My whole life, I’ve grown up knowing Israel to be a free country. Israel was the ultimate in democracy. In a neighborhood surrounded by dictatorships, Israel was a beacon of light. And when all the despicable and contemptuous lies of “apartheid” began to spread, I was at the forefront to combat the obvious misnomer. How can Israel be apartheid if all citizens are granted equal rights?
You can imagine my shock and pain to discover this to be a fallacy. Imagine how any of you would feel if for your whole life, you defended your homeland in the face of insidious attacks, only to realize they were right and you were wrong the whole time. Unfortunately, I had to be a first-hand witness to see I was wrong. And in Jerusalem, no less. The capital of Israel, the city to which we have longed to come home, and a holy city to three religions. The city in which we promised to safeguard the rights of all. Here, in Jerusalem of all places, I was forced to witness apartheid in action.
To sum up: There are people, who through no fault of their own, were born one religion, but not apparently, the “right” one. Therefore, they have less rights than the “other” religion.
Case in point: I was on a bus, serving as a counselor on a 5 week summer program for Modern Orthodox American high-schoolers, and we were supposed to spend Shabbat in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. This was Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath before Tisha Ba’Av, a 25 hour fast day when Jews commemorate the loss of both Temples. On the Friday preceding, we were to drive through Jerusalem to park outside the Zion Gate, where we would unload out bags and carry them through parts of the Old City to get to the hotel we were staying at. This year, the Jewish month of “Av” coincides with the Muslim holy month of “Ramadan.” And Friday is the Sabbath of the Muslims.
Our bus went to turn from Derech Hebron onto the street leading to Zion Gate, only to find it blocked. We continued, but by Mamilla/Jaffa Gate, the street was blocked, forcing us to turn left on Agron Street. We did a complete circle, ending up once again at Derech Hebron, only this time, we couldn’t even turn left. They had added another police blockade on the main road within the span of 5 minutes. I got off the bus to ask why the bus couldn’t pass, explaining clearly we were religious Jews who couldn’t drive on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was rapidly approaching. Before it approached completely, we would need to get to our hotel which was only a 5 minute drive away, and unload, settle down, and prepare for the Sabbath. His response: “Only Arabs are allowed through; it’s Ramadan.” I was in shock. So? When it’s Nissan, do we say “Only Jews are allowed on the road?” If it’s December, only Christians? Only Arabs allowed sounds like a nice, anti-Semitic law out of Egypt, or perhaps we could change it to “Only Muslims” and find it in Iran. But how could Israel claim to respect all religions, while clearly granting more rights to some over others?
In case there’s any doubt that the cop was lying, I watched, with my own 2 eyes, as multitudes of Arab buses, both public and private, as well as Arab drivers, drove through this blockade, while Jews were stopped left and right. This apartheid even extended to taxi drivers – Arab taxi drivers, yes; Jewish taxi drivers, no. Orwell’s Animal Farm was alive and well here. ”All citizens are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Unfortunately, this phenomena extends elsewhere. It is sad that it took a report by the US State Department, criticizing Israel for religious restrictions, for an MK to stand up. This is the holiest site in the world to Jews, and Jews have access from only one gate, at limited times, with restrictions on what can be brought on, and, wait for it – PRAYER IS BANNED! So the Muslims can turn their backs on Dome of the Rock as they bow towards Mecca, but Jews can’t pray on our holiest site. Arabs can dump trash everywhere on the Temple Mount, player soccer, and exit/enter as they please, but it’s Jews who have restrictions.
We take all this for granted, and many love the “security” card. But at the end of the day, no Western government would dare pull shtick like this. That’s a multi-million dollar lawsuit right there. That’s racism that could never fly in the US or EU. These are situations that belong in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, or one of our other “friendly” neighbors. But not in the “beacon of democracy.” Because the situation in Israel, unfortunately, is akin to apartheid.