YOUNGSTERS ON the Kids4Peace Jerusalem walk pause in front of Damascus Gate on Friday..
(photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
Jerusalem’s Old City was filled with police on Friday as part of a surge following last week’s violence in the capital and the West Bank.
Numerous young Arab men were stopped and frisked around Damascus Gate as Muslims made their way through crowded streets for afternoon prayer. Yet, among the tense atmosphere, a group of around 80 Christian, Jewish and Muslim youth – almost all from Jerusalem – toured the perimeter of the Old City, hoping to display the possibility of a truly shared city.
“We already postponed the trip once. Tensions are high in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is a tense city and we are taking the challenge to reclaim Jerusalem from extremists,” said Mohammad Joulany, co-director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem, which led the eager youth on the just over 4-km. trek around the Old City’s perimeter.
“We are sending a clear and strong message of peace and determination despite what is happening around us,” he said.
The group was led by staff from the Tiyul– Rihla initiative, which leads educational tours for mixed groups of Israelis and Palestinians.
According to Kids4Peace Jerusalem, the tour was meant to provide Jerusalem youths with a multi-narrative educational tour and to guide participants “toward overcoming collective fears and reclaiming the historic Old City as their own.”
Youth split into four age groups and walked to the Old City’s eight gates (some sections were traversed by bus for security reasons). While walking the oldest group of high school students debated the unity of Jerusalem and the municipality’s decision to not rebuild the Shuafat light rail ticketing center after rioters destroyed it.
“You can see that the city only serves one area, the majority of people in Shuafat didn’t do anything,” said a Muslim participant from east Jerusalem.
“Well I can understand why they would not build another ticket station if they think it is going to be destroyed again,” said a Jewish participant in response. Yet, instead of politics, over lunch participants chose to discuss television and movies.
Omri Massarwe, 15, from the northeastern Beit Hanina neighborhood, told The Jerusalem Post that the act of walking the Old City as an interfaith group was important.
“In the Old City nobody goes out with people from other religions,” he said. “Walking together is just a way more enjoyable and peaceful experience.”
Massarwe recently returned from a trip to Washington with other Kids4Peace youths to advocate for passage in Congress of HR 1489-114, the International Fund for Israeli- Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2015.
The tour was slightly interrupted at Zedekiah’s Cave – also called Solomon’s Quarries – near Damascus Gate where police had detained a Palestinian man, thus forcing the group to skip the historical site.
“It makes me feel angry to see the police checking everyone, it’s the kind of thing I don’t want to see in this city,” Loura al-Rahub from Pisgat Ze’ev.
Rahub said that, despite being from the only Palestinian family in Jewish Pisgat Ze’ev, she does not have many friendships with Jews in the northeastern neighborhood. “It feels really special to travel with this group, because everyone has a personal connection,” she remarked.
According to Talia Kainan from Arnona in southern Jerusalem, Friday’s tour engendered some apprehension. “I’m a little scared that someone will see us and show their anger in a way that might hurt one of us,” she said, “but on the other hand it is really cool and important to see the different sides of the Old City.”
Joulany told the Post
that extensive security measures had been taken to prepare for the trip, but there was always a possibility of danger. “I told worried parents that we took all the measures but that I can’t guarantee anything. I will continue to be worried until the tour is finished,” he said.