Tag Archives: Jerusalem
Israel’s Jewish ultra-Orthodox community is up in arms as government plans to extend mandatory national military take shape.
It’s hard to think of an experience more surreal than wandering through the bustling streets and alleyways of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods. It’s not only a step back in time, but entering a world so entirely detached from the rest of Israeli society.
On a recent trip through the neighbourhood I came across this large protest sign denouncing the government’s attempts to introduce new legislation forcing ultra-orthodox men into national service.
One of the ways this community remains so detached from the rest of Israel is the current and long-standing exemption young ultra-orthodox men and women receive from the mandatory national military service (two years for women, three years for men), a cornerstone of Israeli society. Whilst all other young Israeli men and women are enlisted to serve in the Israeli Defence Force, ultra-orthodox men are free to enter religious schools (known as yeshivas) where they pursue a life studying the bible, forever removed from the realities of modern-day Israel.
Needless to say the ultra-orthodox, often vocal against government attempts to interfere in their religious way of life, are likely to put up quite a fight. As one of the community’s leading rabbis bluntly put it, “We must give our lives against the drafting of yeshiva students [to the army]. In an issue that belongs to the heart of Israel, there are no compromises.” (Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem against Tal Law replacement, Haaretz, 25/06/2012).
In the space of a couple of days last week I attended two protests in central Jerusalem; one evening the annual gay pride parade followed a couple of days later by the even larger housing demonstration.
Yes, it’s the summer of discontent for sure.
I am not sure how much the news of these latter protests have reached the wider world but here in Israel the sights and sounds of chanting students alongside tented villages has become all-pervading.
The cause: initially it was the issue of rising housing costs that face students and young people that had protesters erecting tented villages along Tel Aviv’s main boulevard and in parks and squares in other cities. As the number of tents multiplied their grievances began to touch upon wider issues of social justice. And now a day doesn’t go past without a myriad of other single-issue demonstrations tagging themselves onto the protests. It’s not entirely surprising as Israeli society has become increasingly unequal and unfair despite its strong economy and low unemployment levels (Israel’s Economic Miracle (or is it…?). For all the bravado that successive Israeli government have put on about the state of the Israeli economy and the dynamism of its hi-tech sector it has been failed miserably in addressing the societal inequalities that have steadily built up over a generation. As is happening across Europe and North America there is a sudden realisation that the young generation today are going to be worse off than the generation before them.
No one really knows where this is going and how long it can last. The government is unlikely to cave in as none of the coalition parties have anything to gain from jumping ship and the central-left parties are still too disorganised to gain any advantage – besides elections are still a year and a half away. Then there is the spectre of a September show-down as the Palestinians push for statehood at the United Nations; not to mention the possibility of rocket attacks from Lebanon or Gaza and whatever other security threats may exist.
Life here is definitely hotting up (as is the weather)…
Have just had my youngest brother over for a fortnight. Having visitors stay is always the perfect excuse to get out of the daily grind and to get out and enjoy the summer. Spent the days visiting the Kibbutz, lazing on beaches in Tel Aviv, cooling off in waterfall pools at Ein Gedi, floating on The Dead Sea, wandering the old streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, not to mention numerous restaurant meals, and a open-air cinema event at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Good times!
Yesterday the city celebrated Jerusalem Day. Another Israeli national holiday that follows an already long list of holidays that run in quick succession over the course of the spring: Holocaust Memorial Day, National Memorial Day, Israeli Independence Day – each one more overtly political than then next, each ensuring that a founding element of the Zionistic narrative is entrenched into the Israeli psyche.
So yesterday the city thronged with flag-waving crowds, commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in June 1967. Yet Jerusalem, from my eyes, still remains a divided city – Jews in the West, Arabs in the East, with a million miles seperating their worlds; there is no unified Jerusalem.
While there are plenty of blog posts out there documenting the marches and the unpleasant racist/nationalist chants (Watch: Jerusalem Day’s racist march, escorted by police), I thought I’d rather share these two poems by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai that caught my eye (thanks to @JessicaMontell) and kind of sum up the sense of history in this frustrating yet enchanting city.
Jerusalem is Full of Tired Jews
Jerusalem is full of used Jews, worn out by history, Jews are secondhand, slightly damaged, at bargain prices. And the eyes yearns toward Zion all the time. And all the eyes of the living and the dead are cracked like eggs on the rim of the bowl, to make the city puff up rich and fat.
Jerusalem is full of tired Jews, always goaded on again for holidays, for memorial days, like circus bears dancing on aching legs.
What does Jerusalem need? It doesn’t need a mayor, it needs a ringmaster, whip in hand, who can tame prophecies, train prophets to gallop around and around in a circle, teach its stones to line up in a bold, risky formation for the grand finale
Later they’ll jump back down again to the sound of applause and wars.
And the eye yearns toward Zion, and weeps.
Ecology of Jerusalem
The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams like the air over industrial cities. It’s hard to breathe.
And from time to time a new shipment of history arrives and the houses and the towers are its packing materials.
Later these are discarded and pile up in dumps.
And sometimes candles arrive instead of people, and then it’s quiet. And then sometimes people come instead of candles, and then there’s noise.
And in enclosed gardens heavy with the jasmine foreign consulates, like wicked brides that have been rejected, lie in wait for their moment.
Whilst US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu exchanged blows from their respective soapboxes this past week, life in the state of Israel/Palestine continued pretty much as normal. Two nations slowly sleepwalking towards a September showdown – a showdown to which we here in Jerusalem are guaranteed front row seats.
The international community may well speak of a two-state solution, but on the ground the prospect of such a solution seems very far off for a multitude of reasons. A couple of months ago Chabad, an ultra-orthodox Jewish organisation, ran a poster campaign (see below) on buses across Jerusalem warning that a Palestinian state would be a disaster for Israel. While it’s right to not criticise the running of such adverts on the basis of freedom of speech, it’s depressing that such views continue to be spread throughout Israel especially when both sides are meant to refrain from propagating fear and hatred of the other side. The peace-process may have stalled on the diplomatic front, but in Israel it’s hard to see how the idea of a Palestinian could ever be sold to the electorate. Things don’t bode well…
On an uncharacteristically wet and windy day in Jerusalem I spent the day wandering the streets of the Old City taking in the sights and sounds of the Good Friday celebrations. Thousands of Christian pilgrims descended upon the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the Old City, many of them re-enacting the final steps of Jesus Christ as they walked the Via Dolorosa, crucifix in hand, onto the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, purportedly the site at which Jesus was crucified and buried.
Aside from the mass of pilgrims the Israeli police force was out in force to manage the throngs of people. Numerous streets were blocked off, and the police had a busy time trying to explain to pilgrims, tourists and Arab & Jewish residents alike the long detours up and down smaller side streets people would have to take to get from one part of the city to another. Aside from being caught up in the procession at one point (see photos and video below) we avoided the worst of the masses and rain showers by seeking refuge in the Austrian Hospice cafeteria and eating amazingly sweet and heavy Arabic knafeh in Jaffar’s Sweets in the Muslim Quarter.
Happy Easter / Passover to everyone
A snippet of the Good Friday parade along the Via Dolorosa.