Ambivalence on Jerusalem Day

by Brian on May 21, 2012

in In the News,Jewish Holidays and Culture

Yom Yerushalayim was yesterday, but this post on Israelity generated so much comment, I’m reprinting it here on This Normal Life.

Motta Gur before entering the Old City in 1967

I’m never quite sure what to think of Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day in English. The day commemorates the reunification of the city following the Six Day War in 1967 – 45 years ago today – and is for some a day of great joy – a miracle even – while for others is alternatively a catastrophe or at least a major sticking point on the road to the creation of a Palestinian state.

It’s hard to argue that the city of Jerusalem, without the treacherous wall that existed from 1948 until 1967, dividing the city and from which Jordanian snipers would take shots at civilians living near the seam line, is not a better place today. And yet, overly boisterous celebrations around Jerusalem Day always seem to me to have an inherently confrontational tone, one that says, “it’s ours, it always has been and always will be.”

Now that may indeed become the case, and I would hate to see the city divided again in any way, but let’s be straight: that outcome is far from de facto. East Jerusalem’s future status is in no way a done deal, despite what certain politicians may claim. There is a lot of work to be done…including compromise on both sides.

That doesn’t seem to be the understanding on the streets though. Jerusalem Day in recent years has been hijacked; no longer is it a day of unification among Israelis of different religious and political persuasions.

Just check out the annual flag parade that snakes down Jaffa Street towards the Old City: the message has become one of military and miraculous conquest, as the “parade” surrounds the Old City like Joshua and the biblical Jericho. Shouldn’t it be more of a ceremony marking the end of an historic and tragic wrong, where the historic Jewish Quarter was emptied of its residents and many of its synagogues and structures were pillaged and destroyed? Why can’t we celebrate Jerusalem Day bathed with words of love, not war; togetherness not antipathy?

I read in the newspaper over the weekend something else that disturbed me. When the march reaches the Old City, the sexes will be segregated. Men will go towards the Western Wall via the Dung Gate while women will enter through Jaffa Gate.

That left me feeling both saddened and angry. How can we untangle the conflicting narratives of this most complicated city if we can’t even keep our men and women together? It seems that my ambivalence about Jerusalem Day will continue for some time to come.

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