Scriptonite Daily Report From Jerusalem – A Tale of Two Taxi Drivers

A000I’m an independent journalist.  Readers of my blog crowdfunded for me to go to Israel to report from Jerusalem and Gaza.  I have visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times since 2002.  Here is my daily report.

Today I am in Jerusalem.  A home to some of the most important religious sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  It is also the centre of many of the political arguments over the resolution to what we call ‘The Middle East Conflict”.

I would argue that this is a ‘Middle East Conflict’ as much as Apartheid South Africa was a ‘Sub Saharan Africa Conflict’.  A conflict implies equality – and there is no equality here.

In fact, the more people I speak to here – the ever clearer this becomes.  The framing of this situation as a ‘conflict’ prevents many from seeing the scale of malevolence playing itself out within Israel’s 1948, 1967 and 2014 borders.

Having long been a two-state solutionist, I was surprised to have my own views challenged in interviews with ‘radical’ Israeli activists who pulled me up on what may have been my own willingness to overlook colonialism in the case of Israel.  As Roni, a Jewish-Israeli conscientious objector and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigner told me over coffee in Tel Aviv yesterday:

“The Zionist project, particularly in Palestine, is a supremacist project. It’s not only a colonialist movement in that it demands the theft of resources, natural and human, of the indigenous people…But also says that this land is ours and only ours; and if you are not part of us you don’t belong here”

I had conversations with two taxi drivers – one Jewish-Israeli, and one Arab-Israeli which seemed to underscore the issue he describes.

Taxi Number 1

On leaving the airport, I hopped into a taxi with a smiling Jewish-Israeli taxi driver.  He first assumed I was Israeli, but was most welcoming to me as a Brit.  We shared a few jokes and then he asked why I was in the country, to which I replied:

“I’m a journalist, I’m here to report on the conflict [yes, I called it that too] and I’m going to Gaza on Friday’

His face fell, looking more sad than angry.

“Do you like us or not?” He asked, in a fairly plaintiff voice.

I explained that I make no generalisations about Israelis as human beings, but that I felt the treatment of Palestinians was wholly wrong, and without justification. I didn’t get to utter much more than three-word sentences for the rest of the trip from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem as he attempted to explain in how many ways my view was profoundly misguided.

What made this all the more interesting was the taxi driver’s background.  This is a man, he tells me, who refused to complete his services in the IDF (the Israeli armed forces) 20 years ago because he could not be complicit in the mistreatment of Palestinians, or Arabs as he calls them. He remembers being handed his papers and told “You are a shame to the nation”.  This is a man who made the same decision 20 years ago, that Roni in Tel-Aviv made.  This guy is the well inside the moderate camp.

He tells me several things, as facts, which I must accept:

  1. Hamas, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram are the same.  To fight one, is to fight them all.
  2. In 10 years Europe will be run by Muslims, under Shariah Law, because we refuse to take the stand that Israel does.
  3. Gaza is not occupied, there is no blockade, to disagree is to forward a conspiracy theory.
  4. There are some good Arabs, maybe as high as 75%.  But Hamas is making more bad Arabs, so over time there are fewer Arabs with which you can deal reasonably.

He then moves on to explain his ‘humanitarian’ solution for Gaza.

“We get the 75% good Arabs to come to the border wearing white (for surrender). We search them all. If they are safe we let them in and give them shelter. Then we flatten Gaza. Kill everything and everyone left.
Then we let the good Arabs back in and help them rebuild”.

There are 1.8m people in Gaza. This argument advocates killing 450,000 people. This would be about double the death toll of Hiroshima and Nagazaki combined.

It would also mean destroying an area slightly larger than Las Vegas.

He considers himself (correctly) a moderate.  

Taxi Number 2

I get into the cab and see an Arab-Israeli man at the wheel.  The same two questions come not long after our journey begins – where are you from? Why are you here?  I provide the same answer as above, and he uses the rear view mirror to give me a double-take.  His eyes are wide for a moment.

“How? They let you go?”

He means the Israelis.  I explain that yes, the Government Press Office of Israel have provided me with a press card and entry to Gaza to report.  He is quiet for a moment.

“It’s empty.” He says, almost under his breath. “Occupation since (for) eight years, this wars, leave nothing. People destroyed.”

As we pass the Dome of the Rock, he becomes animated.

“The Jewish, he come every week, he try pray here.  It’s Muslim.  You ever see Muslim try go Synagogue? No! It’s for Jewish, not for Muslim. Why they do this? Why they want all everything Jewish, even Mosque?”

He is correct, in that for years Israel’s Jewish Right have been making political marches, demanding to enter these two holy sites on the basis that all land in Israel is Jewish and that the millennia old rubble of the Third Temple resides somewhere under the Dome of the Rock.  The most infamous of these being made by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2000, triggering the Second Intifada, or Palestinian Uprising.

“The Temple Mount is in our hands,” he said, reiterating the radio broadcast from June 1967, when Israeli forces overran Jerusalem and occupied the last portions of Palestinian territory not conquered in 1948.

The following day, the IDF opened fire on crowds of unarmed demonstrators in al-Aqsa compound, killing seven and wounding more than 100.

Ever since, Zionist groups have been attempting to recreate this march.  They are refused entry and often hoiked away from the scene, but the feeling of intrusion and entitlement takes effect nevertheless.

There was even a crowdfunder set up recently to demolish the Dome of the Rock and replace it with a newly built Third Temple, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars so far.

As I sit and reflect on his question, my mind drifts back to the cafe in Tel-Aviv with Roni.

“The Zionist project, particularly in Palestine, is a supremacist project. It’s not only a colonialist movement in that it demands the theft of resources, natural and human, of the indigenous people…But also says that this land is ours and only ours; and if you are not part of us you don’t belong here”

The taxi driver’s English and my Arabic are not good enough for me to explain this answer.  But I’m not sure I could bear to, even if it were. Why do those people behave this way? Because so far as they’re concerned, you don’t belong here.
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9 thoughts on “Scriptonite Daily Report From Jerusalem – A Tale of Two Taxi Drivers

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  8. As a journalist, you presumably know that for decades Jews were not allowed near the Western Wall, and if Arabs had their way, no Jews would be allowed again. You would also know that Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank for two decades, during which time Jews were expelled from those areas. Jews also used to live in Gaza, but I assume they were forced out a long time ago. There’s a lot more to the history of the area which you haven’t included. And the views of one person from each side do not make a consensus.

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