As a researcher and analyst in the advocacy department of Ir Amim, Aviv Tatarsky keeps the organization updated on Israeli actions in East Jerusalem – both settler initiatives and actions by the authorities such as home demolitions and evictions – so the staff can work to prevent them.
This means spending a good amount of time in the eastern part of the city, including on the Temple Mount, where he works to understand one group of his adversaries, the Temple Mount activists. They want to see the rebuilding of the Third Temple and Aviv says they are getting stronger and enjoy government support.
“I frequently visit the Temple Mount to see the dynamics between the police, the Temple Mount activists and Palestinians and to get an understanding of their strategy, how they explain their actions to themselves and of potential difficulties that may arise,” says Aviv.
“Being on the ground helps me see things as they really are and to convey those facts to the organization and to the public,” he says. An example: Starting in 2014, he says, due to pressure from Temple Mount activists, police began restricting access to the El Aksa Mosque and Haram esh-Sharif (the Muslim name for the Temple Mount,) during Ramadan to people over 50. “This was viewed in Israel as a legitimate security measure,” he says.
“But by being there, I was able to show, clearly and with detailed documentation, that these restrictions were a result of the Temple Mount movement’s campaign against Muslims in this holy place and that the measure did not help to keep security but caused disruption and violence on both sides. If the motivation was security, it backfired. The minute restrictions were lifted, calm returned.
“We presented these findings to the media, Knesset members, the international community. Our analysis was published in the journal Foreign Policy.
“And the restrictions stopped.”
Aviv also advocates for equal rights for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. For example, the eastern part of the city needs 2000 more classrooms than it has. In researching the issue, Aviv found that the problem was not budgets, as the municipality claimed, but Israel’s refusal to approve master plans for Palestinian neighborhoods — which means there is no land designated for schools.
“The lack of master plans is one of the most extreme problems in East Jerusalem,” says Aviv. “Since 1967, Israel has been focusing on limiting Palestinian demography in the capital in order to keep a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Their logic is that if they don’t approve master plans for Palestinians, there will be a shortage of housing. If people don’t have a home to live in, they’ll have to leave the city.
“This policy has been challenged in court but in sensitive issues of demography and control of land, the courts are not as courageous as their image.”
Aviv currently is sharing information with Palestinians in East Jerusalem who are working on their own master plan and helping them with media relations.
He sees a lot of injustice during his days in East Jerusalem. One blaring example: The Knesset passed a law – and the High Court of Justice backed it – that the state can confiscate Palestinian dwellings in East Jerusalem “pretty much at whim.”
“I see a lot of state violence, people suffering because their homes were demolished or they’re unjustly arrested or don’t have a school to go to,” he says. “To see the suffering of people and to know that it is due to decisions of your government is not easy to cope with. But it’s also motivating.
“I’m very lucky in that Ir Amim has an amazing team who are not only dedicated and smart, but also support and care for one another.”
Part of Aviv’s job is to try to protect Palestinian residents against human rights violations, which he says are plentiful, and to express solidarity. So he spends many weekday afternoons these days helping to organize Israeli solidarity actions on the streets of Isawiya, a Palestinian neighborhood of 20,000 near Mt. Scopus.
“For the past two months, day after day, the neighborhood has been overrun by dozens of armed border police who disrupt freedom of movement, break into homes and harass passersby. And when a confrontation begins, they use stun grenades, tear gas and in some cases live fire. One person has been killed and children have been wounded. It’s very bad.
“The residents are terrified. We haven’t seen anything of this scope in recent years and we have been unable to determine the cause.”
On the Western side of the city, Aviv attends meetings of the municipal planning and building committee, which is promoting a master plan for Jewish settlement expansion in East Jerusalem that he says will undermine the viability of two capitals for two peoples.
Aviv also spends time in the Ir Amim office, writing policy papers, like one against a new policy he identified that will increase discrimination in planning even more over the next two decades. The paper brings to light developments of which people are unaware and lays the ground for political and legal action.
Aside from other anti-occupation organizations, allies for Aviv’s work are few and far between, though Ir Amim does succeed in collaborating with some of the many NGOs in the city that simply want Jerusalem “to be a better city.”
“Even opposition MKs don’t all have the courage to admit that there are two peoples living here that should enjoy the same kinds of rights,” says Aviv. “Ir Amim is saying something basic and matter of fact: Palestinians are connected to Jerusalem just as Israelis and Jews are and the logical and just thing is to have two capitals here. But in today’s Israel, this is a radical idea.”
“The Israeli government and a huge part of the Israeli public have turned away from peace and from a two state solution,” says Aviv. “They feel the occupation is here to stay and it’s fine by them.
“This is the real reason Israeli policies are more aggressive, why there are many more human rights violations. If you’re not willing to make peace with them, you have to oppress them more and more, control them, even break them.
“At the same time, there is more of a need to break through the wall of denial, to rally those who are not giving up on peace and to get us together to make demands and take action.”
That is just what Aviv Tatarsky and Ir Amim are doing.
Written and reported by Ruth Mason.