My Weekend in East Jerusalem

Last month I spent a weekend in East Jerusalem. I did not plan on staying in East Jerusalem. I just wanted to stay in a nice hotel that was both convenient to the Old City and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, where my daughter was studying. Using a discount web site, I found a highly rated hotel at a good price in the exact location I was seeking. It is called the American Colony Hotel. I am an American so it sounded like a good place.

What I should have realized is that the area between Mount Scopus and the Old City is part of East Jerusalem. I am not completely ignorant and I knew that Mount Scopus was separated from Israel until 1967 but that was over 40 years ago. Jerusalem has changed. There is a light rail going straight from the Old City to Mount Scopus. The hotel is next to the light rail. What difference can it make what side of the tracks the hotel is on?

A big difference.

The light rail follows what used to be known as the “Seam Line” – a heavily fortified border than ran through the middle of Jerusalem to separate Israel from Jordan. Today, ultra religious Jews live west of the seam line. Muslims live to the east.

The American Colony was founded by American Christians in the late 19th century. It became a hotel for Western tourists when the land was under Ottoman rule. It is a beautiful hotel with a wonderful history. But unlike every other hotel I have visited in Jerusalem, there are no mezzuzzot on the doorposts, the restaurant is not kosher, and you can’t even get a menu in Hebrew. In the heart of the Jewish state, you feel that Judaism has vanished. Instead, there is the entrance to a charming private Arab school next to the hotel and a mosque with a minaret announcing the call to prayer five times a day. The minaret might as well have been located inside my room, I had no problem hearing the pre-dawn call to prayer every morning.

In the hotel lobby, they give out a free magazine entitled, “This week in Palestine.” It was not fun to read this magazine. That week, the magazine featured Palestinian artists. One artist, a Palestinian school girl, had a poem published about an olive tree that she loved to sit under and dream of peace until the Israeli soldiers came to destroy it with a bulldozer. You can visit their website if you want to know more about what the Palestinians are writing about us.

You don’t have to read the magazine to learn what the Palestinians are teaching their children. I visited the private school next to the hotel. They have a museum on the school grounds entitled, “The Museum of Palestinian Folklore.” The highlight of the museum is a display of Palestinian clothing. I didn’t visit the display. I didn’t get that far into the museum. Before I got to that display, I found myself in a room that was about the “Nakba” which is translated as “catastrophe” and refers to the exodus of Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 war between the newly established state of Israel and the neighboring Arab countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Except this room does not talk about a war. There is no mention of war. There is only mention of the Zionist Colonialists who murdered or drove the Palestinians from their peaceful villages through the use of terror. After viewing this sickening distortion of history, I left the museum.

My understanding of history surely has a Jewish bias. But I think that Israeli Jews are trying to teach the next generation to empathize with their Muslim neighbors. I also believe that in other Arab cities in Israel, like Nazareth and Sakhnin in the Galilee, Muslim children are exposed to Jewish history. Accordingly, there is peace between Jews and Muslims in Israel. It is not a perfect peace, but it is a start.

In East Jerusalem and I am certain in the Palestinian territories, Muslim children are being taught to hate. While visiting East Jerusalem, I felt like I had stepped back in time to my grandparents’ age, where anti Semitism was the norm and it was unsettling to say the least. Phrases that I had read in history books about Zionist conspiracies and Jews murdering innocent children were being displayed in the local school and published in weekly magazines and distributed in my hotel.

My wife tells me that it takes two people to make a fight in a marriage. This true. Because when only one side is fighting, it is called abuse.

We want peace with our Muslim neighbors, both inside and outside of Israel. We yearn for it. We pray for it. We sing about it. We imagine it. We work for it. But until both sides are working towards peace, we cannot stop fighting or we will face abuse. We have faced it too many times in our past. The Jewish people have their own country and because of the bravery of the Israeli people we do not have to accept abuse. Baruch Hashem.

Whatever government is formed after this election, I pray that they work towards a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. But we must keep both eyes open to the reality that we live in.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.