The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 10: West Jerusalem

For the afternoon of Saturday, January 18, we walked through the neighborhoods surrounding Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in West Jerusalem. These neighborhoods are incredibly wealthy—mansions and synagogues and manicured roads– populated by Israeli diplomats and officials and many American Jews. Both the residential and business area had obviously appropriated Palestinian neighborhoods as their own. On many of the buildings, you could see the old calligraphy, tile, and artistry.

Because it was Saturday, the business area was completely shut down–not even the ATMs of international banks worked, and the streets were all but deserted. As one delegate put it, it just makes it all the more obvious that the neighborhood–rebuilt over Palestinian history–is not for Palestinians at all.

I suppose the vacancy of the streets made the shop windows all the more visible. As in Jaffa, the cultural appropriation was startling because it was unexpected.

It is my fault for presuming that Zionism would be more purist as an ideology than it actually was “on the ground.” But it is much closer in character to American nationalism than it is not.

As in the U.S. cultures around the world are celebrated and referenced in products, store names, and kitsch in some liberal celebration of the internationality, multicultural flavor of the place. There was a Castro chain of clothing, several restaurants boasting authentic European cuisine, and Che posters in liquor/convenience stores. The references work so hard at pointing to everything not-Arab, not-Palestinian, that they pull from the worst of stereotypes, even about American Indian culture.

One store proudly displayed dream catchers in the window. The dream catchers were displayed next to a model of a dreadlock-wig.

The difficult work at creating a cultural history that is not one is no where more evident than in the gesture to every other indigenous culture in the world (American, African) that it can find that is not Palestinian in order to celebrate itself as both historical and multicultural. The obvious aim is to assert Israel as not merely a democracy but as the lone democracy of the region. But even the homes that have been appropriated from Palestinians and redecorated have retained the ancient Palestinian tile work that cannot be disguised by the pink washing of so many rainbow flags.
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