Two Parcels of Land–Conflicting Life vs Death Celebrations

Coastal Bus Massacre

Two parcels of land, Ramat Shlomo and El-Bireh are symbols. In Jerusalem and in Ramallah’s sister city respectively, both stand for the eternal hopes of two peoples. In the wake of the recent flare-up between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these two sites, which became the subject of news stories at the same time, say volumes about the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They also say much more about the intentions of both sides for the use of these parcels of land and about the goals of two peoples. East Jerusalem, annexed by the Israeli Government following its capture during the Six-Day War of 1967, is the administrative and spiritual capital of Israel and has been the subject of longing for the Jewish people for millennia. The intended construction of 1,600 apartments there signals the goal of providing homes for Jews in the capital—viewed by Israelis as indivisible. El-Bireh is a sister city of Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, which was established following the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel. The intentions that the Israelis and Palestinians have for these respective sites are starkly different. Even if one argues about the strategy of security both sites epitomize, there are very real differences for what they symbolize.

Ramat Shlomo is the intended site for apartments for Jewish habitation, as simple as that may sound. Each unit will be for people to enjoy festivals, holidays, and time with children and grandchildren. These apartments will be a place for people to celebrate life.

El-Bireh, on the other hand, will be home to a newly renamed public square. The honoree for that square is a Palestinian woman named Dalal Mughrabi. On March 11, 1978, a Palestinian terrorist unit led by Mughrabi hijacked an Israeli bus. The hijacking ended with 36 Israelis murdered, along with American nature photographer Gail Rubin, whom the terrorists had shot when they spotted her taking pictures. This square will be a place for people to celebrate death.

On March 11, 2010, the Palestinian Authority, despite a promise to cancel the ceremony for the square’s renaming because it might embarrass Vice-President Joe Biden on his visit to the area, nevertheless held an unofficial ceremony dedicating the square. Palestinian officials are pledging to move forward with a formal ceremony in the near future, with planners declaring their intention to place a large photo of Mughrabi at the site. “We are determined to name the square after Dalal,” said Brigadier General Adnan Damiri, quoted in the Associated Press. Damiri is the senior Palestinian security official from Fatah who has led the campaign for the square’s rededication. Interestingly, the square is next to a security headquarters in the town.

Embarrassingly though, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton attributed the dedication of the square to the Palestinian Authority’s rivals in the Islamic terrorist group Hamas during her speech at the AIPAC convention on March 22, 2010. Yet it was not Hamas but Fatah, the party headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, which decided to go ahead and dedicate that square after Mughrabi and it was Fatah leaders who held up a banner which read: “On the anniversary of the Coastal Road Operation, we renew our commitment and our oath that we will not stray from the path of the shahids (martyrs), Shahida (Martyr) Dalal Mughrabi Square, Shabiba (Fatah) students’ movement] [Al-Quds, March 12, 2010].

It was also Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi who said at the square’s dedication: “We shall not submit to any threats, and we are here today to celebrate our history and our battle in naming the square after Mughrabi.” [Al-Hayat al-Jadida, March 12, 2010]. Finally, Fatah spokesman Dr. Faiz Abu Aytah emphasized “the right of Fatah, of the Palestinian Authority, and of the Palestinian people to celebrate the anniversary of her [Mughrabi’s] martyrdom… Fatah is proud of Dalal’s affiliation with it as a movement.” [Al-Hayat al-Jadida, P 2010].< 11, March>

What the naming of “Mughrabi Square” shows for the Palestinians is of course different from the construction of apartments in Ramat Shlomo. The naming of the square does not promote life; it sanctifies a cult of death. Here then is the difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that difference lies at the heart of the dispute between these two peoples.

According to Dr. Irshad Arshed on the website, the value of life is paramount, “As regards value of Life Islam even prohibits unnecessary killing of animals much less humans. Islam places highest value on human Life…” How important would it be if these values were to be celebrated at El-Bireh as they are at Ramat Shlomo?

The conflicting uses for these respective parcels of land express deep and enduring messages about the continuing quest for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. They also provide a question: In the ongoing search for peace in the Middle East, on which side do we wish to be seen, that promoting life or that promoting death?

Cutting Edge human rights analust Gregg J. Rickman, Ph.D, served as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006–2009. He is a Senior Fellow for the Study and Combat of Anti-Semitism at the Institute on Religion and Policy in Washington, DC; a Visiting Fellow at The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and a Research Scholar at the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.