Moshe Ben-Atar speaks poignantly in yesterday’s (Hebrew) Ha’aretz about what has become of the Jerusalem of his childhood – when Jews and Arabs were good neighbours to each other. Today, he suggests, suspicion and hatred have become part of the air we breathe in this so-called holy city. Yesterday’s Jerusalem Day seems to have become all about hatred, rather than about neighbourly relations. Right-wing Jews march provocatively through the Palestinian neighbourhoods thay are trying to make their own, some of them shouting racist slogans that should be anathema to every Jew (if you have the stomach for it, you can watch some of it on youtube). Everybody else tries to stay out of the way, other than the handful of brave protestors who have the courage to stand up in support of their Palestinian neighbours. And it does indeed take courage – to face the right-wing, and to face the police who, instead of protecting the right to free speech, tend to react with tear gas and their new taser guns, as seen in recent demonstrations.
The coverage of yesterday’s events varied widely in today’s newspapers, highlighting the fact that in these times we all seem to have retreated into a world in which we surround ourselves with the news and opinions with which we agree. The readers of Ha’aretz and the readers of Yediot seem to live in different countries – so is it any surprise that we have so much difficulty in tolerating difference. Nowhere did I come across any criticism of the fact that there were separate male and female parades (at least according to the routes published by the municipality on their website – I didn’t go out myself to investigate.)
Separation has become the norm of our society. A few years ago my Palestinian colleague and I tried to publish an advertisement in the different Jerusalem local papers about a dialogue group we were forming. We wanted to place our advertisement in four papers initially – Kol HaIr (the Hebrew secular local Jerusalem paper), HaModia (the Jewish national religious paper ), HaTzofe (the Jewish ultra-orthodox paper), and Al-Kuds (the Arabic newspaper). Kol HaIr took our advertisement word for word and published it as requested. HaModia at first refused the advertisement, saying that it was not acceptable to them. After some negotiation, they agreed to accept a modified version of the advertisement, on condition that we take out all reference to non-Jews, including my colleague’s name and contact details. The Jewish ultra-orthodox paper refused to publish the advertisement under any conditions, as they stated that such dialogue was against their beliefs. Al-Kuds accepted the advertisement (translated into Arabic) on condition that we remove the name of the sponsoring organization in Hebrew. Other than the secular paper, no one was prepared to publish an advertisement that might suggest a different point of view.
In such an atmosphere, is it surprising that people want the right to decide who gets to live next door to them – and therefore Rabbis are encouraging people not to sell or rent their houses to Arabs, and a law has been passed allowing small settlements the rights to turn away home-buyers on the grounds that they don’t fit the spirit of the particular place (a convoluted way of keeping Arabs and Others out)? I am not suggesting I am innocent of similar tendencies – it is much more comfortable to live in a world where everyone agrees with you and everyone is like you. Jerusalem, however, of all places should be a celebration of diversity. I look forward to the day (though it may not come in my lifetime) when Jerusalem Day is not celebrated on the anniverary of one side’s victory and the other side’s defeat, and when we can all celebrate together the priviledge of living in a City of Peace.