Gayle Meyers

Goldilocks and the Three Demonstrations

I live on the seam line between Arab and Jewish Jerusalem, and in 2021, young men who had come to town for the Flag March came onto my street after the march was canceled and harassed Arab residents until the police sent them away.

I felt a sense of foreboding as this year’s holiday approached, so when the day came I set out to find the organizations that are fighting back against the violence of the Flag March and promoting alternative messages.   

I started the day with the March of Flowers organized by Tag Meir, an organization that teaches tolerance and empathy and creates public events to raise the voice of those committed to democratic values. 

Hours before the Flag March, Tag Meir organized volunteers to go into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and hand out flowers along with a flyer in English, Arabic, and Hebrew that says, “Dear neighbors, residents of the Old City, we have come here to reach out to you on this complicated day, to distribute flowers and purchase from your stores. We are sorry that the day is causing harm to your business and your livelihood.”

At the start of the march, I found about 150 people, mostly middle-aged and up. Many of them were familiar to me from my liberal, religious, English-speaking neighborhood. I got an armful of gerbera daisies and a stack of flyers, and we headed for the Damascus Gate, a central gathering place for Jerusalem Palestinians. We walked by a handful of Israeli teenagers who had come to the Flag March. They told us, “You don’t give flowers to people who want to kill you,” and one shouted, “Death Penalty for Traitors” (meaning us). 

The merchants in the Muslim Quarter did not seem terribly moved by the flowers or the apology. As a gesture, it felt “too soft.” 

In the afternoon, as the center of town filled with thousands of teenagers and families wearing blue and white and carrying Israeli flags, I found a small demonstration organized under the slogan “Fascism won’t Pass: Opposing the March, Demanding Free Jerusalem.” The crowd was no bigger than the morning’s group, but it was a lot younger. Corralled into a small area and separated from the marchers by a line of police, they played drums and called out a rotating line of slogans against the Occupation, racism, Israeli Apartheid, and more. 

I agree with most of the slogans, but they are alienated from Israel in a way that I am not. It felt “too hard.” 

Finally, I encountered a march that was an extension of the weekly protests that have brought “mainstream” Israelis into the streets to try to prevent the government weakening the judicial system beyond repair.  The protests have been criticized for promoting democracy for Israeli Jews while ignoring the deeply undemocratic military regime that controls the lives of millions of Palestinians. These marchers demanded “Democracy for All.” 

I could say that this march was “just right,” but I actually believe that we need all three messages. I might not have felt personally comfortable among the young, tattooed drummers, but they are the only ones to oppose the occupation without flinching, and to call for true equality. Palestinians might have been underwhelmed by Tag Meir’s flower brigade, but it is essential that the people coming to the Flag March see that their view is not unanimous, that there are Israeli Jews who have different values and a different vision for the country.

The most inspiring, and I hope the most effective, response to the metastasization of Jerusalem Day is an educational initiative launched by the principal of the Nisui middle school, where my son studies. Fifteen schools from both the secular and Religious Zionist school systems developed a Jerusalem Day curriculum that guided students along the Train Track Park, giving them an in-depth look at the city’s history and neighborhoods. 

They didn’t romanticize the city, but they also didn’t demonize it. Students were presented with multiple viewpoints on events and issues that divide the city, from the history of Beit Safafa, an Arab neighborhood that was cut in half by the 1949 ceasefire line, to the question of Shabbat observance in the public sphere, to the March of Flags itself. 

This kind of education is better than any fairytale.

About the Author
Gayle Meyers began her career as a policy analyst in the US Department of Defense, fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and staffing the US-Israel Joint Political Military Group. She later directed the Middle East Regional Security program of Search for Common Ground. After moving to Israel, she worked for civil-society organizations promoting peace and a shared society for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. She teaches at the Machon L’Madrichim (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) in Israel has designed, facilitated, or participated in more than a dozen conflict-resolution initiatives. Gayle received a bachelors degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She lives in Jerusalem with her family.