Please read these important messages from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann and filmmaker Dror Moreh. We hope you find them compelling, and support our efforts to bring lasting peace for Israel and Palestine. May 2016 bring us closer to this goal.
Americans for Peace Now
Why is Jerusalem burning?
I'm usually the opposite of a prophet of doom. Many journalists see peddling the apocalypse of Jerusalem as a fast track to a Pulitzer Prize, so there's a tendency to overstate the city's volatility. But Jerusalem is usually a far more stable city than its reputation. At the beginning of the recent uptick in violence, people were saying, "Ah, this happens every year around the Jewish High Holidays. This is just another perennial round of skirmishing. We see this all the time."
This time, however, it is not a routine round of skirmishing. Since July of last year, we have been in the throes of a popular uprising in East Jerusalem, one that is widespread in a way that we have not witnessed since 1967. The violence, and the circumstances surrounding it, has been unprecedented in numerous ways.
To explain, we can begin with the Temple Mount. It's not merely a question of the existing arrangements there. What we're seeing are the seeds of transformation of a national political conflict, which is fueled by religion on occasion but is fundamentally a political conflict that can be solved, into a religious conflict that cannot be solved.
Don't misunderstand me. This is not a lecture on "keeping religion out of Jerusalem." That's like saying "keep culture out of Florence" or "keep finance out of Manhattan."
What we are witnessing is the ascendancy of those faith communities whose claims are absolutist and exclusionary. They are each other's best friends, whether it's the Islamic extremists who deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Jewish Temple Mounters who seek to build a third temple, or the end-of-days Christian dispensationalists. We're also seeing the marginalization of the traditional religious establishments who understand very well that Jerusalem is a stable city when everybody's interest is protected in some way, and Jerusalem can speak in multiple voices. These views are not necessarily rooted in liberal values of pluralism, but centuries of history have taught them that the hegemony of any one faith community becomes a living hell for everyone else.
It is clear that what we have witnessed on the Temple Mount is a significant change. In my experience, nothing guarantees an outbreak of violence as does a real or perceived threat to the integrity of sacred space. Nothing.
But that only explains why the violence erupted; it doesn't explain why the violence has been sustained. The Temple Mount is invariably the detonator. It's not the explosive device. For an explanation, we have to go beyond that explanation to the perceived loss of the two-state solution.
In the environs of Jerusalem, the threat to the two-state solution is more than a clear and present danger. The number of settlers who, under a final peace agreement, would have to be relocated to Israel was 116,000 five or six years ago. Today, the number is in excess of 150,000, and it is growing by 5,000 to 10,000 a year.
This is why Americans for Peace Now, and their sister organization in Israel Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), are working to stop these extremist settlers and their supporters. Shalom Achshav conducts tours of the West Bank that allow Israelis to see the subjugation and disenfranchisement of Palestinians up close. In early October, Shalom Achshav conducted a special tour of East Jerusalem that exposed Israelis to the on-the-ground reality - a reality that Israelis rarely witness. Furthermore, their Settlement Watch team is world-renowned for their work in monitoring settlement construction in the West Bank. They are relied upon to expose hushed construction permits and illegal outposts, while also petitioning the Israeli High Court to remove illegal outposts and settlements built on private Palestinian land.
The current situation only highlights the importance of the work being done by APN and Shalom Achshav. When you take religious motives, despair, and the lack of a political horizon, you've got a perfect storm, and that's what's been happening in Israel these past weeks. It's not an accident that the second intifada broke out six weeks after the collapse of the Camp David Summit in 2000.
It's also not an accident that the violence broke out last summer two months after the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry's peace effort. All of the destabilizing factors in Jerusalem become more volatile and more dangerous in the absence of a political process toward a peace deal.
Right now, there are many people making very cogent and compelling arguments, both within and outside of the Obama administration, to the effect of, "Walk away. There is only grief in this for you, Mr. President."
But the implications of walking away are stark.
In regard to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we're not going to make it to the next U.S. president's Inauguration Day in 2017 against a backdrop of a Swiss pasture. Netanyahu has not opened the settlement floodgates recently, but that may not last. It is quite possible that by the time we reach Inauguration Day, the two-state solution will have been lost.
If I'm correct in my analysis and this violence is not going to disappear, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's going to be a third intifada, or we're going to see this violence persist indefinitely, but what it does mean is that the violence is not going away. Violence can subside. The periods between the eruptions will be shorter, and each round more convulsive and more violent.
That nightmare scenario is in store for us, and we're not going to be able to get these events under control merely through policing and dealing with the symptoms - or by walking away. Walking away has the potential of creating a situation where the Obama administration will turn over an Israel-Palestine to the next administration that is dysfunctional, chaotic, hemorrhaging, violent, and not fixable.
That is another reason why the work of Americans for Peace Now is so essential. Day in and day out, they act to inform and educate the American public, as well as their leaders in Congress and the White House, about the dire need for a two-state solution. They are the only American organization doing this work that has a direct connection to Israel and its peace movement, and it shows in the authoritative resources and expertise that they provide.
After making aliyah in 1973, I witnessed the rise of Shalom Achshav five years later. I saw the pivotal role they played in pushing Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to make the concessions necessary to achieve peace with Egypt. The world saw the result - Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shaking hands on the White House lawn - and the subsequent benefit to Israel's security was immeasurable. The challenges posed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dwarf even those deliberated at Camp David in 1978, but I firmly believe that Peace Now and APN can play a similar role again.
But they need your help. Your tax-deductible donation is critical to the invaluable work that APN and Shalom Achshav do. If you're as worried as I am about Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state being engulfed by the flames of hatred and violence, then I hope you will do what takes to help douse the fire.
P.S. Don't take my word for it as to the necessity of a two-state solution. Below, read excerpts of a letter by Dror Moreh, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers. The testimonials of the six former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel's equivalent of the FBI) that provide the basis of the movie give the most credible account to date concerning the damage and danger to Israel's future caused by the occupation. APN will even send you the DVD ($10 value) for a $180 donation
In Israel everything is open for public debate. Sometimes that debate is so compelling that it changes people's minds. The six living former Shin Bet directors spoke out eloquently against the occupation in the film The Gatekeepers, which I directed... All of them concur that without bold political leadership to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, the occupation will lead us to destruction... Anyone in Israel or abroad making the same conjecture is attacked as being naïve, as a dreamer who wants to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya..."
Was Carmi Gillon (1994-96) starry eyed when he said in the film, "For Israel, it's too much of a luxury not to speak with our enemies. When we refuse to talk, we make a mistake."
Or was Ami Ayalon (1996-2000) being anti-Israel when he observed, "We're winning all the battles... and we're losing the war" and Avi Dichter (2000-2005) "You can't make peace using military means?"
These are men whose life experiences have shorn them of illusions. They clearly see the danger to Israel if there is no two-state solution. Because if the Palestinians cannot achieve sovereign statehood, the only fallback position they are likely to recognize is Israeli citizenship within the framework of a single state...
...In my film, Yaakov Peri, who is now Israel's minister of science and technology, spoke of the accumulation of his experiences as Shin Bet head in 1988-1994: "These moments end up etched deep inside you," he said, holding his index finger near to his thumb, "and when you retire, you become a bit of a lefty."
So what can you do to help? One way is to make your voice heard. Tell us Israelis how you feel. Tell us what your vision of Israel's future is. Tell your fellow Americans. Contact your elected officials. I can’t tell you how influential American public opinion is here in Israel. To the average Israeli all the way to the highest government official, America matters. You matter. Now is the time to diversify your Israel "portfolio." Whether you visit Israel, buy its bonds, or buy its products, you must also support peace leading to an end of the occupation and leading to an establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. And you don't have to take my word for it. Just listen to the elite of Israel's security apparatus.
The testimony of the six former heads of the Shin Bet confirms that it is not naïve to want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It is not softhearted to see the absence of a two-state solution as a threat to Israel's survival. And it is not a bad thing to be a bit of a "lefty." If anything, it is patriotic.
You too can be - and need to be - a gatekeeper to Israel’s future.
-Dror Moreh, Director
Dror Moreh is an award-winning Israeli filmmaker. His most recent film, The Gatekeepers, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards. The Gatekeepers is his fourth documentary, following — among others — a film about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (2007). Born (1961) and raised in Jerusalem, Moreh is a graduate of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television. The Gatekeepers won several awards, including Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film.