Jerusalem: Words! Words! Words!

By Sonja Karkar

‘There isn’t one I haven’t heard’ or so goes one of the lines in a well-known American musical. Yet, this time the world is imbuing the words with new meaning when it comes to US/Israel relations. The hope is that at long last the US is going to discipline Israel.

Alas, in the flurry of words, the music has not changed. America seems as much bedazzled by Israel as a parent who is blind to the antics of an over-indulged, demanding child.  No amount of insults seems to shatter their illusion that the precious being is in fact a monster.

In their attempts to convince the rest of us not so enamoured, they fail to see that they have allowed their symbiotic relationships to become abusive.  Just as the parent can no longer control a child’s obnoxious behaviour, so too America finds itself hamstrung by Israel’s illegal settlement expansion into Palestinian territory and its determination to take and Judaise all of Jerusalem.  And while this time there have been some firm admonishments, there have been no follow-up consequences, America lapsing into the same old routine of placating Israel with promises to keep the faith.
The AIPAC conference in Washington DC provided the meeting place for the usual Israel love-in.  There, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu plumbed the depths. He lied when he said that Jews had built Jerusalem 3,000 years ago.  He lied when he said it was theirs to build again.  He lied when he said “it is our capital”.

No one pulled him up over those lies. Instead Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waffled on about how Israel’s behaviour exposes the daylight between them that others in the region hope to exploit – the same daylight that US Vice-president Biden vowed did not exist between the two countries – and how it endangers the proximity talks and America’s essential role in bringing those to fruition. But, not before she had told the audience that America’s commitment to Israel was “rock solid, enduring, unwavering and forever”.

Her prime concern was not that Israel’s behaviour denies millions of Palestinians the right to live in their own homeland and cruelly oppresses those who still do, but rather that America’s credibility as an honest broker in a long-defunct peace process might be at risk.

Nothing was said about Jerusalem being a corpus separatum under UN trusteeship since the Partition of Palestine in 1947 or that Israel does not have sovereignty over Jerusalem, despite its military conquests. Not a mention was made that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and that Israel is in breach of international law.

Netanyahu’s claims over Jerusalem presuppose an “eternal connection” between Jews and the land. But the historical record on that is clear. Not only are there non-Jewish groups who ruled Jerusalem for centuries rather than the brief 170 years of likely Jewish rule, but also the city existed long before Judaism took form.

On any reading, Jerusalem is no more Jewish than it is Christian or Islamic.  Yet, if anyone can lay claim to it by an “eternal connection”, it is the Palestinians whose history goes back millennia to the Canaanites who worshipped pagan deities and then to those who converted to emerging Judaism, Christianity and centuries later to ascendant Islam. Thus, the three monotheistic religions believe they too have a claim.  For this reason, the 1947 UN Partition resolution sought to give Jerusalem international status as a separate body.

To this day, the international community has refused to officially recognise Israeli sovereignty of Jerusalem. Notwithstanding this, Israel has pursued an aggressive policy of “unification” and “reunification” of Jewish Jerusalem by pushing out the boundaries of Palestinian East Jerusalem to some 73 sq km, well into the military-occupied West Bank where Israel has illegally settled some 300,000 Jews.

Secretary Clinton’s “no to settlements” and “no to natural growth” at the end of last year were empty words. Within days, she had eagerly announced that Netanyahu’s guarantees of no new settlement building and no new land grabs were “unprecedented” concessions. Nothing was said about the building going on in East Jerusalem, let alone the forced evictions of Palestinians, the demolition of their homes and Israeli building policies, which are deliberately skewed towards Jewish population growth.

One has to wonder what meaning words have at all when carefully considered ones are ignored.  A United Nations report of May 2009 put as many as 60,000 Palestinians at risk of eviction from their homes and called for a freeze on demolitions in East Jerusalem. Yet, the most that Secretary Clinton could say then – 10 months ago – was that Israel’s actions were “unhelpful” in advancing the peace process.

As has happened innumerable times in the past, the chiding words of US emissaries and government officials, are always quickly followed up with other words to reassure Israel of “the unbreakable bond” between the two countries, and more significantly, actions that belie the reprimands. In the midst of all the recent hoo-ha about chilling relations, a $210 million arms deal with Israel and paid for by US military aid nevertheless went ahead with an estimated massive $3 billion F-35 warplane deal still in the offing.

In other words, regardless of the song-sheet, America never misses a beat to give Israel what it wants. It will be interesting to see if the US does withdraw support for Israel in the United Nations on any resolutions before the Security Council critical of Israel’s settlement policies in occupied East Jerusalem. The rumours are fulminating amongst denials from both sides. While to many this signifies a change of heart in America’s love affair with Israel, it may be no more than the stuff of gossip columns to re-make America’s image as honest broker in the Middle East.

The disconnect between words and actions might please those who want peace more than they want justice for the Palestinians, but for many, the words have been done to death. By the time proximity talks morph into full negotiations, there will be no Jerusalem left to negotiate and no Palestinians left in Jerusalem. All words will then be meaningless.

– Sonja Karkar is the founder of Women for Palestine and one of the founders and co-convener of Australians for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia. She is also the editor of and contributes articles on Palestine regularly to various publications. She contributed this article to Contact her at:

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