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Today is Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim in transliterated Hebrew – you may see it around the web as one or the other), the day that Israel celebrates the reunification of the city by re-establishing control over the Old City during the Six Day War. It’s supposed to be a minor religious holiday, so many groups of religious people go out and celebrate the day.

Thousands of Jewish Israelis wave Israeli flags, celebrating Jerusalem Day by walking the streets of Jerusalem, through Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, on May 8, 2013. (photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Thousands of Jewish Israelis wave Israeli flags, celebrating Jerusalem Day by walking the streets of Jerusalem, through Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, on May 8, 2013. (photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Which they absolutely should. It’s a day of celebration. And I even believe these groups should be able to celebrate this day throughout the city (this will lead into why the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade is a good thing). Jerusalem’s a pretty disjointed place, but in a perfect world, anyone should be able to march wherever they want to celebrate anything they want. So I was a bit surprised when this tweet surfaced on my feed:


IOF stands for “Israel Occupied Forces,” which is how either super-leftist or straight anti-Israel activists will refer to the IDF. So it’s not constructive and we don’t support its use, if only because it just ruins a conversation and you can’t really have a helpful dialogue once someone drops the phrase.

The last time someone tweeted something like that, people were “rioting” at Damascus Gate during Operation Pillar of Defense. That time, I went down there to find an empty plaza. Maybe I arrived too late, but on my walk there, I saw journalists with large cameras walking away with disappointed looks on their faces. (Also, as soon as I got home from my little excursion, the Red Alert went off, telling everyone to take cover, so that was fun.) I decided to run down to Damascus Gate again today, just to tweet (like I did last time) that it seemed the twitter-sphere was perpetuating events that weren’t happening (I’d also spent the afternoon taking a couple photos from my rooftop apartment of the Knesset and clear blue sky and responding to tweeps and journalists that the Knesset had not been hit by a rocket).

That was not the case this time. When I got to the Damascus Gate, it was.. crowded. As I approached, I walked through crowds of Jews of all stripes – modern orthodox, haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and just tourists. As I approached, a man was being arrested. I was caught off-guard and so did not get a fantastic shot, but the guy is in yellow off to the right in the photo below.

IMG_20130508_171324There were journalists everywhere

IMG_20130508_171350It was like all the scenes Israel activists hear about, when journalists are crowded around a staged scene of clashes, waiting for something to happen. Police had cleared the plaza in front of the gate

IMG_20130508_171858and were periodically letting people through.

I went to a university notorious for its anti-Israel activism, and founded the pro-Israel organization on campus. I have heard “Allah hu-Akbar” shouted as a call of defiance many times. Never in Israel have I heard it shouted by anyone except a muezzin calling people to prayer. This afternoon, inside the gate, I heard it a few times. At that point, a soldier asked me to move to the side, with “the other journalists,” which I think he was being nice about only because I spoke to him in Hebrew (I would imagine using my phone as a camera was kind of a give-away, even to an 18 year old, that I wasn’t press).

The police had stopped allowing people to pass, and I was surprised to find a huge group of people behind me.

peopleI had to run off for drinks with a friend, so I went ahead and called it an experience had and left.

But the problems with what happened today are multi-layered. I started this post pointing out that I think citizens of a state should have the freedom of speech and assembly to gather wherever they like in their own country because I want to make clear that my frustration this afternoon at what I saw was not because the people who rallied in front of the Damascus Gate, an entrance to the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City, were religious. My frustration was that, on a day that celebrates the return of the Jewish heart of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, a group of activists chose to harass Muslim citizens of this city. I don’t know what the Arab citizens did to get arrested, and I hope nothing became violent. Only Times of Israel covered what happened today, from what I can find in Israel’s newspapers. The closest I saw besides that article was Jerusalem Post‘s Lahav Harkov‘s coverage of what happened at the Knesset today – the speeches given by whichever MK. That makes sense – she’s JPost’s Knesset reporter. I didn’t see anything else. So, I can’t find out if there was something going on that was more than just defiant “allah hu-akbar”s. I don’t know if Jewish citizens were arrested. Maybe there were fistfights and both parties were detained by police. But what I saw was a lot people being ugly to each other.

As I was leaving, some journalist grabbed the cord to his video camera overly aggressively, pulling it out from under the orthodox boy who was standing on it and making the poor kid fall. That was an asshole move. He shouldn’t have done it. The kid’s friends started screaming at the journalist and the police that the journalist had attacked the boy, though, which seemed like a move to raise tensions.

As I walked past the throng of Jewish celebrants standing 50 feet from Damascus Gate, where IDF soldiers had stopped allowing people through and were blocking the sidewalk, a Muslim woman and her husband tried to walk past the soldiers. I don’t know where she was going; I don’t know if she was going home, towards East Jerusalem, or to start crap at the Gate, but the soldiers turned her around. The crowd started cheering, clapping and hooting. That’s also an asshole move. She’s a middle-aged woman. I’d feel insanely awkward if I then had to stand there and wait with the crowd that was rude to me to go wherever I was going.

This is a city for all of Jerusalem’s citizens. It has to be, or it can’t work. I went on a rant years ago about the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. It had to be 2006, and my gay best friend in Florida and I still hadn’t made aliyah. Adam (not his real name) and I started an “I Support Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade” facebook group, because, you know, it was the thing to do. Guys from my university kept adding themselves to the group so they could paste homophobic comments on the group’s wall, then unadding themselves. If Adam or I responded, they added themselves again and said something else disgusting, then removed themselves. After this gem

If gay people are killed I won’t shed a tear. They’re forcing their world view on everyone else.

I lost my patience (ignore the bad grammar):

All these arguments against the parade hinge on the idea that Jerusalem belongs to only religious Jews. Only small portions of Jerusalem are all that Orthodox. You’re hinging your arguments on the concept that the only real Jew is an Orthodox one…

Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital because it is the religious and spiritual home for ALL Jews…

No one is asking that the march go through Mea Sharim. To give the impression that gay Jews are any less human than anyone else is hateful, and I’m sorry if you can’t see that fallacy of your argument. Refusing to allow a gay parade through Jerusalem is similar to saying the Million Man March shouldn’t have happened in Washington, DC. ‘Why can’t those blacks just march through their projects?’

…Not even the settlements are all religious Jews. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled years ago that Jewish National Fund land could not be solely developed by or sold to Jews because there were other ethnicities and religions who lived in Israel who had every right to live wherever they wanted. Arguments that only the religious belong in Israel is apartheid…, as it only allows a certain TYPE of Jew to live in a certain area.

Step back and realize Israel is absolutely meant as a haven of safety for Jews and that without Israel, Jews would have no choice but to flee from persecution from one oppressive country to the next. However, Jews come in all shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations. Jerusalem is the capital of the modern-day State of Israel… and Israelis of any kind have every right to parade through their capital and celebrate the fact that they live in an extremely progressive, freedom-loving country. That’s what the gay parade comes down to – a group of people celebrating who they are and the country that allows them to be whatever they wish.

November 9, 2006 at 4:42am

So I thought about this exchange when I started getting upset this afternoon. I thought about the anger other people posting to the group expressed. Was I just doing the opposite, being unnecessarily leftist and thinking that religious Jews shouldn’t be in East Jerusalem?

I believe that Jerusalem can only be a united city; I don’t think it works from a public administration point of view to divide the city, and I think that Israel needs to work to integrate its Muslim community. I think East Jerusalem should be better developed. I wish I felt safe enough to go to my favorite shawarma place in East Jerusalem without my guy friends. I don’t know East Jerusalem, and I wish I did, if only because it’s part of the city that I call home. I wish I could live in the nation’s capital and meet interesting people involved in international NGOs, who for, in my opinion, flawed reasoning tend to reside in East Jerusalem.

All this can only happen once we begin to integrate the communities in Israel, and in this city. And that’s what was so sad about today. The more I’m exposed to the strife and anger in this country, the fewer answers I have. Journalists don’t trust and are aggressive towards the religious community. The Orthodox mistrust everyone. The Arab community feels violated, ignored, and angry. And the border police and IDF are put in the middle of it all, 18 year olds jaded and tired of the fighting before they even get a chance to understand it.

With an integrated population, Jerusalem could have parades throughout the city without flares of anger in different parts. It’d be an amazing day to watch Arab citizens march next to Haredi citizens, all being photographed by Reuters and AP with no “incidents.” That’d be an awesome Jerusalem.