Why the Israeli left may rise again over East Jerusalem (but don’t count on it)

Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, is interviewed in Israel over the growing social unrest and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem:

The former speaker of the Knesset, Avrum Burg, on Galie Tzahal’s (IDF Radio), morning show, Ma Boer, with Razi Bakai, 24 January, 2010:

Anchor Razi Barkai: Good morning, former Knesset Speaker Avraham (Avrum) Burg.

Burg: Good morning.

Barkai: How long has it been since you last took part in a demonstration?

Burg: Many, very many years.

Barkai: The last famous demonstration you attended was the one in which you marched alongside Emil Grunzweig, who was killed then by a hand grenade.

Burg: That is possible. I do not remember, but it must have been decades since I last attended such a demonstration.

Barkai: What made you show up last weekend?

Burg: I came because I felt something was evolving here in Jerusalem that is of much greater significance than a single building and a few tenants. This is a huge symbol of Jerusalem as a powder keg that is about to explode right in everyone’s faces here. A man cannot stay at home when this is happening.

Barkai: There are two formalistic arguments that you have to deal with. First, the fact that this demonstration was staged without a permit and you, who have observed the law for many years and as former Knesset speaker, must be aware of that. Second, the buildings you were protesting against were bought by Jews in a completely legal deal.

Burg: Regarding the legality or illegality of this demonstration, the way I understand the law, when people stand around and no speeches are made, it is a rally and people may assemble and rally all they want. Still, I would not want to debate this question because a normal, reasonable state should know that when such a burning issue is on the agenda, it cannot silence it with technicalities. This issue is too urgent, too troubling to be swept under the rug with formalistic arguments.

Barkai: Who do you think made the call and decided that the demonstration was illegal — the Israel Police or, as Yosi Sarid wrote in Haaretz this morning, the Israel Beitenu police?

Burg: The police did. The police officers, whether they are simple cops or the police commissioner, are not my enemies. The person on the other side is actually the Israeli prime minister. I feel that two systems failed here. First, the legal system, the justice system. There are rules in Israel and the citizens have citizens’ rights.

Barkai: Just a second. I still want you, Avrum Burg, to address the second argument too.

Burg: The Jewish property issue?

Barkai: That’s right.

Burg: I will address it very briefly. There are open cases of Jewish property that was in Arab hands and Arab property that was in Jewish hands. When Jerusalem one-sidedly contains the return of Jewish property to Jewish hands, and having a normal justice system and courts, it would be impossible to reject Arab claims to their houses in Talbiya, Katamon, and Tel Aviv.

Barkai: Are you saying that, actually, the right-wing arguments actually uphold the [Palestinian] right of return?

Burg: Of course they do. With his flaccidity, escapism, and keeping away from the issue, Benjamin Netanyahu is actually absent from it, even though it is a burning issue from both the humanitarian and political perspectives. He dumped the concept of two states for two nations on our heads, but by promoting Jerusalem, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and Shimon Hatzadik, he is actually promoting the Arab claims that we want our property where the Palestinians want to return. We cannot allow an anecdotal situation where a single house and a few settlers, or a judge who fails to see the big picture, or who is trapped because, when applied to East Jerusalem, the law is distorted, discriminating, and aggressive. I cannot accept a situation in which an incident that comes from below dictates the strategic policy of the State of Israel.

Barkai: Listen, you mentioned the fact that a court had handed out a ruling in this matter, which makes the remarks you are making a bit problematic. You were there with Yosi Sarid and Uri Avneri, veteran warriors and demonstrators who have always fought for the rule of law and for the independence of the courts, but only up to the point, only until court rulings conflict with your worldviews. Suddenly, you make different arguments.

Burg: My struggle is against the law — [I’d explain this] if we had time, which we don’t — because this is the nature of a plan that introduces wrongs that the law allows in Jerusalem. In de jure terms, the very legislation would have shocked us and we would cry against such discrimination among us, but we will address the judicial system too. The judicial and law-enforcement systems are so selective. Jonathan House in Silwan will never be evacuated, but a house in Sheikh Jarrah was evacuated immediately, and its residents, who are now second-time refugees, live in a tent outside their home. When settlers move in and are not evacuated, it means that the law or its application is discriminatory. The law cannot be applied this way. This is wrongdoing.

Barkai: As one of the tribe elders — and forgive me for giving you this title — I would say that you are experiencing a second wind. I wish to address the cynical remarks that Yosi Sarid made in his Haaretz article this morning. He spoke about the absence of MKs, those who were supposed to pick up your struggle. He even mentioned names of MKs who are mainly involved in social struggles, which he cynically qualified, and are not involved in the Palestinians’ struggle. What do you think about that absence?

Burg: Yosi Sarid is 100% right. His Haaretz article expressed what many people feel. All that was once the Israeli left, the peace camp, from Haim Oron down, the three Meretz MKs and the Labor leftover MKs who fail to stand up and show up there and in other places that the civil society has taken upon itself, are practically making themselves redundant. Presently, these parties represent none of us. If they returned to the streets, rejoined the struggle, stopped fearing of making a stand wherever it is needed, and start backing up the detainees, the people on the streets, my children, my family members who have been demonstrating there for many weeks, and all of us who go there and are not protected by immunity or anything else — then they would be parties that represent us. Otherwise, they have no meaning.

Barkai: Avraham Burg, thank you very much.

Burg: Shalom.

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