The side of Jerusalem the New York Times ignores

Palestinians in Jerusalem were compelled to pray in the street Friday after Israeli forces denied them entry to the Old City.

Saeed Qaq APA images

As I read Max Blumenthal’s article revealing the existence of a strange and candid video filmed by the husband of Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times, I got a kick in the teeth. As I watched the 56-minute video of the Rudoren family’s comfortable life in Jerusalem, I was shocked to see a reality that is completely alien to me as a Palestinian resident of what is supposedly the same city.

I found the idea of watching a “day in the life” in such a bubble of privilege absolutely revolting. Jewish-Americans live comfortably in Jerusalem, while the city is made a living hell for us Palestinian “residents.”

These days I fear living in Jerusalem. I don’t go out unless it is with my family and during the daytime. Merely wandering in my neighborhood is not safe. In Beit Hanina on 25 July, two twenty-year-old Palestinian guys were violently attacked and beaten unconscious by a mob of Jewish youths wielding iron bars and baseball bats.

On 28 July, a two-year-old Palestinian child had a close call as Israeli settlers reportedly tried to kidnap him from the street between Beit Hanina and Shuafat, Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The abduction was luckily thwarted. These two incidents occurred within a one-kilometer radius of where I live. There are many such incidents being reported all over the Jerusalem area right now, like the story of 21-year-old Mahmoud al-Shawamreh, killed by a group of settlers north of Jerusalem on 21 July.

The merciless kidnapping and gruesome burning to death of Muhammad Abu Khudair on 2 July and the beating of his cousin Tariq Abukhdeir in Shuafat are not isolated incidents. Hate, violence and incitement are on a sharp rise in this city, and Israeli politicians are to blame.

Nationalist mobs

This year, the month of Ramadan has come and gone without us even realizing. I’m not a person to strictly observe religious festivals, but I do enjoy the idea of visiting al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan to pray or meditate. It is an indescribable atmosphere, one that I’m used to, especially during Ramadan. This year, my parents advised me against getting anywhere near the Old City, fearing violence or arrest by Israeli police forces, who greatly restrict access to al-Aqsa during Ramadan. We also fear violence from Jewish nationalist mobs known to roam certain streets of the Old City.

Thousands of Palestinians were denied access to al-Aqsa due to severe restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on Muslim worshipers. This example is enough to burst the myth of “freedom of religious practice” under Israel.

Last Thursday, me and my family went to visit a friend who lives in the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. The scene there wasn’t any better. As we walked through Bab al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate), most Israeli youths walking past were either wearing “IDF” hoodies or were wrapped in Israeli flags. Just after 4 pm, a group of youths chanting nationalist slogans against Arabs passed by.

This was quite an unsettling scene for the many Palestinians who work or pass through that area. Those mobs, I was told, would learn if a person is Arab or not by asking “Kam h’sha’a” (Hebrew for “What is the time?”). Many people have been attacked solely for being Arab, and Israeli police only intervene to place a buffer between the attackers and the victim. The police then escort the Palestinian victim away.

I was holding my ten-year-old brother’s hand tightly as we walked towards the Armenian Quarter. He and I were discussing his achievements in a new video game as we walked. But I would find myself covering his mouth so as to avoid being heard speaking Arabic by the groups of flag-waving youths passing by. It was very uncomfortable to be walking alone in an area I once considered to be my favorite part of the city.

As we reached our destination, our family friend described the scene outside his pottery shop, where passing Christian clergy members got spat at by either ultra-Orthodox Jews or flag-waving youths. He sarcastically commented: “those clergy members don’t need to shower due to the amount of spit they get each day.” We laughed, though we all know it is no laughing matter. Israeli racism and hostility towards Palestinians has reached unimaginable heights here.

Structural violence

The recent rise in hostilities isn’t caused merely by incitement — racism and discrimination here is institutional. A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem is always treated as second class compared to a Jewish citizen — despite the fact Palestinians, like myself, have been rooted in this city for centuries, unlike newly-arriving Jewish immigrants.

In April 2012, as he facilitated the forced eviction of a Palestinian family from their home in Beit Hanina, I remember mega-settler leader Aryeh King saying it was good for Jewish settlers to move into Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem as this guarantees that the Jerusalem municipality serves the area efficiently. King was acknowledging the fact that racism is institutional: tax-paying Arab residents of the city receive little to none of the services they pay for and deserve, while Jewish neighborhoods are almost always lavishly serviced.

You don’t have to look far to see the most blatant example of this institutional racism. Shuafat refugee camp, under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality, lacks any of the basic infrastructure and services normally required to make a habitable place. Such institutional racism and segregation has been in place for decades.

This is an example of the theories of Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung: structural violence leads to cultural violence which eventually leads to direct violence. Institutional violence has been entrenched in the Israeli system for decades. Cultural violence is evident as major Israeli politicians incite hatred without facing any consequences whatsoever. Today, whether it is Jewish mobs rampaging in Jerusalem, or Israeli soldiers wreaking havoc in the occupied territories, Galtung’s triangular diagram has been realized.

To the cheerful Gary Rudoren, the New Yorker husband of Jodi Rudoren, living the lavish life as a Jew in Jerusalem, I say that you must realize this: what I describe here is my everyday life in Jerusalem. I’m considered only a “resident” of this city, and am not allowed to live anywhere else or obtain any citizenship. I am made constantly to worry that my residency may be revoked by Israel at any time. I suffer an increasingly insane system of injustice.

Every time you are allowed to breathe, Gary, I’m strangled further. But of course, I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m merely sharing the current reality of a city that I can’t identify with anymore. A reality that neither you nor your New York Times bureau chief wife seem to wish to recognize exists.




Excellent piece -- thank you, Jalal. Juxtaposed with the Rudoren video, a compelling portrait of life in apartheid Jerusalem.


Its ashame that this is occurring in the birth place of isa, (mabpwh) this is the same as what happened in all the profits times! There is no power or might except with Allah! My brothers and sisters we will overcome this with the help of Allah!!!


Great post! Thanks for sharing. I found the idea of watching a day in the life in such a bubble of privilege absolutely revolting. Jewish-Americans live comfortably in Jerusalem while the city is made a living hell for us Palestinian residents.

Jalal Abukhater

Jalal Abukhater's picture

Jalal Abukhater is a Jerusalemite, he is a graduate MA(hons) International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee, Scotland.