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Palestinians still have aspirations for a capital in part Jerusalem. National political institutions could strengthen Palestinian claims in the city, but for decades Israel has worked to limit those.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital Israel, but that doesn’t change Palestinian aspirations for a capital in part of the city. One thing that could strengthen these Palestinian claims would be national political institutions. NPR’s Daniel Estrin looks at how Israel has worked for decades to limit those institutions, whether they’re offices for leadership or even performances in theaters.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: This used to be the Palestinian headquarters in Jerusalem – an old, stone mansion called the Orient House. Foreign diplomats were received here. The Palestinian flag used to fly. But Israel closed it in 2001 during a wave of Palestinian bombings. Israeli authorities deliver a new closure order every six months. It’s on the door for everyone to see.
And they just…
ISHAQ BUDEIRI: Yes.
ESTRIN: …Put it right here on the door.
BUDEIRI: Put it right here and go.
ESTRIN: Ishaq Budeiri heads the Arab Studies Society, which was based in the same building. His library of historical archives is locked inside. He has no access. I give the dusty windows a spit shine and peer in.
Oh, I see some books on the shelf.
BUDEIRI: Yeah, yeah, yeah, newspapers.
ESTRIN: Budeiri says Israeli authorities made him an offer, which he refused.
BUDEIRI: One time they said to us you can come and take your books, your archives, and go outside Jerusalem. They don’t want to see any Palestinian institution in Jerusalem.
ESTRIN: Palestinian leaders want to establish a capital in East Jerusalem, but Israel captured that part of the city 50 years ago. Under an agreement between the two sides in the ’90s, the Palestinian government doesn’t have jurisdiction in Jerusalem. Israel says it allows Palestinian social, educational and economic institutions in the city, but it prevents any political activity there by the Palestinians’ national movement, the PLO, or the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the nearby West Bank.
EFRAIM INBAR: We want the city to be ours – simple.
ESTRIN: Efraim Inbar heads The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, a conservative Israeli think tank.
INBAR: The city, according to the majority of the Israelis, is to be a united city under Israeli sovereignty. So anything that smells of PLO, we’ll try to prevent.
ESTRIN: Israel did allow voting in the city for Palestinian elections, but it has closed many Palestinian institutions here, says Mahdi Abdul Hadi of the Palestinian think tank PASSIA.
MAHDI ABDUL HADI: Palestinian Council for Education, Palestinian Council for Housing, Palestinian Council for Health, as well as now they have a policy – any relationship, any affiliations, any function related to Palestinian Authority is not allowed. This is for them as a process of crushing and depressing and containing the Palestinians.
ESTRIN: He says Israel recently intervened to stop a lecture he organized in Jerusalem because the Palestinian Authority education minister was going to attend. Israel recently arrested several Palestinians it said were conducting a census in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority says they were working for the U.N.
At the Palestinian theater in Jerusalem, the Hakawati, they’re building a set for an upcoming play, but Israel has shut down a puppet festival and a folk dance show at the theater, saying they were funded by the Palestinian Authority. A production manager, Georgina Asfur, thinks Palestinian leaders should work harder to maintain ties in Jerusalem.
GEORGINA ASFUR: We don’t have a leadership. People are struggling by themselves every day to continue.
ESTRIN: When President Trump recently recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he didn’t rule out making part of it a capital for the Palestinians. But Israel has been keeping Palestinian political leadership out of the city. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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