Harriet Sherwood has produced a seemingly innocuous article about the Jerusalem light rail and the diversity of passengers who ride in it. This could have been the perfect way to show how Israel is not an apartheid society, but as with so many of Sherwood’s articles, she lets her biases leak through.
The problems start with the title: “Commuting with a rifle through the conflicted city” and goes downhill from there.
She describes the passengers in a way that makes them seem weirdly exotic but we can let that pass:
There are few places where the distinct tribes of Jerusalem mingle: the main hospital, the shopping mall, the Biblical zoo, sometimes even at McDonalds. Latterly, there has also been the light railway. The different groups rarely interact, or even make eye contact, but they attain an uneasy co-existence.
Men dressed in ultra-orthodox monochrome, under hats and coats even in the Middle Eastern summer, squeeze on board, averting their eyes from young women tourists in shorts and skimpy t-shirts. Religious Jewish mothers, hair bound in long winding scarves, with a brood of small children clutching at their ankle-length skirts, stand alongside Palestinian women in skinny jeans and elaborate hijabs framing carefully made-up faces and groomed eyebrows.
She then misrepresents the history of Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem thus:
Israel seized the Arab eastern part of Jerusalem in the 1967 six-day war, later annexing it in a move deemed illegal under international law. It declared that the city – whose eastern sector the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state – was henceforth “indivisible”. The following year, a “masterplan” was published, which stated its “first and cardinal rule was to ensure [Jerusalem’s] unification … to build the city in a manner that would prevent the possibility of its being repartitioned.”
Over the ensuing 46 years, Israel has established numerous Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem to fulfil this aim. A network of roads has been constructed to connect them to the city centre; the light railway, once complete, will perform a similar purpose.
As we all know, the story is slightly different. To quote one of the commenters:
Considering the UN partition resolution of 1947, it would be more correct to state that the West Bank and Gaza were OCCUPIED by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. Otherwise, it would follow logically that the West Bank has been GOVERNED by Israel since 1967, a description that the Guardian never uses.
For almost 20 years, Jerusalem was bisected into the Jewish west and Arab east, with a border marked by barbed wire, patrolled by soldiers and punctuated by watchtowers.
i.e the residents of west Jerusalem could not cross into East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall.
Sherwood does mention some positive aspects of the train’s route, but then misses the point:
According to Danny Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer who focuses on political issues concerning Jerusalem, the impact of the railway has been huge for Palestinians in the city. The planners were disinclined to route the railway through Shuafat and Beit Hanina, he says, for fear of deterring Israeli passengers and fuelling fears of terror attacks. “But were it only to go through ‘Israeli’ areas, they would be open to the charge that it was a racist railway. So it was routed this way with great reluctance.”
The unintended consequence has been to make it much easier for Palestinians to get to the Old City. “It’s brought Haram al-Sharif [the site of the Dome of the Rock] closer to Beit Hanina and Shuafat,” says Seidemann.
And not just the Muslim holy sites, he adds; Palestinians are more visible in the west of the city than previously. “Has that united the city? No, but it’s an interesting change in the patterns of movement.”
The reverse is not the case. “The light rail has not brought Israelis into Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem. On the Israeli side, the patterns of movement have not changed at all.”
She misses the point by not explaining WHY Israelis don’t visit the Palestinian side – because they would be lynched. She makes no mention of the extreme danger to Israelis on entering Palestinian areas, so much so that this is forbidden by law.
After the required moan about the lack of public transport for Palestinians on Shabbat, ignoring the fact that secular Israelis too are lacking such transport, Sherwood expands on Israel’s bus service. However instead of linking to the Ministry of Transport or to the Egged bus company’s website, she links to an anti-Israel website called “visualising Palestine”. No, I won’t link to it here. It’s at the Guardian which is quite enough. All I will say is that this site imputes the worst possible motives to even the most mundane or innocuous of Israel’s deeds, e.g. The bus service, which by its very nature – gasp! – serves both Israelis and Palestinians. Why, the very thought! How dare they?!
Sherwood’s constant weaving the settlements/occupation/Green line/poor Palestinians/armed Israelis into the story demonstrates clearly that Sherwood is not really writing about the light rail at all. That is simply the hook upon which to hang her obssessions about Israel.