Nahum Barnea

A different kind of city

Despite uneasy Arab-Jewish relationship, Jerusalem has much to offer

Part 2 of article


Two hundred and fifty settler families live in the heart of Muslim neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The non-profit group supporting them, Ateret Cohanim, sets the policy, while prime ministers and mayors obey – some of them willingly, others involuntarily.


Not too long ago, the group’s director, Matti Dan, accompanied me on a tour of its outposts. Among other things we visited Beit Yehonatan, a tall building illegally constructed in the Silwan neighborhood. The courts ordered the building be sealed. The organization went to court and proved that at least 250 Palestinian homes were built the same way. If Jewish homes are sealed, Arab home should be razed.


The building was constructed in violation of any logic; an ugly structure in an ugly neighborhood where all construction laws were trampled upon. A small scale Holyland. The residents can only leave the building accompanied by security guards. The guards are funded by the State. The security vehicle, an old van, travels on side roads, back and forth, from the building to the neighborhood’s exit. Everything in the name of normalcy.


Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinian families enter empty apartments in east Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods. As there’s demand, there’s also supply. No security. No politics. Everything works according to the laws of the market.


The van that leaves Beit Yehonatan is filled with babies and their mothers. A brochure urging them to take part in the Likud Central Committee vote is on the vehicle’s floor. The babies are crying. That same evening, the van was stoned.


More than 250,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, comprising a third of the city’s population. The number is so high because on the eve of east Jerusalem’s annexation to Israel, two major-generals, Rehavam Ze’evi and Shlomo Lahat, drew up municipal borders that brought Arab neighborhoods and villages that were never part of Jerusalem into the city.


Seemingly, they enjoy the best of both worlds. Their children study based on a Palestinian or Jordanian curriculum, with Israeli funding. They have national insurance, healthcare, and accessibility to Israel’s job market. The West Bank is open to them. They found an original way to express their joy: Most of them voted Hamas in the Palestinians Authority elections.


Jerusalem isn’t Tel Aviv 

Every Friday, about 100 of them arrive at Sheikh Jarrah, to protest against the Jewish neighborhood built there on old Jewish property while expelling Palestinian families who lived in the neighborhood since the Jordanian occupation. The protests provoked great interest in the global media, both because this is a case of blatant discrimination – as Arabs cannot reclaim their 1948 property – and because of the proximity of the American Colony hotel, where foreign journalists stay.


Most of the protestors, about 200 of them, belong to the various factions of Jerusalem’s Jewish Left: Zionists, post-Zionists, and anti-Zionists. The Arabs march from the nearby Wadi Joz neighborhood. The Jews drive in from west Jerusalem. The Arabs carry signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English.


The dominant sign is “Jerusalem won’t become Hebron.” At first glance, it’s an odd sign: Why do the Arab object to turning Jerusalem into Hebron? After all, Hebron is Arab. One needs to understand the code: When they say “Jerusalem,” they mean the eastern part of the city; when they say “Hebron,” they refer to the Jewish enclave in Hebron.


Yet let’s put Jerusalem’s troubles aside for a moment. Despite all, it has plenty to offer, both to its residents and to outside visitors. First of all, it isn’t Tel Aviv. It’s less artificial and ostentatious. Look at the young Jerusalemites who moved to Tel Aviv, for example: They’re not as subjugated to the brand name culture and they’re less show-offish. Most of them served in the army. Just like youngsters who left the kibbutz, they prefer to hang out with each other in the Tel Aviv Diaspora, in the same clubs and pubs.


Secondly, there is no place that is more beautiful for walks. Thirdly, Jerusalem is especially beautiful when the sun sets, particularly on clear days. For about an hour, a soft light, blue and splendid, descends upon the city. Fourthly, one can breathe there in summer too. That’s not a small matter compared to Tel Aviv.


פרסום ראשון: 05.13.10, 00:06
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