As police prepare security measures for Sunday’s annual Jerusalem Day celebrations, Jewish and Palestinian residents agree that a unified city remains an impossibility amid the present atmosphere of violence, incitement and profound distrust.
Outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem in mid-May, a group of young Palestinian men said they deemed the holiday an affront to their pride and identity.
One man, who identified himself as Muhamad Z., said the Israeli government intends to use the holiday to rally right-wing supporters to seize al-Aksa Mosque, a false narrative being propagated to deadly effect by Palestinian leadership.
“They will try to destroy it, but we will never let this happen,” he said.
“I piss on Jerusalem Day!” shouted another man in the group who refused to provide his name. “This is the capital of Palestine, not the Jewish capital. The Jews need to accept this and get out.”
Meanwhile, in Zion Square, a few kilometers away on the other side of town, Yaakov, a 19-year- old off-duty soldier expressed a diametrically opposed perspective about the conflict.
“I want all the Jews in the city to celebrate the day and the Palestinians can go back to Jordan, Egypt, or whatever countries they came from,” he said. “Israel is a country of the Jews.”
Asked how the two populations can coexist more peacefully, Yaakov asserted that coexistence is unrealistic.
“I don’t think it is possible [for Jews] to live with Arabs,” he said. “I guard the Palestinian territories and I see children as young as 10 during patrols throwing rocks and carrying knives at checkpoints. Peace cannot happen when children are being encouraged to do this.”
Hiba Shaweesh, a Palestinian woman from east Jerusalem in her early 20s, said she would only celebrate Jerusalem Day when Palestinians attain a markedly improved quality of life in the capital.
“Peace will come when we have more hope for a better life financially,” she said while sitting with a friend on nearby Ben-Yehuda Street. “When people have a good life and security there is no need to fight. We have neither now.”
Rachel Stein, who owns the clothing shop Avivit on the popular thoroughfare, said her hope for Jerusalem Day is peaceful coexistence.
“I want the Arabs to live here but without [violence],” she said. “But I don’t know how this will be possible because the Arabs don’t want peace. And because of this I don’t think there ever will be peace.”
Still, Stein said that during the holiday she will be thankful for the achievements of the Jewish community in the perpetually warring city.
“I am happy that we have the Kotel and all the places in Jerusalem,” she said. “And I think that the Arabs have the most they ever had here since the 1967 War, but they have people who lead them that tell them that it is never enough. And they tell them all the time to carry out violence.”
“The simple people would live regular lives if it were up to them,” she added, “but the big people won’t let this happen.”
Judaica shop cashier Dalit Saidian noted that although she prayed for peace in the capital on Jerusalem Day, she said that the most she could hope for is increased mutual respect.
“As human beings we have to start respecting each other,” she said.
“And it’s ok to have differences – I don’t have to agree with you, and you don’t have to agree with me with about everything – but you have to respect me and I have to respect you and your opinion. We have to learn how to talk to each other. If we can learn to do that, everything will look better.”
Nonetheless, Saidian, who was born and raised in Persia before making aliya at age 10, conceded that peace with radical Muslims is unobtainable.
“I am from an Islamic country and went to school there, and know what they teach,” she said. “They teach hate against America and Jews.”
Indeed, according to Saidian, before she was accepted into the school she attended as a child in Persia, she was forced to step on an Israeli and American flag.
“They teach you to hate,” she said. “America is the ‘Big Devil’ and Israel is the ‘Little Devil,’ and I know it’s not like that for all Muslims, but this is what is being taught by the leadership.”
“You know, I voted for Benjamin Netanyahu,” she continued, “which means I belong to the right wing, but I don’t want the Palestinians to leave here; I want them to by my neighbor, but they have to accept me.”
Conceding that the violence will likely continue, Tuvia Victor, a 56-year- old accountant, said it is imperative that Jews celebrate and develop Jerusalem to the best of their abilities.
“Despite the violence, at the moment we’re seeing a scenario where the Jewish State is going to continue to grow and develop, and Jerusalem is going to grow and become a greater city than it is today,” he said.
“And yes, we are going to have problems and we are going to have to fight to defend it, but we will manage.”
In the interim, on Jerusalem Day, Victor said it is imperative to keep the conflict in perspective.
“We suffered through Pharaoh in Egypt and we came out of it okay, and the same will happen here,” he said.
In terms of the Palestinian population, he said that they must accept “that this is the land of the Jewish people.”
“They are welcome to live here happily in peace with us, but if they choose the path of war, which is the path they have been choosing lately, they’ll get hit hard and will never achieve their aims,” he said.
“They have to learn that the only way to achieve their goals is through peaceful methods and not through terrorism and incident of their youth.”