When Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane arrives
in Washington on April 26, he will most certainly present himself as the representative
of a "moderate" Arab state that is friendly to the West. As a representative of
Human Rights Watch, however, I recently witnessed another side of this
supposedly "modern" regime.
My organization released a report last month
detailing the Tunisian government's treatment of political prisoners,
group of us planned to hold a press conference in Tunis to announce it,
hopes of sparking a dialogue that would lead to change. This was an
had tried in 2004, when we released a report on the situation of
political prisoners, and in 2005, when we published a study on Internet
freedoms in the region. Both releases occurred without incident. This
time, however, we found our path blocked at every turn: All of the
contacted stated that they lacked the space to accommodate us, and the
eventually rented was mysteriously flooded while we were at dinner. The
government banned journalists from our news conference and physically
those who tried to attend. State security agents followed us wherever
full page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street
Journal, renowned author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel argued that Jerusalem is "above
politics." But the portrait of the city Wiesel painted is so
factually inaccurate and so morally specious as to leave no room for doubt: Wiesel's
false innocence and moral posturing over Jerusalem
is an example of politics par excellence, with Wiesel willingly becoming
a tool of Israel's
extreme right in its desperate efforts to block Obama's peace efforts.
A review of the facts is in order.
93 percent of Israel -
including most of West Jerusalem and the 35 percent of privately-owned land in
East Jerusalem expropriated by Israel
since 1967 - is categorized by Israel
as "State Land." Only Israeli citizens
and those entitled to immigrate under the Law of Return may acquire properties
on this land. Palestinians of East Jerusalem, with rare exception, are in
neither of these categories. So while Wiesel may purchase a home in
anywhere in East or West Jerusalem, a
Since 1967, Israel has built
more than 50,000 dwellings for Israelis in East Jerusalem,
but has built fewer than 600 for Palestinians (the last was built 35 years
ago). And from 1967 until today, as East Jerusalem's Palestinian
population increased from 70,000 to 280,000, Israel
has issued only 4,000 permits for private Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem. Barred from building legally, the
Palestinians built without permits - leaving them subject to Israeli demolition
of their "illegal" homes.
Today extreme settler groups have launched a campaign to evict Palestinian
families - refugees of Israel's
War of Independence - from densely-populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the
heart of East Jerusalem. They are doing so
based on the "right" of Jews to recover properties lost in the 1948
war. But under Israeli law Palestinians have no such right. So while Israel insists that Palestinians renounce any
"right of return" - something understood as necessary for the
two-state solution - it is implementing a Jewish right of return to Palestinian
neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and turning
1948 refugees into 2010 refugees.
And then there is the question of Israel's respect for other
In recent years the Israeli Government has transferred virtually all of the
most sensitive religious, archeological and cultural sites in East
Jerusalem to the de facto control of extreme settler
groups. These groups are abusing archeology and public planning to
highlight the Jewish past, while marginalizing the Christian, Muslim and
Palestinian dimensions of the city, past and present.
Due to Israeli restrictions, today it is easier for a Palestinian Christian
living just south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem to worship in Washington's
National Cathedral than to pray in Jerusalem's
Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Today a Muslim living in Turkey has a better chance of getting to Jerusalem to pray at the Old City's
al-Aqsa mosque than a Muslim living a few miles away in Ramallah.
Before our eyes, Jerusalem is becoming the arena
where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is morphing from a resolvable national
conflict into a religious war - a transformation that, if it continues, poses
an existential threat to Israel.
And what starts in Jerusalem does not stay in Jerusalem: conflict in Jerusalem resonates throughout the region and
beyond, wind in the sails of every jihadist.
By asserting the Jewish people's exclusive "ownership" of Jerusalem, Wiesel
embraces the policies that are accelerating this metamorphosis.
Wiesel ignores these facts. He ignores the fact that the policies he is
defending will soon turn Jerusalem into a city so balkanized, geographically
and demographically, that the two-state solution will no longer be
possible. And the demise of the two-state solution portends the end of Israel as a
Jewish, democratic state, to be replaced by either an apartheid-like reality
with a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority, or by a bi-national
Israel is at an existential
crossroads with Jerusalem.
Current policies cannot be justified - even by Elie Wiesel, even to Israel's
staunchest allies. These policies consistently derail the resumption of
negotiations towards a conflict-ending agreement between Israel and the
Palestinians. The cumulative impact of these policies will be the
destruction of the two-state solution, the radicalization of the conflict and
the de-legitimization of Israel.
With these policies, Jerusalem is becoming the
place where Israel
slides down the slippery slope into pariah status.
By agreeing to carry the water for Israel's
extreme right, Wiesel has not only undermined his own moral authority, but has
done so in the service of a political agenda that is a grave threat to Israel's most
vital interests. If Wiesel loves Jerusalem as much as he claims, he should
indeed put Jerusalem above politics and join President Obama in his insistence
that these dangerous policies cease, and support Obama's efforts to achieve a
final status agreement that resolves all the issues, not the least of which
Daniel Seidemann is a
Jerusalem-based lawyer and expert on Jerusalem,
and the founder of the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem.