Eid From Bahria Town, Karachi To Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem
As the end of the holy month approaches with the promise of Eid festivities, one wonders what is the experience of Eid that makes it festive? To everyone the festive part of Eid comes from seeing family and friends, getting moist kisses from grandparents, uncles and aunts, hugging loved ones and revisiting the sights, sounds and smells of childhood in homes, hometowns and villages. Home has a special meaning in all cultures. It’s a place of safety, comfort and joy. It’s a place where the present connects with the past. It gives us a sense of self and continuity to brave the future and its joys and sorrows.
Violent violations of that sanctuary are unthinkable for most of us, but alas so routine for so many from Bahria Town Karachi to Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem. On this pandemic infested Eid, it may also be useful to think about the other infestation of classism, racism, colonialism and arrogance that plague this festival for so many humans.
I have had the honour of visiting the great city of Jerusalem and spending some time in the venerable Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, right next to the historic 1967 Green Line that separated Israel from West Bank. I met the nicest, most hospitable people during my visit there. Saying simple salaam to any Palestinian on the street made their face glow. And upon learning that I was from Pakistan, all doors and hearts were opened.
Ask for directions and they would just as soon walk you all the way to your destination, instead of being just content with giving directions. The feel of the neighbourhood was decidedly Palestinian with the venerable American Mission Hotel and wonderful restaurants and bakeries serving mouth watering food. Every humanitarian worker and most expatriates I came across there, chose to spend time in East Jerusalem for its welcoming vibe instead of the modern, paranoid militarism of the western part.
Sheikh Jarrah today is at the epicentre of an ongoing process of violent dispossession of Palestinian families from their homes. Right wing Jewish elements with the full support of the state are visiting unspeakable violence upon Palestinians, asking just for their right to exist. Palestinians are after all the only militarily occupied people in the world, who are held responsible for ensuring the security of their occupiers, as per Hanan Ashrawi. At the heart of this shameless land grab is Israeli racist colonialism against the Palestinians, whereby the European Zionists hunger for their land can only be satisfied by the erasure of a thousand year presence of Palestinians in Palestine. The court case at the heart of the conflict is based upon some Jewish settlers’ claim of being in the contested properties in the 19th century. Of course, by that criteria 80% of Israelis would have to vacate their land because Palestinians lived there before them. But Jewish land claims are entertained by the Israeli state and Palestinian ones are not, the world, especially Israel’s friends like the West and the Gulf states are just fine with that.
Land grab is something that we are too familiar with here in Pakistan. Afterall Bahria Town, Karachi’s attempted land grab of ancient village lands in Karachi and resultant violence of the state against those resisting has been front page news. Less well known are the perpetual land grabs by other housing authorities and the state in the name of development and infrastructure.
What could be the possible commonalities between the two distant instances of comparable events, with comparable state violence against people trying to defend their homes?
Zionist mythology justifying their occupation of Palestinian lands is amongst others, based upon an Orientalist view held by the dominant Zionist segments of Israeli society. The persecuted Jews of Europe deserve a homeland and Palestine is it. It is the European Zionist ingenuity, and hard work that had made the desert bloom, and made Israel into a 1st world European country in the heart of the Oriental Middle East, they say. I know how many of my military friends talk about how they have brought about ‘development’ and infrastructure to Pakistani urban areas through DHAs and urban infrastructure. Bahria Town being a fellow traveller. They also claimed in court that DHAs are for the widows of Pakistan’s war dead.
Just as Palestinians benefit from Israeli ‘democracy’ and ‘development’ (if they behave), the poor and dispossessed in Pakistan should benefit from being gardeners, security guards and household in the new bungalows and housing societies. Just as Israeli settlements are illegal under every international and legal regime, the housing societies in Pakistan are illegal by any measure. But any pleas against that illegality are anti-Semitic in Israel, as they are anti-development and anti-national in Pakistan.
The parallels notwithstanding, it would be simplistic and disingenuous to declare Israeli Palestinians conflict as being about religion. It never really was. It always was and will be about colonialism. After all Christians Palestinians and some elements of the Jewish Left have been at the forefront of the Palestinian liberation movement. The original socialistic Zionism was never about religion and always about a secular Jewish homeland. Only retrospectively did it get appropriated by the Jewish religious right wing, which was originally dead against it. We know about the appropriation of the Pakistani state by the religious right that originally opposed Pakistan.
The point is that under late capitalism, the imaginary of the elite has gone numb in the mould of neoliberalism. Human rights, equality, justice, dignity—those old fashioned socialistic tropes in the elite imaginary went dead with the Soviet Union. Today, money is king and anyone opposing the king is the traitor. Fascists like Netanyahu have destroyed the moral fabric and social welfare network of the Israeli society. All that is left is a paranoid militarist dystopia that feeds on Palestinian life and life spaces.
On this Eid as we have socially distant festivities with our families and friends in our homes, we could perhaps spare a thought for those dispossessed in Palestine and Pakistan. As we follow the heart-rending images of death and destruction in Palestine, give a thought to how familiar the same images might be to the villagers in Karachi. Perhaps, as we dig into the sweet delights of Eid, give a thought to what those delights would be without the roof under which we enjoy them. Is Pakistan, like Israel also hurtling towards a moral black hole where the sufferings of fellow humans and our own cruelty towards them is becoming invisible? I certainly fear as much, but hope not. Eid Mubarak!
Daanish Mustafa is a Professor of Critical Geography, Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research interests include water resources, hazards and development geography. Email: [email protected]