The Wild West At The Orient

That the Israeli flag was briefly hoisted on top of the Orient House shortly after midnight on Friday, August 10th, 2001, is not merely a provocation that should pass without assessment. Like all primitive rituals, the act seemed to convey a message: we [Israel] have the power to close down your institutions and diminish your remaining symbols of political aspirations in east Jerusalem.

Ironically, it was Faisal Husseini himself who had repeatedly emphasized Israel’s ‘logic of power’ policy towards the Palestinians. This was certainly the case ten days ago, when Israeli “special forces” stormed into the Orient House, held its residents and employees at gunpoint, confiscated classified documents, and tore down all Palestinian national symbols, including the Palestinian flag and portraits of the late Faisal Husseini.

The days that followed witnessed what could only resemble scenes from a western movie; a bunch of cowboys ostensibly guarding “captured territory.” Israeli police and army patrols lavishly surrounded the entire neighborhood around the Orient House, paralyzing key Palestinian and non-Palestinian institutions, including Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi (an orphanage), ANERA (a US development agency), The Arab Studies Society (a Palestinian academic institution), World Vision (a US relief agency), and The British Council, not to mention Abu Al-Izz, the incredibly busy 24-hour local store that keeps the neighborhood buzzing with people from all walks of life!

Tragically, the significance of Israel’s occupation of the Orient House reaches far beyond the unlawful closure of institutions and the arrogance of muscle flexing. At the heart of the matter, General Ariel Sharon is superciliously re-asserting Israel’s defiance of international law. East Jerusalem is occupied territory, in accordance with UN Resolution 242; Israel’s unilaterally declared sovereignty over the city is not recognized by any state, including the US!

Having blatantly undermined, once again, international legality and the basic Palestinian rights and freedoms, Ariel Sharon’s radical right wing government could only complement its destructive political measures with brute military action. The inevitable civil demonstrations that followed the occupation of the Orient House were met with uncompromising police and army brutality; Israeli “special forces,” with their noticeably gray uniform and somewhat gangster-like gear (and looks), waited almost impatiently for the next demonstrator to raise the Palestinian flag, a gesture that was “treated” with explosive temper, vicious beating, and, ultimately, a night or two at the Russian Compound, the nearby Israeli police station. All took a decent share of the beatings and arrests, Palestinian Legislative Council Members, international solidarity groups, peaceful Palestinian demonstrators, and even bystanders; they all experienced (or re-experienced) the bitter reality of the ‘logic of power’ equation.

Meanwhile, like all the Palestinian territories, the political address of the Palestinians in east Jerusalem remains under military siege, surrounded by recently erected concrete blocks, Israeli police and army patrols, and the occasional Clint Eastwood-looking Israeli police units on horse backs, who must finally be given mention, not least for using leather whips to disperse demonstrators.

(*The content above reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of MIFTAH)

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