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What visitors don’t see in Jerusalem is important


It’s not Mickey’s fault,” I explained to 9-year-old Rawan last week in the middle of a discussion about an Israeli-sponsored Jerusalem exhibition at Disney World in Florida. “It’s the fault of Abu Mickey [Mickey’s father],” I said, in the best way I knew to explain the Disney Corporation.

Two weeks earlier Rawan, who lives in Abu Dis, close to one of the Jerusalem military checkpoints, attached a plastic Mickey Mouse to my backpack. It had drawn immediate recognition from children in the Hebron district where I work with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Indeed, many of the back-to-school children that I met were also sporting Mickey on their backpacks.

But last Sunday, as I prepared for a return visit to Rawan’s house, I bought a newspaper. On the front page an article about a boycott against Disney Corporation described Disney’s Jerusalem exhibit as “marginalizing Muslims and Christians.” As Rawan’s older brother explained the newspaper article to her, I could read the disappointment in her face.

What would Rawan and her twin sister Riham understand about a boycott? What did they know of the political situation of Jerusalem? Part of me wanted to shelter them from the political realities. I wanted them to continue dancing and singing with their plastic Disney figurines bobbing up and down on their school backpacks. But I knew that “Greater Jerusalem” had already engulfed them.

In March 1993, when they were almost three, Israel imposed a closure that cut the West Bank from Jerusalem and Israel. Only their mother, who was born in Jerusalem and had a Jerusalem ID card, could go to the East Jerusalem post office to get the mail. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on their father’s side could not (even though they live inside the area that Israel has called “greater Jerusalem”).

That closure, still in effect, has had a devastating effect on the West Bank economy. Rawan’s family felt the effect personally when the only jobs available were on the other side of the checkpoint where their father could not go.

When the twins were 5 years old, “greater Jerusalem, eternal, undivided capital of Israel” became an even harsher reality for them. The Israeli military demolished the home of their uncle as part of a “master plan” to provide for the expansion of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Part of Ma’ale Adumim was built on land confiscated from the twins’ grandfather’s family.

More recently their aunt married a man who has family land in Waleja village, but that land, too, is being confiscated, also to be part of “greater Jerusalem.” In fact as I joined Israelis on Sept. 27 for a succot between Israelis and Waleja families whose homes had been demolished recently, Rabbi Arik Ashermen of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions pointed out that the Waleja families had crossed the valley in 1948 as refugees from Jerusalem. Then in 1987, greater Jerusalem expanded its borders around their lands but did not give them Jerusalem ID cards. Instead the civil administration put demolition orders on their houses.

I looked out across the valley as Arik spoke and could see the expanded Jerusalem stretched out before me. The largest mall in the Middle East, the Gilo settlement, and new developments all around had replaced the pastoral scenes of earlier decades. It seems that as the “Greater Jerusalem” area prepares for the influx of tourists, Disney is coming to Jerusalem, even as Jerusalem is going to Disney World.

If you visit the Disneyfied Jerusalem here in the Middle East for the millennium, you won’t need a special ticket. You will be able to travel the bypass roads and visit the holy places. Tour moguls are setting it up so that you can “walk on water” in the Sea of Galilee, visit a reconstruction of Nazareth as it was in Jesus’ day, and you will be able to visit Bethlehem without even going inside the Palestinian-controlled area.

However, for thousands of West Bank families, it won’t be so easy. They will wait in long lines for their tickets (permits to go to Jerusalem), which give them a two-week pass. Often these are denied. They will be entering on foot along paths that are far removed from your view.

Rawan and other West Bank children would like to have a chance to welcome you when you come. You probably won’t meet them, however. They will be hidden out of sight.

Rawan doesn’t want to give up Mickey. He is a symbol of friendship around the world. She just wishes she were part of it.

Dianne Roe is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. The teams’ Web site is www.prairienet.org/cpt/

National Catholic Reporter, November 19, 1999