Avidan Freedman

Toxic Weeds on Jerusalem Day

“How can you give flowers to people who want to kill you?”

I’m taking part in Tag Meir’s annual “Flower March”, giving out flowers to residents and store-keepers in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter before they are forced to shutter their shops in fear of being attacked and having their property destroyed. We are there at 10 in the morning, 7 hours before the official Jerusalem Day Flag march is meant to pass through here, but already there are bands of hooligans attacking and intimidating, forcing store after store to  close even earlier than planned.

The hooligans are a study in toxicity to the 4th power. Take toxic masculinity — they’re almost all male teenagers, egging each other on to displays of machismo. Multiply it by toxic religion — a belief that Judaism gives them a mandate to attack a 75 year old man just trying to get through, or to scream at me for daring to wear a kippah as a I give out flowers (I never thought when I made aliyah that my kippah would be such a big deal in Israel…). Then multiply that by toxic nationalism, the belief that only Jews should be allowed to live here. And then multiply that by toxic fear.

“But I don’t assume that all these people want to kill me.” I reply to him simply. This is an “exchange” I’ve already had a number of times this morning. It often ends simply with the person continuing on in disgust, perhaps calling me a traitor, perhaps spitting my way. This conversation took an interesting turn.

“Did you ask them? Did you check first that they don’t want to kill you?” He challenges me to back up my assumptions. I decide to take him up on his challenge.

I turn to a man standing next to us, in the doorway of a kuppat cholim, an HMO.

“Do you want to kill me?” I ask him. He is, understandably, surprised by the bluntness of the question. I explain. “This man says that I shouldn’t be giving flowers to people who want to kill me, and that I should check first. So — do you want to kill me?”

Now it’s my turn to be surprised. “This is really the most important question,” the man, we’ll call him Hasan, who’s the manager of the HMO, says. “My religion says that it is forbidden for me to kill. When I go to heaven, I will be asked — did you even think of hurting a person, or killing a person.” His interlocutor, a Haredi from Beit Shemesh, whom we’ll call Yossi, is understandably skeptical. Honestly, so am I. It’s not easy to hear someone insist that he is a religious Muslim, but that he doesn’t believe in all of the things we’ve been told he believes in, and all the things done in the name of Islam. A conversation ensues, for at least 20 minutes. There is no shouting. Hasan speaks softly, with a smile, and from the heart. He explains how he thinks that the media and the leadership wants to make us all live in fear of one another, but when you speak to real people, face to face, you realize there’s no basis for that fear. Yossi listens.

Looking to move this touching conversation to what seemed like its natural happy ending, where the two former enemies hug and depart as friends, I turn to Yossi and ask him: “So, do you still believe that if Hasan had the chance, he would kill you?”

He needs less than a moment to reply.


“What?” Hasan was incredulous. Not angry or insulted. Incredulous. “Really? If after everything I said to you, that’s still what you think — I think that’s a problem you have to deal with.”

But this is the worldview that I meet again and again and again on Jerusalem Day in the Muslim Quarter near Damascus Gate. All of “them” — every Arab who lives here, from age 0-99, they all want to kill us. And this is country is ours, and only Jews should live here (I see them attacking a white Christian missionary as well). So they scream and dance to Samson’s song of vengeance, changing his vow to take vengeance from the Philistines, to “Falestin, may their name be wiped out.” When these boys sing it in the Muslim Quarter, they say, “May your names be wiped out,” waving and pointing their hands at the local residents. And at me, the traitor. So, I guess it’s not a country for all Jews, either.

Many people will try to dismiss their significance by saying they are the margins, they’re just some “wild shoots.” But when those weeds completely take over the garden, when they are able to overtake the rule of law, you can no longer claim they are something marginal. When thugs can force store-owners to lose their income and close up their shops, violating their basic right to live their lives and provide for themselves and their families, we have allowed the weeds to take over. When people who come to document and witness the violence are attacked and called traitors, and the police’s response is to distance them –– we have allowed the weeds to take over.

I head home through the Mamilla shopping area, outside of the Old City walls. A large group of young men are passionately singing Samson’s song. The weeds are spreading fast.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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