Until two days ago, I thought I had seen it all. I’ve explored Israel from north to south and literally west to east on a hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. I’ve seen a riot break out, numerous bomb threats and several incidents involving Israeli police and soldiers. But I hadn’t seen it all until Jerusalem Day.
The holiday commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem and the instillation of Israeli control over the Old City as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967. While it is a joyous time for Israelis, at least for Religious Zionists, it is not for Israeli Palestinians. Jerusalem Day is one of the lowest rating holidays in Israel. Ultra-Orthodox, left-wingers and most secular Jews do not even celebrate the holiday. However, the day is especially important to Religious Zionists, who are in favor of the controversial and sometimes illegal settlements.
The main event surrounding Jerusalem Day is a big parade through the streets of Jerusalem and the Old City. Unfortunately, the parade is known for turning vulgar and sometimes even violent. For example, Israeli police warned Israeli Palestinian shopkeepers in the Old city to close their shops during the parade. In years past, Jewish youngsters have turned over market stands, damaged or stole goods and even violently attacked Israeli Palestinians who happen to be on the street during the parade.
I first want to say that not all Jews and Israelis are Zionists. Just like in any other country, there is such a thing known as right and left. In Israel, right-wingers tend to support settlements, while left-wingers are against them. I consider myself a left-winger. As a result, I find Jerusalem Day to be one of the most unpleasant days in Israel.
Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, recently reported that the Central Bureau of Statistics published data showing some 8,000 Jerusalemites fed up with the city over the past year who have abandoned it. While Jerusalem is the most ultra-Orthodox and the most Arab city, it has been plagued by negative migration. Such negativity was shown on such an awful holiday.
While organizers of the “parade” pledged that participants would not shout vulgar statements like they did last year, this was not the case. Hundreds of young people spent hours shouting at the Israeli Palestinians and left-wingers against the parade near Damascus. How do I know this? Because I was there too.
Before the parade reached Damascus Gate on the way to the Western Wall, police separated protestors from the parade participants. I was stationed between the two groups by a temporary police fence. As one side became more vulgar, police would push the crowd further back to discourage any confrontation between the two sides.
Fifteen arrests occurred that day: 10 Jews and 5 Israeli Palestinians. Unfortunately, I saw the first arrest unfold. When one protestor threw an object at the Jewish side, police on horses stormed the area and pushed back the crowd. A few frightened people ran inside a building, but a few minutes later, when that area had been cleared out, an Israeli Palestinian came out from behind a door to check out the situation. Israeli police and soldiers immediately pinned him down. As he struggled against the grip of two officers, he was jabbed in the stomach by another. At the same time, the Jewish side cheered in approval.
While I am sad that I am leaving Israel in about two weeks, I am happy to be leaving behind the conflict. What I have experienced while studying abroad in Israel has opened my eyes to the world and the negativity humanity is capable of. However, a shred of hope also accompanies the negativity. Just as there were Israeli Palestinians protesting the parade, there were Jewish left-wingers as well.