Occupied Elections in Jerusalem

by Aaron Lakoff
Jerusalem - January 9th, 2005
Miraculously, I awoke at 6:30am this morning. Izzy, the British girl I asked to wake me up, didn’t even need to. I groggily rolled out of my bunk and headed to a quick ISM meeting in the tea room of the hostel.
We decided that we were going to split up into groups of three and head out to the different polling stations located at post offices in East Jerusalem.
The first station we got to was a few blocks away from our hostel, a large post office called Al-Saladin. Palestinians of all shapes and stripes were beginning to arrive at 7:00am, and there were just as many (if not more) internationals, journalists, and foreign observers. This was going to be quite the show.
The first crazy incident of the day happened at about 7:15am. A man with a bright red kafiyeh showed up at started to aggressively hand out simple flyers in Arabic. The flyers were a religious message encouraging people not to vote. Many of the middle-aged men in line were clearly offended and started to shove the man. A fight almost broke out, but the PA security came out to clear it up and remove the man handing out the flyers. Later on, we found the ripped up flyers scattered about the sidewalk.
As the morning unfolded, things seemed to be going smoothly to an unscrutinizing eye. Palestinians were lining up, going in, and coming out. We had heard rumors of a large settler protest to take place against the elections in Jerusalem, but no sign was to be seen. We felt kind of strange standing there with our “International Human Rights Observer” badges on, as nothing out of the ordinary was happening yet.
All of the sudden, a motorcade of 3 or 4 giant SUV’s pulled up, and out stepped former US President Jimmy Carter and his entourage. They were immediately swamped by reporters and the strobe show of one thousand camera flashes. They headed straight into the polling station. A group of Palestinian boys were very excited that I snapped a close-up of Carter.
On his way out, he made a statement saying there were too many observers around, and they were preventing Palestinians from voting. What about the difficulty of holding an election under occupation, eh Jimmy?
More and more now, we were seeing how many Palestinians were being turned away without a vote because they weren’t on the lists. They were really pissed off, and they deserved to be. Even though there were PA-sponsored vans waiting to drive rejected voters to alternate polling stations, hardly anyone seemed to be getting into them. As one man said later on in the day, “This is my home! I was born in Jerusalem! Why can’t I vote here?” Those who can’t vote at Al-Saladin are unsympathetically given a white rejection slip and told to move on.
Of the people we spoke with, many were voting for Abbas, but weren’t too hopeful. One 17-year old I talked to who voted says Abbas is “not too good, not too bad.” That seemed to be a popular sentiment.
A few hours later, another group came to relieve us, and we headed to the Jaffa gate post office. This is where the trouble really started.
This time at the Jaffa gate, far fewer Palestinians were showing up to vote. We heard that not one person had been able to vote there in the morning, and by the end of the day, only four people had been able to. Seeing the people coming out of the station with faces of dismay, it was easy to believe that.
Unfortunately, as we suspected, settlers and ultra-right wing Zionists began to arrive one by one. Some of them were from a settler radio station, Arutz Sheva (or Israel National News), and tried to interview visible solidarity activists.
Everything I have heard about the settlers appears to be true. I hate generalizing, but the ones here were crazy, crazy people. First of all, they wear those orange stars of David on their clothes to evoke images of Jewish persecution in the Holocaust in order to protest the Gaza disengagement. How disgusting. The stars say “settler” on them. They are horribly offensive, especially to me as a Jew. These people are the extreme of the extreme.
They ask you leading questions and try to put words into your mouth. They call you racist. They call you a looser. They call Palestinians terrorists. They shout at you, and they accuse you of collaborating in the Holocaust, all with a snide grin on their faces. It takes a lot of courage and stamina to face them down, even to ignore them! My heart goes out to Palestinians on a regular basis.
As there were fewer and fewer Palestinians showing up to vote, and more and more settlers, we decided to head back to the hostel for a quick break.
By the end of the day, the East Jerusalem voting process had been rendered a complete disaster by the Israeli authorities. Thankfully we heard reports that voting went smoothly in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, where it was actually Palestinians and not Israelis controlling the Palestinian elections. By 2:30pm, some of the voter rejection problems in the city had been cleared up, but it was too little to late for many Jerusalemites, ripped-off from their democratic rights.
As night fell, we discuss the day’s activities and await the imminent victory of Abu Mazen, the new winner of an occupied election for an occupied people.

To view my pictures from the day's events, visit: