Micha Kurz on “Mobilizing Communities in Occupied Jerusalem”

Micha Kurz, a co-founder of “Grassroots Jerusalem,” delivered a CIRSMonthly Dialogue lecture ‎on “Mobilizing Communities in Occupied Jerusalem” on November 12, 2013. Kurz works to ‎support a Palestinian platform for community-based advocacy in Jerusalem, putting Jerusalem ‎back on the international map as a Palestinian capital. His lecture focused on the high degree of ‎misinformation regarding the political realities experienced by the increasingly segregated ‎Palestinian communities on the ground. Issues of escalating Palestinian impoverishment are often ‎marginalized, and the daily suffering sanitized, under the Israeli political narrative of “security ‎and peace.” Even though Israelis and Palestinians share some of the same physical spaces in the ‎city, their experiences could not be more dissimilar causing ongoing conflict and tension.

In order to understand the history of Jerusalem, Kurz said, it is important to understand the ‎bifurcated histories of conflict. For Israelis, the modern historical understanding of the tensions ‎starts in 1967 and the discussions of a "two-state solution," but for Palestinians this begins much ‎earlier in 1948 with the Naqba, or catastrophe. In Israeli schools, teaching a history of the Naqba ‎is practically an illegal topic, Kurz argued. Thus, many Israelis as well as communities in the West ‎do not have, nor often care to have, a full picture of what is happening on the ground. ‎

If one goes back further in time, before there were divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, ‎there was a Jerusalem that was populated by Jews, Muslims, and Christians, Kurz said. ‎‎Jerusalem was a central city in the region connecting the cities of Bethlehem, Hebron, and ‎Be’ar Saba’a in the South, to Nablus, Nazareth, and Tiberius in the North. The city also ‎connected Jericho from the East, through the oldest trade route in the world, to the port of Jaffa ‎and the Mediterranean sea in the West. The city wasn’t just a spiritual or religious capital; it was ‎also an economic capital in the region. But Israel has detached the city from its suburbs and the ‎West Bank, isolating Jerusalem, and treating it as if it were a city in Europe, not a capital in the ‎Middle East. ‎

In an attempt to control demographics, for the last four decades, Israeli government policy has ‎been to keep Palestinian parts of the city underdeveloped, while expanding mass Israeli ‎settlement housing projects—illegally according to international law. While Israeli settlement ‎grew on stolen Palestinian farmlands during the 1970s and 80s, without the freedom to develop ‎their own neighborhoods, young Palestinian families had no choice but to move out of town, and ‎to live in the suburbs. Later, in the 1990s during what was described as “a step toward Peace,” ‎checkpoints were constructed limiting Palestinian access to the Central Business District and ‎with it access to the main market, employment, healthcare, and education. Palestinians who were ‎caught at checkpoints or Israeli military house-raids and designated as not living within the ‎Israeli-defined borders of the city have had their “residency” status revoked. These no longer ‎have the right to visit their hometown without an Israeli issued permit. Israel finally severed ‎Jerusalem from its age-old suburbs with the construction of the “separation wall.” The “wall” was ‎built during the period known as “the Bush War on Terror,” and its presence has often been justified under ‎the rubric of “security.” However, it has been widely proven by many Israeli sources that this is ‎not the case, and the “wall” has benefited the Israeli economy by segregating Palestinian cities ‎from one another. ‎

Today, the Israeli government does not allow the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction in Jerusalem. ‎Without the right to vote in proper government elections, Palestinian Residents of Jerusalem have ‎not been politically represented for the last four decades. Kurz discussed the divisions and ‎segregations that have occurred; Palestinians living in the suburbs of the city are physically ‎isolated and segregated from their communities and from basic amenities. As a result, over 5,000 ‎businesses have shut down over the past decade, bringing unemployment, poverty, and rising ‎tensions to peak levels. The age-old character has been cleansed from Jerusalem together with its ‎Palestinian residents.‎

Kurz lamented how “Israel has over time gained control of the land between the Jordan River ‎and the Mediterranean sea, including the economy, resources, and the peoples living in it.” He ‎added later, “I find it difficult to describe Israel either as a democracy or a Jewish state.” In ‎conclusion, Kurz questioned how “Many people around the world still discuss a Two-State ‎Solution, expecting ‘Peace, Dialogue, and Coexistence,’ where I feel we ought to be discussing ‎human rights, justice, and leading practical conversations about freedom of movement and ‎development in an important regional capital.” ‎

Micha Kurz was born and raised in Jerusalem. During the second Intifada he learned about the ‎Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land and people first hand as an Israeli soldier. In 2004, he was ‎a co-founder of “Breaking the Silence” and has since focused his work in Al Quds-Jerusalem, “a ‎forgotten epicenter of the occupation. “Grassroots Jerusalem” has recently opened the doors to ‎Al Marsa (the Harbor), a Political Community Center and Legal Clinic built to counter the threat ‎on freedom of speech and assembly in Jerusalem today.‎