Six years ago, I knew I’d succeeded as a blogger. I had a featured blog on this platform with over a thousand shares, which strangers commented on, and about which the reactions were divided.
I also received incredibly angry messages, which I knew were to be expected from a post of this nature. I knew folks would not take kindly to the criticism, and I expected to be mocked, insulted, and to be told that I did not understand reality in Israel (ironic because I’d survived a terrorist attack earlier that year). But that was six years ago, and my understandings have taken on a bit of nuance.
On Sunday, I and many others will begin celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating the day God gave us back the Old City of Jerusalem. It has a religious and national significance, and it stands on the seam between state and religion, which gives it an odd place in the mids of many. As part of the celebrations, on Monday evening, there will be a processional, much like the one I criticized in 2015. It might have some face masks, and there might be fewer attendants, but the march will have the same character of years prior. I heard a group of kids, very, very loudly today, yelling one of the chants I have unfortunately learned to associate with the march.
שישרף לכם הכפר. Your village should burn.
Now, let’s talk honestly. Very few of the students in the march will be yelling that. They will not be screaming bloody murder about hate, about violence, about ill wishes towards Arab Israelis and Palestinians. It is important to note that this is a minority.
But now let’s talk honestly again. This march goes through Damascus Gate, a recent point of contention. I’m not sure what the plans are for this week, given recent events. But the march going through interrupts local businesses and locals, and is not necessarily the highlight of the year of any of the residents, to put it lightly. And then, when even a few people start yelling chants like that, that becomes the march. That becomes everything. It becomes the association with something hateful, wrong, and genuinely disappointing in the religious Zionist world. And it’s hard to vindicate yourself when this preventable thing happens. Year after year.
This year all the more so, when both Otzma Yehudit and Noam earned spots in Knesset, I would say it is important for those of us who don’t feel a part of the racist agendas of these parties to ensure that our Yom Yerushalayim celebrations fit the model of tolerance we want to broadcast. It is acceptable to march and parade; it is not acceptable to submit people to nearly inevitable verbal violence and insults. And when a minority of Palestinians express ill will towards Israel, the right-wing enthusiastically jumps on this as a sign of a common sentiment. Surely, someone might say, that it is not surprising that there are Palestinians who would assume this minority of racist, inciteful youth represents the wider Israeli public. Do we want to support action of this nature?
I cannot say it has not been difficult for me recently. The situation at the Damascus Gate, on the Temple Mount, the ongoing struggle for the character of Sheikh Jarach, the recent murder of Yehuda Guetta (not to mention the tragedy at Meron, which brought the army of internet trolls and their anti-Israel sentiments). Nothing here is simple, nothing is one-dimensional, and nothing is a one-sided issue. There are two peoples here, two understandings of home. There are two sides who are teaching their children a narrative of an enemy. (This week I had to hear about how a friend’s son came home from kindergarten, talking about the gates of the old city; evidently, there were Arabs, who are dead now, he made sure to note, who chucked trash at the Dung Gate). Things are not going to get easier as long as we maintain the idea that this conflict can be solved.
Rather, we must look at this conflict as something to manage for the time being. Careful and creative management, rather than the status quo and tried and failed solutions, can in the next 50, maybe 100 years, give us some change. But in my lifetime, I don’t expect to see an answer. But I do expect to see things get better, and that will only happen with proper management of the situation.
It won’t happen with more and more aggravation. We can’t stop people who are willing to die for a cause, but we can show some that the narratives they have heard are mistaken.
While a parade like we’ll see on Monday will not accomplish this goal, actions of tolerance, goodwill, and good faith, just might in the next few decades. So if we can tomorrow form one more friendship, speak two more words of Arabic, smile at one more person outside our own echo chamber, maybe we will have a chance at changing SOMETHING. And that will be more than the simple narratives of winner and loser, good guys and bad guys, than we’ve been taught until now. It’s incredible to see adults suddenly speaking like children who can’t be good sports: we won, deal with it. The Palestinian people are not the losing team. They’re the kid who got benched by both sides. Am I guilty of a fairness bias? Maybe. But I’d rather that, than intentionally silence part of my moral compass and lose hope in things getting better. I believe that as humans, we can undo our social constructs and rewrite our understandings. And that is by far the best option we have. But it starts with saying, no, I won’t keep going with the tide, if the tide means one step back from where we could be going.
My dear Rebbi, Rav Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, of Blessed Memory, had a tune for Psalm 122, which describes the joy of going to Jerusalem, and the happiness which those who seek the peace of Jerusalem experience. The tune managed to convey the emotions of Jerusalem, the ecstasy, the real feelings which come with understanding that there is somewhere special and holy. Jerusalem is special, and worth fighting over, worth dying over. But maybe just because it is worth those things, doesn’t mean those things are necessary. I don’t know to whom I speak when I say this, but I hope one day other people can celebrate Yom Yerushalayim as well, as a celebration of a city, of a vision, and of a unified focus. I just want to be able to celebrate, to sing Rav Hadari’s tune for the Psalm, without feeling that it comes at someone’s expense. I might never, but maybe my grandchildren will be able to.