"Israel instituted freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem, and freedom of access to the holy sites of everybody. Jerusalem began to breathe freely, spread its wings over all her inhabitants, Jews and Arabs alike," declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one of the speeches devoted to the holyday known as "Jerusalem Day.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the press in Tokyo: "United Jerusalem is a city open to everyone - Jews, Christians and Muslims."
And, President Shimon Peres was truly poetic: "There is in Jerusalem no censorship on prayers nor a roadblock on the prayers' way up, whether they are uttered by the hazan (cantor) in the synagogue, or the priest at the church or the muezzin of the mosque."
Quite interesting. Three very experienced politicians, who have long held key positions in Israeli public life. It could have been assumed that they would know thoroughly the facts of life. But evidently, there are many things which President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister alike have never heard of.
For example, they seem completely unaware of the closure and siege and fences and walls and checkpoints which prevent Muslim and Christian residents of the Occupied Territories from reaching their holy places in Jerusalem, except if they have received a special permit from the State of Israel (which rarely happens). Nor have they heard about the times when police shut the gates of the mosques in Jerusalem and allows entry only to those over fifty who are holders of a blue identity card. Also not about the police charging those who dared to pray in the street in front of the closed mosques and sprinkle them with tear gas.
It seems that the Prayers Censorship Office was set up by some unknown officers at their own initiative.
A non-united city
Reuven Rivlin is certainly not a member of the Left. But he is known as a honest person. In Israeli politics, that is far from little.
"We are living in the post-Jerusalem period. "Jerusalem Day" has become a sectorial holiday, the preserve of religious nationalists. One cannot but wonder whether the limited circle of those who dance on this day is evidence of a painful fall in the 'share value' of Jerusalem, among the general public and in society at large. We have wronged Jerusalem with our dreamy Diaspora-style love. An addiction to clichés has replaced any serious dealing with its present, with the poverty and discrimination which prevail within this city.
We speak again and again of "a United City" whose parts had been "Put Together". These checks which we spread are not covered. Even after 43 years, this city is not united and its parts have not been put together. How can Jerusalem be an inspiration to anyone, while suffering from severe discrimination between the Jewish sector in the Arab sector?
Today it has become clear: The continued maintenance Jewish sovereignty in the whole of Jerusalem cannot be taken for granted. We have already come to the ominous moment when the world tells us that Jerusalem is a stolen property in our hands".
So spoke Knesset Speaker Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, in the formal Knesset session marking "Jerusalem Day".
Police Minister Aharonovitch had his own way of celebrating "Jerusalem Day" – by making a solemn promise to the Arab residents of East Jerusalem that the bulldozers are about to wake from a six months' hybernation and come back to destroy Palestinian homes here, there and everywhere.
What was said on the Knesset podium quickly reverberated around the world and reached Washington. The U.S. government was quick to sound a stern warning against provocations in Jerusalem, which might derail the indirect talks with the Palestinians, just launched with so many efforts.
Aharonovich and his friends will probably have to keep the bulldozers in store, and be denied the satisfaction of seeing houses demolished wholesale. At least the respectable minister got a consolation prize – setting the police at peace protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, who were dispersed by force and dragged one by one to the police car - to spend the weekend in custody.