Today was a long, long day. I woke up unwillingly at 5:55 AM to catch a bus to catch another bus to Jerusalem. Today we had a tour sponsored by CIEE that was guided by a college grad named Reut. She was a very big improvement from our first tour guide of Jerusalem in my opinion. Reut’s dad is Polish and Reut’s mom is Iraqi – both Jewish by faith. She served her time in the army and really valued the experience and the amount of respect it brought upon Israeli women. With all of this taken into account, she never said anything extremely biased or partial or anything of that sort. It was refreshing and humbling.
First, we met with a Palestinian student from the Hebrew University. She spoke about her life in Jerusalem and the difficulties that she and other Arabs faced daily. She said for many Palestinians it was a dilemma to go to college because all assignments and most classes are totally in Hebrew. Many students go through a 9 month program (herself included) just to master the language to be able to take college courses. She also said that it is easy to live harmoniously on campus and in Jerusalem in general – if one does not voice their political opinions. She said that demonstrations are shutdown immediately and little attention is brought to Palestinian causes.
At times it was hard to follow her because her thoughts were a bit scattered, but she touched on the subject of a refugee camp – Shuffat – that has around 27,000 people and problems including rape, drugs, sanitation, violence, and military searches.
Lastly, she mentioned the differences between East and West Jerusalem. Example: East is for food, West is for clothes.
Next on the tour we went to the offices of a Mr. Silverstein who is the founder or current leader (I’m not sure which) of “Keep Jerusalem”. I’m sure you can only imagine its agenda. He is a man who came from South Africa to Jerusalem. He’s married with seven children. In the last five years he noticed that a lot of “cyber space” info is far from reality, numbers are confused, and narratives are taken as facts. He quoted some famous person who said “you’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts”. It was probably the smartest thing he said during the entire meeting and it wasn’t even an original quote. Anywho, he went on about how Jerusalem is “dear to Jews” and basically how no one else deserved it. His argument revolved around the “fact” that, sure, numbers wise Arabs outnumber Jews in Eastern Jerusalem, but we cannot know the true numbers of Arabs living in Jerusalem because many are taking advantage of governmental benefits without truly living in Jerusalem. But if they are getting these benefits, doesn’t that mean that they’re paying taxes on property in Jerusalem? And doesn’t that mean that they are entitled to these benefits? He described them as tens of thousands of dollars per person but it really just seemed to be your basic insurance. What do I know though. Oh, in addition, he made every Arab seem like your basic man with three wives and sixty children living on welfare only type of person. Then we got into statistics. He stated that in 1948 90% of Arabs moved on their own and forfeited their rights to whatever property they had because they fled to Jordan (the enemy). In 1967, he said no Arabs were displaced and then added “except for the area in front of the Western Wall”. After that he threw a bunch of figures and poll figures that didn’t add up and our tour group started to realize that it was definitely the wiser choice to sit and listen rather than pry and question in this case (which was very hard to do at times). If you want to see/read any more of his absurdities (my opinion, my blog) feel free to at keepjerusalem.org
Talking to him brought up the topic of victims. Are both Jews and Arabs victims? Can they both be victims? Is one more victimized than the other? Jews fear suicide bombers and acts of violence, but is it not in retaliation to previous wrongs? Does that make it a right? I can’t answer these and I don’t feel like I have the qualifications to do so anyway.
So. Next we went to the Museum on the Seam. It is located on the Israeli side of the former Israeli/Jordanian border where soldiers were housed. The outside is still rubble and rusting, but the inside is your typical, modern museum chic which is exactly the look the curator and founder, Raphie Etgar wanted. Raphie talked with us for white a bit about former exhibits and the current one and how he decides what to feature. He said he “considers the museum a stage” and that helps him decide which conflicts to display. For example, Jerusalem is where the Coexist display started with Raphie as a founding member. He tries to make the museum relevant to what is going on in the world at the time and he holds specific concerns for the constant media connection and usage of my and other generations that have distanced our world’s youth from reality and confrontation. I hope I can go back to this museum to further explore past exhibits and the reasons for them.
Our last speaker on the tour was the adviser to the mayor of Jerusalem – an important man by the name of David something. He was hospitable and open to questions which I admired, but expected. I also expected that all of his replies ended on a positive note and outlook which politicians tend to be able to do even when faced with the most extreme, no solution questions. David’s work is specific to Arab residents. He said that he feels encouraged when the Arab residents come to the municipality for problems because it legitimizes it and identifies that their rights should and can be acknowledged equally to the Jewish population.
He said that the left and the right do things differently from one another. The left has demonstrations and posts articles to fight and lift their voices while the right buys houses and property and avoids judicial aspects. In the end, the right is more effective because they are “on the ground”.
David believed that previous mayors and their teams made a lot of “we will do that” promises, but he wants to be the kind of guy that is known for not saying, but doing.
We asked him if the Arab population has been helped so much by the current staff in office, why the voter turnout was less than 5%? To which he responded that residents defer daily life issues from their political views. He said that voting would be recognizing Israeli territory in Jerusalem and the Israeli authority over it. We left his office with a million more questions and I’m sure he’ll be getting emails from my group in the near future.
We stopped by a Muslim grave yard. Pardon me for the shortened version of this story because I was extremely exhausted by the time we got to this stop that I cannot remember all the details. Basically, the grave site was not being properly cared for and it was suggested that a tolerance museum be built over/near/on it. It was then that an uproar was started because burial is an extremely sensitive subject in both Judaism and Islam. This case reached the supreme court on whether or not the museum should be built (everyone in my tour group immediately finds the irony of the museum). The sides were 1) no one cared about the site until someone wanted to build over it VS side 2) it’s still the dead and should be respected and once a site was not built in Jerusalem because the graves of two Jewish people were found, so why is it an exception now? A messy subject.
We walked on down to King David Hotel – built in the 20s during the British mandate. The British offices were in the hotel and tensions between Brits/Muslims/Jews were heightening during the pre-Israel period. In 1946 (I think) Jewish independent forces (recognized as a terrorist group) sent messages to the head of the office to leave the building or be bombed. The British didn’t take the threat seriously and a half hour later bombs were put inside the kitchen and Jews, Muslims, and Brits were killed – 91 in total. This encouraged the British to leave.
Directly across from the King David Hotel is a YMCA that welcomes Jews, Muslims, and Christians and was built under the condition that no Christians would attempt to convert people. There is a prayer room for whoever wants to use it, halls for meetings, and, of course, a gym.
We ended the tour with hummus and said our goodbyes.