In fact,I am sympathetic to it.

Three times a day I pray to God to rebuild Jerusalem. Of course, I don't mean to physically rebuild Jerusalem. You don't have to be in Jerusalem for more than two minutes to see how overbuilt it is. Perhaps the prayer should be understood as, "Please build Jerusalem, o Lord,because the people down here are doing such an awful job." Or maybe the rebuilding refers to a spiritual rebuilding.

The problem with Wiesel's letter is that he wants to influence policies in the real, not the mythical Jerusalem. And in that case, the answer to your question is, "No, it is not possible that he is right."

Michael said...

Kol hakavod on sharing your real name. Does this also reflect well on your modern Orthodox community?

Jerry Haber said...

It's been up there a week and you were the first to comment. I never hid my identity for fear of reprisals. My shul mates could care less. Jerry Haber is still my nom de plume, just like Ahad Ha-Am was Asher Ginsberg's nom de plume. (Maybe a better example would be David Cornwell.)