Jerusalem expert attacked: ‘No rock can move me to hate’

Daniel Seidemann, one of the country’s top experts on the politics of Jerusalem and a longtime activist who founded the NGOs Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem, was struck by a rock thrown through his car window on Saturday. He was wounded in the back of his head, requiring stitches. Danny has many colleagues and friends who, like me, were terribly saddened by the incident. Being who he is, Danny himself had many things to say that are characteristically insightful and sensitive. With his permission, I am re-posting the texts he wrote for status updates on social media.

Saturday, November 23.

This afternoon, I paid a working visit to a friend in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Bahir, barely a kilometer from my home. When we took leave of one another, I headed home in my car. I had the misfortune of ending up in a traffic jam in the center of the village, just as school was getting out.

I didn’t see it coming, but should have: I was a sitting duck. The rock was probably thrown at point blank range; it smashed the side window with enough force to leave a deep gash in the back of my head. I was fortunate: I did not lose consciousness, nor my sense of orientation. Thankfully, the traffic jam loosened up a bit. Within a minute or so I was out of danger and on my way to get treatment.

This ended with a few stitches and no serious damage (confirmed by a CT).

I come away from this day with a few insights. In the wake of the incident, I encountered about a dozen people who had to hear my story, from the first-aid clinic, to the police, to the emergency room and neurology department at Hadassah Hospital. All were pleasant and empathetic. All but two of them asked the same question: “what the hell were you doing in Sur Bahir?” So much for the undivided capital of Israel, where a Jewish Israeli visiting a Palestinian friend less than a mile away is a source of astonishment.

The two primary physicians who took care of me didn’t ask that question, not because they’re physicians, but because they’re Palestinian. The guy who stitched me up is an East Jerusalemite who studied medicine in Cairo. The neurologist is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. They knew exactly what brought me to the hospital, and there was an unspoken bond that made the “what were you doing there” utterly ridiculous. They knew what I was doing there without my telling them, and responded accordingly.

This is the third time in the twenty two years that I’ve been out and around in the streets of East Jerusalem that I have been stoned, but only the first in which I was injured. There have been close calls before. I never expected immunity. I oppose violence and staunchly support non-violent resistance, but I feel no anger, just sad – the same kind of sadness I have felt often when two peoples poison their own and each others’ lives.

I can see my friends and “friends” on the right clucking their tongues, their gloating glands swelling. That too is sad. For me this changes nothing. After a day of bed rest, I will be back in East Jerusalem. Maybe my first visit to Sur Bahir will be a bit like a near-drowning victim returning to the water. But I will be back, and it won’t take weeks.

It’s been a long and difficult day. But all of it was in the Jerusalem I love, being the Israeli I love being, and with the Palestinians, some friends, some enemies, that no rock can move me to hate.

On Sunday, Danny updated his page with the following post:

Sunday, November 24.

A short while ago, a group of prominent residents of Sur Bahir paid me a visit, expressing regrets over the incident in which I has hit by a well-aimed rock. Most of them are friends, people I have known for years. Some I met for the first time. Their consternation was genuine.

They told me that they had gone today from classroom to classroom in the schools, telling these young men and women: “We don’t want to apprehend or reprimand anyone. But whoever did this: do you have any idea whose skull you bashed in? Only because of him you are sitting in this classroom, because he is the guy who got it built.”

These are people I know and respect, and their visit was very moving (baklawa anyone?).

But it was also very sad. Worse than sad – it was colonial.

The rock that hit me yesterday was not directed at me, personally. Most likely, it was hurled because I am an Israeli – the occupier. It’s also possible that it’s because I am a Jew, irrespective of the occupation. We will never know.

But the wonderful people who visited me today are living under occupation. My occupation. I deserve no special dispensation for my “good behavior.” They owe me no apologies. As long as the occupation exists, events like this will happen and no one is exempt from them.

I don’t romanticize the prick that cracked my head open. But I don’t find it particularly important if he is or is not apprehended. (OK – I do fear that he might have just been practicing on me, and that more deadly violence can be expected of him in the future).

But this ends not when Palestinians behave better, or when our Shin Bet becomes more efficient. It ends when occupation ends. Until then, I remain a symbol of that occupation, and not without reason. And no good deeds, as it were, will redeem me or protect me.

I think his words speak eloquently for themselves. There are two very gentle qualifications I would like to make, both reflecting an ideal vision that I am well aware might never be fulfilled in this bleak political reality, but I embrace them for guidance. First, I believe people should teach children not to commit violence against any civilian, including a perceived enemy – regardless of whether that person personally helped their cause as Danny has, or not. People, no matter what their CV or identity, must first of all be presumed innocent. Second, I have written in the past about the dangers of assuming, as Danny may be doing here that violence will end the moment the occupation does. It’s not realistic for either side, for nowhere in the world has violence ended. What matters is that we take his example: should there one day be a breakthrough to end the occupation, the inevitable episodic violence that will follow must not be allowed (or manipulated) to deter progress.