Saturday, May 28, 2011

Celebrating United Jerusalem - in Sheikh Jarrah

On June 7, 1967 IDF soldiers entered the Old City of Jerusalem. This historic event left the famous photos, shown at any Israeli history book, of paratroopers crying with joy at the Wailing Wall. Three days later, in the early evening hours of June 10, the paratroopers were followed by the State of Israel's bulldozers, making an impressive debut appearance in East Jerusalem. All residents of the Mughrabi Quarter, which was founded in 1193 and had been part of the Jerusalem landscape for nearly eight centuries, were ordered to evacuate their homes immediately. The entire quarter - 135 houses were destroyed and completely razed within hours. All traces were removed and the large, impressive Wailing Wall Plaza came into being. It is likely that during this historic event, too, some tears were shed, but the photographers were no longer present.

To commemorate these exciting events, the State of Israel set up the annual Jerusalem Day - "A day of celebration, a day of national holiday, to mark the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem, Israel's capital, a day  to supremely celebrate the essence of Jerusalem, the highest of hopes and most sublime of aspirations" to quote the preamble to the piece of legislation by which the Knesset, Israel's parliament, set this additional National Holiday into the nation's calendar. And thus, every year the settler youths and their national-religious friends gather in great crowds to celebrate their great National Holiday, the Jerusalem Day , engaging in the "Dance of the Flags" which has become their tradition, jumping through the streets of Jerusalem with banners in their hands. And the other residents of Jerusalem wait patiently in their homes until the mess in the streets would finally be over.

This year there were those who could not wait until this great day comes on the calendar, and energetically embarked on operations in the spirit of Jerusalem Day already several weeks in advance. For example, the Jerusalem Municipality, headed by the famous Nir Barkat, is very eager to reconstruct the garden of King David, which as is well known existed three thousand years ago in the place which is today the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Re-creation of The King's Garden could be so simple and easy, all that is needed is to destroy twenty-two Palestinian homes, and thereupon the area will be empty and the sublime gardening could start. But the Jerusalem City Hall's ambitions were checked and frustrated by a court order prohibiting the demolition of houses for at least two more years. Such meanness on the judges' part!. Fortunately, the judges only forbade the destruction of houses in Silwan and there was no warrant to forbid the shooting of live bullets at demonstrators in the neighborhood's streets. Thus was shot and killed the 17 year old Milad Ayash. (Who exactly fired the fatal bullet? The Police, or the Border Guards, or the security men who stand guard on the settler houses in the heart of Silwan and get paid by the Housing Ministry? Who knows? And does it really matter?)

A few days later, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose to celebrate Jerusalem also at his great speech on Capitol Hill in faraway Washington, and with great joy and pride announced that under Israeli rule freedom of worship is preserved for all religions at their holy places. The PM had probably not heard the official announcement made by the Jerusalem police on the radio a few days before his departure: "The police will today restrict entry of Muslim worshipers into the Temple Mount compound. Under the policy guidelines, entry will be permitted only to men aged over 50 and holding Israeli identity cards." Also the Members of Congress who stood up and gave him standing ovations are unlikely to be  regularly monitoring the directives published by the Israeli police.

And meanwhile, many VIPs came to celebrate with the settlers living at the heart of the Palestinian Ras al-Amud neighborhood the inauguration of their enclave, sitting on top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the mosques. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke words of praise for the unity of Jerusalem,  the capital of Israel, and congratulated the settlers who live in this beautiful enclave called "Olive Heights" for having established themselves in this magnificent fortified compound, surrounded by a high wall and guarded day and night by armed security men  whose salaries are of course also paid by the afore-mentioned Ministry of Housing. A press reporter noticed in the yard of the new settler compound a large pile of children's bikes, for the pleasure of the next settler generation who could pedal to their heart's content between one wall of the guarded compound to the other.

Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar also took part in celebrating the settlers' joy in setting up their  Olive Heights, and by the way he also ordered a profound change in the curriculum under which the subject of "Citizenship" is taught in the schools. Eliminated will be the unnecessary emphasis on subjects of democracy and equal rights, which only arouses discord in the classrooms and poison the atmosphere. Instead, there will be a heavy dose of Zionist history studies with an emphasis on the exclusive right of the Jewish people in their ancestral land and of course in their capital, Jerusalem.

Demonstrators of the  Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement who dared to spoil the joy by picketing the locked gates of the settler compound -  in protest of  the expansion of settlements in Jerusalem - were dispersed with the full force of Israel's Police. Indeed, massive force and a lot of violence were used against them, including electric shockers. Only this week the Prime Minister announced in Washington that we are a model island of democracy in the heart of the turbulent Middle East. And it was probably just the promo for the splendid Jerusalem Day celebrations, which will take place on June 1 this year (according to the Hebrew calendar).
This year the settlers will hold their traditional Flag Dance on the streets of the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood. Apparently so as to display to the Palestinian families expelled from their homes and living on the street how happy and lucky they are to live in "United Jerusalem, the Eternal Capital of Israel which was made whole again".
Have a nice Jerusalem Day!