*By Claus Grue
Since he moved to Israel from the US 44 years ago, Daniel Seidemann has devoted his life to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and particularly the situation in Jerusalem, which he sees as a key issue in solving the conflict.
In the wake of the Six Day War in 1967, it became clear to him that the war of defence had turned into a war of expansion – in some cases with biblical undertones, and that Israel faced a threat of isolation as a result of that.
“Having served in the Israeli army myself, it took me many years to use the term occupation. But in no good conscious can I describe the reality of east Jerusalem and the West Bank as other than that. For most of the time since 1967, the occupation of the West Bank has been military, while it has been of a more colonial nature in east Jerusalem. There is no military rule there, although the Israelis crush anything more radical than a scout meeting. And Palestinians are permanently politically disempowered”, Seidemann explains.
The real awakening for him came in 1991, when Jewish settlers entered Silwan, an Arab village that sits south and southeast of the Old City, right in the shadow of the al Aqsa Mosque.
“The Israeli behaviour in Silwan sucked me into a black hole of space which I’ve never come out of. It was then that I really started to examine the situation. Being occupiers does not give us license to deny or abuse the rights of Palestinians, be they Muslims or Christians”, Seidemann says.
An attorney by profession, his initial approach was legal, but over time he has arrived at the conclusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved in the public – not legal – sphere.
“We are sipping cappuccino at the edge of a volcano. In a sense, Jerusalem is comparable to Los Angeles where continental plates crunch up against each other towards a major earthquake. We both live here, but we keep on doing our best to avoid the choices we face”, he describes the situation.
Seidemann genuinely believes that ending the occupation will be the liberation of both the Israeli and Palestinian people, and he often refers to a quote on slavery by third US president Thomas Jefferson to describe the current situation: “It’s like holding a wolf by the ear – you are scared to hold it and scared of what will happen if you let go”.
Still, he is convinced that a majority of the Israeli people will support efforts to address the genuine challenges of the occupation and end it.
“On the surface, we are in deep clinical occupation denial, but underneath that, we very well know it must come to an end. The existential threats to both peoples are the same. We are in a state of acute disequilibrium with one land and two peoples, where one is in power and the other lives under occupation. I have a measure of control of my personal and political rights, and Palestinians in east Jerusalem also have rights, but theirs are alienable rights which can be negated and limited by Israel. We’re in a bubble and bubbles burst. That is the unpleasant truth and it will be the death of us if we don’t seriously address it”, Seidemann concludes.
Now in his mid-60s, he continues his tireless work as a” privatized intelligence analyst” gathering relevant facts to see what the ramifications are of continued occupation. And to influence and convince political leaders, governments and other decision makers all over the world of the urgency of solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. At the centre of that are the geopolitics of contemporary Jerusalem, which has three religions with deep equities in the same city.
“It is a question of taking the complex reality of Jerusalem and providing data. We try to get the facts straight even when they are inconvenient”, Seidemann points out.
Over the years he has gained access to key decision makers in the governments of the world and positioned himself and his organization as worth listening to.
“We try to narrow the gap between the politically impossible and the historically inevitable. At the very least we have great impact on the way the conflict is perceived and what are the time bombs that are about to explode”, he explains.
In spite of the current political climate there is hope and interesting things are happening, according to Seidemann:
“At the moment, we are holding a really bad deck of cards, but that’s the deck we’ve been dealt and there is material in there that we can work with. Netanyahu’s embracement of Trump has changed people’s perception of him and now many people on the right are not pleased with things. Previously, we’ve witnessed the collapse of moderate forces and a polarization of politics. Netanyahu does not want change and sees Mahmoud Abbas as a threat because of his genuine interest in a peaceful solution. At a global level, the old world order is gone and a new one is shaping. When the cement is wet it can be shaped and we must take part in that”, he concludes.
*Claus Grue is a communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.