A City Divided

I went to the Tayelet today; it’s one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. You get a stunning panoramic view—you can see all the way to the walls of the Old City, and beyond.  If you get there at the right time on the right day, you’re treated to a spectacular sunset, as the sky fades from blue to pink over the city.

Today, the Tayelet was quiet. An Arab family—grandparents, parents, and a little girl—were there posing for pictures, and a man in a kippah rode by on a bike.  The little girl pointed at the biker; he waved, and she laughed.  It was all so innocent, a friendly, neighborly interaction in a city that all of us there call home.

Then I turned to descend the steps and face the view.

Abu Tor stretches out before me, one of the few Jerusalem neighborhoods with a mixed Arab and Jewish population.  I can tell exactly where the Arab neighborhood ends and the Jewish side begins because the water heaters on the roofs switch from black to white.  And so you know which part is theirs, and which is ours.

And I wonder why it has to be like this. Why the city is split.  Why there is a need for different colored water heaters to delineate when one leaves Jewish territory and enters Arab-town, or vice versa.  Why Jerusalem is known for being a divided city.

Of course, I know why.  Jerusalem is holy to three separate faiths, and none of them seem too eager to share it.  Holy sites overlap, which only increase tensions.  The city was split under the UN partition plan that was passed in 1947.  Palestinian Arabs living in Jerusalem are not granted all the same rights as Jews living in Jerusalem.  And there are border police and security guards everywhere because of the constant risk of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Arab terrorists.  The list goes on and on.  So many reasons Jerusalem is divided…but I still question the why behind the reasons.

Because part of me wants to believe that we’re all human, that we’re really not so different.  That the Arabs living here are people just like us—mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and that their neighborhoods are just like ours, filled with pet dogs and stray cats, grocery stores, parks, and schools.  That our water comes from the same source, and that we all probably sponga our floors, and hang our laundry out to dry.  That we all brush our teeth before bed and put pants on one leg at a time.  That we all want the same thing from life – to be happy.  To serve God, to have a family, to be successful, and to live in peace.

But there’s a part of me too, that can’t help but believe this isn’t true.  They’re not just like us.  Because the PA encourages violence and incitement, martyrdom and anti-Semitism.  While we try to do what we can to accommodate them living in Israel, tThey teach their children to hate us.

They’re not just like us, because we let them into our neighborhoods, but if we try to enter their neighborhoods, we risk being killed.  And when we let them into our neighborhoods, it is still us that is at risk of being killed.  Perhaps the terrorists carrying out stabbing attacks, car ramming attacks, and shootings are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Arabs in Israel—I’d like to believe it’s so.  But still, you don’t hear of Jews entering Arab villages to go on killing sprees, and you don’t hear about lynching when an Arab accidentally enters a Jewish neighborhood.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  There are plenty of Arabs who would like to live in peace, side by side, and who are kind and respectful and friendly people.  And there are Jews who would be happy to see Arabs die or be expelled.  The difference is that Jews as a collective people are not taught to hate all Arabs, but the Arab world is taught to hate the Jews as a collective people.

It’s not just Palestinian Arabs who hate us, and I’m sure not every one of the Palestinian Arabs hates the Jews. But Arabs as a collective hate the Jews—you can’t deny it.  The only countries continually calling for Israel’s destruction are Arab countries.  Meanwhile, Israel calls for no one’s destruction; we only speak out about the terrorism committed against us on our own soil.

I’m not here to play the blame game, though. The Arab-Israeli conflict is much bigger than I dare to attempt to cover in a single article. When it comes to the division of Jerusalem, I am sure both sides are at fault.  A simple, friendly interaction between Jews and Arabs can take place—I saw it, with the biker and the little girl at the Tayelet.  And for a moment, it gives me hope that maybe the city doesn’t have to be split; areas don’t have to be categorized as “theirs” and “ours.”

The biker has long gone, and the Arab family finished their pictures and went on their way.  The sun goes down and the sky gets dark.  More and more lights come on in the Old City, and as I pack up my camera, I wonder which lights are theirs, and which are ours.

About the Author
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio; a proud product of a Bnei Akiva upbringing; passionate about Israel, Judaism, and humanity at large. Adina currently works in the Jewish non-profit world and resides in NYC.
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