I Participated In An “Extremist” Flag March In Jerusalem. And All I Saw Were Noisy Teenagers.
Is the status quo in modern day Jerusalem worthy of celebration? My thoughts as I joined a flag march
Last week — under the partial pretext of covering the event for a YouTube channel I recently launched — I headed over to the second iteration of the flag march in Jerusalem.
While my political views about Israel are broadly speaking right of center, I nevertheless had a few misgivings about the decision to hold the flag march a second time — after the original was postponed due to an incoming barrage of Hamas rockets that kicked off an entire war.
Most presciently among my hesitations:
When we talk about “unified” Jerusalem — and march in celebration of it — what are we celebrating, precisely?
A city sharply divided along racial and ethnic lines?
A city in which roughly half of its residents affirm allegiance to the Palestinian rather than the Israeli flag and in which meaningful integration, outside of the closeted confines of coexistence groups, is virtually entirely absent?
Or perhaps we are commemorating the extension, in 1967, of Israeli sovereignty over Issawiya and Silwan and all the other Arab neighborhoods which were mostly villages and which are now integrated into the municipal border— neighborhoods whose residents are serviced by Jerusalem’s municipal services but into which Jews, and sometimes municipal workers themselves, cannot readily enter for fear of being attacked?
Are we cheering for the “unified” Jerusalem that has two bus and hospital networks — one for Arabs, one for Jews — that exist side by side but whose routes — like the lives of the city’s residents — barely intersect?
As Jew, I am delighted that Israel regained access to the Old City and the Western Wall — the wall abuts the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Jerusalem, and Jews were denied access there during the time when Jordan held the territory.
I maintain that anybody who maintains support for the establishment of Israeli sovereignty over these sites, but who rejects it over the rest of East Jerusalem — including me — is a hypocrite. To understand why they merely need to open Google Maps and follow the route of the Green Line. The Old City is over it. To endorse one is to support the other.
And so my feelings about the flag march — and Jerusalem Day as a whole — can perhaps best be described as conflicted. Or confused.
Even for those of us on the right wing of the political spectrum, I’m uncertain what exactly are we celebrating? What do we hope the city’s future is going to look like? And is the status quo that pervades beyond the walls of the Old City — the same status quo that recently tripped off a full-scale military conflict — something we really feel like cheering about?
And this year my feelings were doubly uncertain.
Hamas had threatened to kick off more violence in response to this the rescheduled flag march — and last time they made good on that threat.
Was it really fair to risk kicking off more violence — that would affect the lives of Israelis far beyond Jerusalem — just to show defiance and strength? What about the doctrine of pursuing peace? If we’re going to consider the importance of avoiding appeasement, shouldn’t the opposite doctrine factor into our consideration too? As I took my place among the revelers I wasn’t really sure what the answers to these questions might sound like.
Lots Of Teenagers. Lots Of Signing.
And so it was with a sense of trepidation — and a lot of uncertainty — that I headed out to shoot some footage from the march.
I was proud to be joining in the celebrations of Israel’s ability to recover sovereignty over the Old City and to have also established the right to rule Jerusalem — an ancient Jewish city. But what I was celebrating was really Israel’s sovereignty over the city that I know and live in: its Western half.
Israel has frequently and with great pride described itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. And yet the potential for violence between Arabs and Jews was deemed so great that the Damascus Gate plaza — a frequent flashpoint — had to be cleared of protesters before the march began. It was slightly uncomfortable.
What was participating in the march actually like?
I shared my pride in the moment with many participants — although I kept my thoughts about what it meant for our broader relationship to Jerusalem, those I outlined above, to myself.
The march was — quite literally — a headache (the one that set in shortly after its conclusion reminded of the after-effects of attending a house party during my college years).
The average age, at the parade’s setting off point, seemed to be less than 18. Although that advanced as the march meandered down HaNeviim and towards Damascus Gate before re-routing towards Jaffa Gate. There was lots of loud music blaring from stages. Lots of wild singing. And lots f noise.
What I didn’t hear: any of the hate-filled slurs that were widely reported as headline news in international media.
I did see members of the press decked out in their bulletproof vests and wearing protective head coverings. In all honestly, given the demographic in attendance and the beautiful sunny weather that graced the afternoon they looked — frankly — a little absurd.
I heard, instead, lots of familiar songs about the importance of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. And about not fearing a long way. Lots of teenagers. Lots of screaming. Lots of hot summertime sun. The perfect recipe, you might say, for a splitting migraine.
I don’t deny that there were clashes before the march that involved Border Police forcibly clearing the parade’s march before it started. That’s a fact. And those were the last things I saw on Twitter before I headed out to join it.
I do think the organizers acted responsibly by refusing to allow the official march to proceed through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter — proceeding into the Old City through Jaffa Gate instead.
I don’t doubt for a second that there were — among the celebrants — those who shouted inflammatory and hateful messages about Arabs and Islam. Those are messages I unreservedly condemn. But during the course of my time at the parade, virtually all I saw and heard were teenagers singing. And lots and lots of Israeli flags.
I still feel conflicted about what I saw while walking through Jerusalem with the march last week.
But I’ll share with you the argument that convinced me to join it in spite of those misgivings: if Palestinians can raise their flag and rally in support of their cause throughout this contested territory claimed by two sides, why should that same right not be extended to Jews in Jerusalem?