I received an e-mail yesterday from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a highly respected civil rights group. According to the report, ongoing government policy has “stifled the job market and the economical development of East Jerusalem.” The report continues: “harmful policies and the neglect of the Israeli state authorities and the Jerusalem Municipality have lead to an unprecedented deterioration in the state of 360,882 Palestinians in Jerusalem: 78% of the total Palestinian population in the Jerusalem District live below the poverty line, including 84% of the children, according to the Israeli National Insurance Institute.”
Is this the Jerusalem we celebrate on Jerusalem Day, when Jerusalem was reunited 45 years ago? Do we have a vision for Jerusalem that is a shared it for all its inhabitants?
I read in yesterday morning’s Ha’Aretz daily newspaper that “Organizers Pledge a quieter Jerusalem Day this year”. Why? Because last year’s Jerusalem Day Flag march March was deliberately inciteful to Palestinian residents of the city. Last year, hundreds of young Jews marched through Palestinian neighborhoods, chanting slogans such as “death to the Arabs”, which marred the celebration of this special day in the Jewish calendar. According to this morning’s newspapers, this happened again this year, despite promises by the organizers of the march that they would prevent it from happening again. According to one newspaper, hundreds of young people spent hours shouting at the Palestinians near Damascus gate. I will not repeat here some of the horrible slogans that they shouted. Ten Jewish marchers were arrested and five Palestinians were arrested for throwing objects at the marchers.
But there are other voices.
“Today is Yom Yerushalayim and it is time to close the circle. Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, with 800,000 residents, a gigantic leap from the 13,000 counted in the census of 1839. 10% of all Israelis live in Jerusalem, in the borders that were defined in 1967. Is the city declining? Is it blossoming? Is it becoming more Haredi? More pluralistic? Is it really united? Are ethnic divides stronger than any political decision? The answer is YES to all.
“While there are some fundamental problems in Jerusalem, such as shortage of affordable housing, poverty, and severe gaps between East and West Jerusalem, there are also many optical illusions. The numbers do not tell the whole story. People see what they want to see, and not what really is happening.
“Jerusalem is full of energy, sometimes negative energy. Jerusalem is diverse, rich and exciting, full of contradictions. What’s missing is a rich global conversation about the city among Jews around the world. It is my hope that the conversation will continue on this platform and beyond.”
And my son-in-law, Amit Poni (he blogs, in Hebrew, at http://otherjerusalem.com), wrote an op-ed in the local edition of Yedi’ot Aharonot on Shabbat in which he calls for a new language about Jerusalem. Not the one that is always criticizing Jerusalem for its ultra-orthodox stifling nature. He describes a different Jerusalem, one in which young people are struggling to make the city come alive and to be creative despite all the negativity in the press about Jerusalem. He wants us to give ourselves a present: a new language for talking about Jerusalem, a discourse that reflects the sane majority that lives and works and creates in this city, a language which is not hysterical or replete with myths but one which honestly deals with the real issues that Jerusalem faces.
I have lived in Jerusalem with my family for nearly 33 years, and I love the city. It is a beautiful, creative, pluralistic city, with lots of problems like any major capital in the world. And I am hopeful that the more rational and reasonable voices will prevail over the racist chants of the extreme right which continue to negate the existence of over one third of the citizens of Jerusalem.
Much of the dialogue that we have done within ICCI during the past 20 years has clearly shown us that Jews and Palestinians want to share Jerusalem. And much remains to be done to make this a responsible reality.