“What are you planning to do tomorrow for Jerusalem Day?” I asked my youngest son. Young is not little anymore. My youngest son towers above me, tall, dark and handsome. He is learning Arabic in his spare time and his Middle-Eastern roots, he is one-quarter Middle-Eastern, contrasts from my Ashkenazi appearance. “I’m going to the Rikud-Degalim (“flag dance”), but I’d rather not” he glumly replied. The Rikud-Degalim is the traditional march from the center of Jerusalem to the Kotel through the Arab Quarter of the Old City. “Last year I did and it took so long to get to the Kotel and there were so many people you could hardly move” he complained. He, like myself, prefers the open spaces and likes to avoid crowds. Yet for some, the Rikud-Degalim is the height of the celebrations in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day.
There are those who look askance at the traditional march. They call it a “provocation,” they call it “right-wing and nationalistic” and they point out to the scattered cases where participants push the boundaries of good taste and decorum. They proclaim their endless love and tolerance and respect of democracy but demand to muzzle those that disagree with them and restrict the right to assemble. Some would call that hypocrisy.
The Rikud-Degalim is traditional. It started in some form already in 1968, a year after the astounding and miraculous Israeli victory that reunited the divided city of Jerusalem. By the mid-1970s the march had already progressed to present format; to start from the center of Jerusalem and to end at the Kotel, routing itself through the gates of the Old City on the way. The march is coordinated with the police and accordingly the route changes based on the demands for ensuring the security of the marchers. This year, over 40,000 people are expected to attend. Many, perhaps the majority, of the people attending belong to the “National-religious” camp, but the march is open to all.
Jerusalem is indeed an amazing city and truly a mosaic of different people, cultures, and religions. And now, after more than 50 years of being united under Israeli sovereignty, perhaps someone could point out any time in the last two thousand years when there has ever been so much respect for the rights of minorities, so much prosperity or freedom. As a religious nationalistic and proud Jew, it is important to me that the Arab minority be protected, treated equally and respected as for anyone else. Perhaps even more so since I understand that with great sovereignty come great responsibilities. But to reroute the march out of the Arab Quarter is unthinkable. The Old City of Jerusalem is ours too and it is our right to pass there.
If it is “liberal” to smear 40 thousand marchers on the basis of the irresponsible and even reprehensible actions of a score of participants, then count me out. And to say you love everyone but your own people isn’t really all-inclusive love. Israelis have a right to celebrate the miracle of the victory Six Day War. We have the right to take our flag, the Israeli flag and to dance to sing and to celebrate. If you ask me, the Arab residents of Jerusalem can even join us. They too have prospered in a united Jerusalem and they too are part of what makes Jerusalem special.