What does Jerusalem need? It doesn’t need a mayor,/it needs a ring-master, whip in hand,/who can tame prophecies, train prophets to gallop/
around in a circle, teach its stones to line up/ in a cold, risky formation for the grand finale.
Yehuda Amichai –
Jerusalem is Full of Used Jews
This week here in Jerusalem Amichai’s circus is in full force and I don’t envy my city’s police chief or his men.
On Sunday morning at the end of a phone call, someone wished me Yom Yerushalayim Sameach – Happy Jerusalem Day. I was struck by this celebratory blessing. For years I’ve been ambivalent about this day in our annual calendar when we celebrate/commemorate the IDF’s historic liberation of the Old City and its most significant Jewish holy sites, (as well as the rest of east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights), in 1967’s Six-Day War.
Soon after the conclusion of battles during that war, Israel re-defined Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, annexing the territory of what was previously the Jordanian municipality of Jerusalem, as well as adjacent villages in the West Bank. At the time, there were 68,300 residents in that area, accounting for 25.8 per cent of the city’s total population. By recent stats, 341,500 Arabs lived in the city at the end of 2017, 38 per cent of the populace.
Arab east Jerusalemites weren’t given automatic Israeli citizenship in 1967, but rather permanent residency status. They can vote in municipal elections but not for the Knesset and are entitled to health and social welfare benefits all Israelis enjoy. Residency also gives them freedom of movement within Israel.
Part of the yearly Yom Yerushalayim routine now includes the Flag March. On Sunday tens of thousands of flag waving, predominantly religious nationalist young people, paraded through the city, most provocatively through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, with 3,000 policemen deployed to maintain order and ensure security, based on past experiences of racist and sometimes violent acts committed by extremist Israelis, as well as Palestinians’ reactions to the march.
This year things were exacerbated. Jerusalem Day fell on one of the last days of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. For decades it’s been customary to prohibit entry of non-Muslims to the Temple Mount during these days. This year, because of Yom Yerushalayim and instructions issued by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, some 1,200 Israelis were allowed to enter the compound, resulting in hundreds of Palestinians clashing with police, hurling rocks, chairs and other objects.
A state comptroller’s report, timed for publication on Jerusalem Day, added insult to injury. Despite being a site of major global significance, the report found Israel’s capital, particularly the Old City, is badly lacking proper garbage disposal and maintenance, with electrical hazards and out of date tourist information.
On June 6, thousands, myself included, will march in Jerusalem’s 10th annual Gay Pride and Tolerance Parade. Not a festival like Tel Aviv’s but rather a unique statement of diversity; an expression of the right to display that medley in the public domain of Israel’s capital. Rainbow flags proudly flying along thoroughfares, despite rabbis’ protests and regardless of counter-protests and threats. Here, too, a major police presence will be needed, especially after an ultra-Orthodox man broke through insufficient security in 2016 and stabbed 16-year-old Shira Banki to death. We’ll lay flowers at the spot along the route where she was stabbed, while counter-demonstrators will hurl expletives and obscenities at us.
Bracketed between the Flag and Pride marches, Jerusalem will welcome visitors from far and wide to myriad venues of the acclaimed Israel Festival of art and culture and Muslims in east Jerusalem will celebrate the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan.
Jerusalem – united or perhaps divided forever – this multi-ringed spectacle I call home, has yet to find a worthy tamer to line up the stones for Amichai’s grand finale. Perhaps for now that’s for the better.