Journal Jottings

Khaled Abu Aker

The Rise and Fall of Dahiyat al-Barid and Other Checkpoint Stories

Once a prestigious neighborhood, Dahiyat al-Barid has been turned into a shamefully neglected one, victim of an Israeli policy aimed at cutting heav¬ily populated Arab areas out of municipal Jerusalem. Literally meaning "post office suburb", Dahiyat al-Barid was named after a housing project for Jerusalem post office workers. It was the posh residential area of East Jerusalem until the outset of the Intifada when all of a sudden municipal services stopped. Now the streets groan under piles of garbage, potholes stud the roads, and no telephone lines are issued.
When Israel imposed its first serious closure on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in March 1993, Dahiyat al-Barid acquired the dubious honor of becoming the border line between Jerusalem and the northern part of the West Bank. The main checkpoint obstructing Palestinian entry into East Jerusalem was placed right at the principal entrance to the neighborhood, sealing it.
The residents, all of whom carry Jerusalem ID cards, are now subject¬ed to daily checks by Israeli soldiers faithfully staffing the barricade round the clock, peering into people's cars, eyes hungrily searching for ID cards. Whereas in the past I never had to plan to get into Jerusalem, now I subconsciously leave one hour prior to any engagement, knowing full well that I will be stuck in a long line of cars and buses. And despite the fact that I live less than 100 meters away from the main entrance to the neighborhood, when I head home, I am forced to drive more than one kilometer past the checkpoint in search of a route that will eventually lead me to my house.

On Saturdays, the wait at the checkpoint is even more protracted. As there are no impatient settlers in the long lines, the soldiers figure the Arabs can wait. The checking and searching suddenly become more thorough and miraculously take triple the time usually needed to ascertain that one has a Jerusalem 10 and can "legally" pass.
I cannot say what settlers think of checkpoints; necessary evils, I sup¬pose. But I do know one thing: when settlers get to a checkpoint, they don't have to show their ID cards in order to pass. On the other hand, when I -¬ a Palestinian born and raised in Jerusalem, of Jerusalemite parents and grandparents -¬ get to the checkpoint, I'm ordered to show identification.
Once I tried to get into Jerusalem through another checkpoint known as the Ramot checkpoint, mostly used by settlers living in the Ramallah area. When I reached the post, the soldiers, realizing I was a Palestinian, flagged me down and asked for my ID. I showed it to the nearest soldier who took it and pronounced I couldn't pass.
As we were arguing, a settler drove up behind me, swerved around my car and passed without a word. I asked the soldier why he was allowed to pass while I was not. "Because he is a Jew," came the reply.
He ordered me to turn my car around and head back to Ramallah. He kept my ID card till I made the U-turn. Twenty minutes later, I passed through the Oahiyat al-Barid checkpoint.

Spurred by the checkpoint headaches at my doorstep, I have decided to look for a house within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. A result of my search was a first-hand introduction to the housing predicament in the Palestinian part of the city. Rent prices have sky-rocketed over the past few years and are now quoted in dollars. The minimum rent is $600 per month, equal to the monthly wage of the average Palestinian in the city. A main reason is the fact that no building permits are issued to Palestinians. Arab areas are extensively zoned as "green" (environmentally protected areas to prevent Palestinian construction on them, and thus the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods). Fierce battles are fought over the little avail¬able space left for rent among people who want office space and residence for highly-paid foreigners (not that all foreigners are highly paid). There is no priority for the Palestinian tenant. As a consequence, 50,000 of the 160,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem ID cards have been forced to move outside the municipal boundaries of the city to set up residence in finan¬cially more accessible areas.

Boaz Evron

The City of Shalem

The public relations aspect of choosing this year as the 3000th since the foundation of Jerusalem is obvious enough, and the organizers of the event may be right in assuming that hardly anybody would bother looking up the date to check whether it is correct.
Anyway, they could also argue that King David conquered the place and made it his capital around the 10th century BCE, give or take a centu¬ry, and that's what should really matter. The Canaanites who lived there beforehand all vanished anyway thousands of years ago, and who cares what they would have thought about this date, which completely ignores their prior existence? Also, both Christian and Muslim veneration of the place is based on the fact that it had first become the holy city of the Jews, so nobody living should have quarrel with the date chosen.
So the following is just an expression of a party pooper's mean and nasty temperament. I really do wonder whether any of the initiators and organizers of the event bothered to open at least the Hebrew Encyclopedia, which cannot be suspected of underhanded anti-Semitic bias, under the heading "Jerusalem" (Vol. XX, p. 223 passim). It is stated there that the city is first mentioned (which does not mean that it had not existed long before) in the Egyptian Curse scripts of the 19th century BC, namely almost 4,000 years ago, and was called in them "Ursalim" ("Ursalimmu" in Assyrian). The apparent meaning of the name was "city of Shalem," Shalem being a local Canaanite deity.
Presumably, Solomon's temple was built on the site of the former Shalem shrine, according to the nice age-old custom of appropriating and usurping a former holy place to dignify the new belief, just as the Spaniards built Mexico City's grand cathedral on the site of the Aztec tem¬ple of the sun. The Muslims did the same thing when they built the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Second Temple, and the Crusaders of course converted the place into a church, until the Muslims recaptured the city and converted it right back. And so it goes.
The deity Shalem had, of course, nothing to do with "shalom" (peace), despite the PR hot air to the contrary. One can definitely state that, histor¬ically speaking, the city is anything but a city of peace. Perhaps no tract on earth has absorbed so much human blood through the millennia-repeated destructions and massacres by Israelites, Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders, down to the blood-lettings of the present century. And all this in strange contrast to the dreamy, dusty-golden, seemingly peace¬ful appearance of the city.
Donald B. Redford, in Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, (Princeton, 1992) notes that the Pharaoh Akhenhaten stationed a governor• in Jerusalem (in the 14th century BCE, namely 3,400 years ago) to control and subdue the nomadic Apiru. Most scholars are of the opinion that the "Apiru" are the ancient Hebrews.
This action, attested to by the contemporary documents, is in interest¬ing contrast to the fact that neither in Joshua nor in Judges is there any Egyptian presence in Canaan mentioned, this being the presumed age of the Judges. Although this presence is also attested to by contemporary archaeological finds, who are we, plain and fallible mortals, to contest the authority of the Bible? Let the scholars fight it out.
A final cynical thought: now that the PR people have decided that the city is 3,000 years old, it won't take long before it becomes an article of faith. Future historians will begin to doubt the archaeological evidence in front of their own eyes, and future encyclopedias will quote the ancient Egyptian inscriptions with hesitation. After all, post-modernism has taught us that everyone has his own "narrative," that no "narrative" is more "privileged" than the other, and that the very concept of evidence and truth is an exploded superstition. Perhaps Jerusalem itself is then a mirage.