On the eve of the capital’s 46th annual Jerusalem Day – held against a backdrop
of disparate quality-of-life reports representing the western and eastern sides
of Jerusalem – Jews and Arabs expressed matching pride and antipathy,
respectively, about a city that clearly remains divided.
Indeed, while a
Monday Central Bureau of Statistics report portrayed Jerusalem as a hotbed of
economic and social growth, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel also
released a study portraying east Jerusalem as a social and economic
According to the CBS report, 91 percent of Jerusalem residents
stated that they are satisfied, or very satisfied, living in the capital, which
has generated 50,000 jobs over four years.
Conversely, the ACRI report
showed that 79.5% of east Jerusalem residents and 85% of children there live
below the poverty line, which it claims is the highest rate ever recorded.
“I am Palestinian, so
for me, Jerusalem Day means nothing,” said Avraham Gulhni, a taxi driver, while
standing next to his cab in east Jerusalem on Monday afternoon. “It’s for the
Jews. For me, it’s a black day.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of
the city, Ortal, a Jewish courthouse secretary, who requested her last name not
be published, said Jerusalem Day, first inaugurated following the Six Day War,
was a particularly happy and proud time for her.
“I love to be here and
live here and appreciate it so much because it’s a small place that everyone
wants and fights over,” she said, while eating lunch with a friend.
it’s very important that we have this place to raise our kids, work and
Ortal added that the sense of belonging she feels in Jerusalem
cannot be compared to any other region of the world.
“I lived in the US
for a yearand- a-half, and it was good and comfortable, but it wasn’t mine and I
felt like a stranger,” she continued.
“But here I feel like I can do
anything – like it’s my place, my home."
Nearby, on Ben-Yehuda Street,
Alon Meir, who is haredi, sat next to a Torah that passersby stopped to
“Jerusalem is something else,” he said. “You go outside [the city]
and you feel like you’re in a different country – even in Israel. Israel has
different regions that are like sand, wind, water and fire, and Jerusalem is
fire because it’s the House of God, and like the sun, the center of
Asked if tensions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews in
Jerusalem ever troubled him, Meir said he didn’t feel alienated, but added that
members of his community genuinely dislike their non-observant
“Not all the secular [Jews] behave the same way and not all of
them hate religious people,” he said.
“But there are definitely religious
people who dislike [secular Jews] because they’re afraid of them. They believe
that if they truly believed in God, they would change their lives and stop doing
what they want to do, and instead live by the Torah.”
Yoski Wander, an
80-year-old key-maker who was born and raised in Jerusalem, said that while he
enjoys living in the capital and will celebrate Jerusalem Day, he still harbors
resentment for many within the haredi community.
“Jerusalem is a great
place, but there are too many [ultra-] Orthodox Jews and they don’t go to work,
they have too many children, they don’t pay taxes and they don’t serve in the
army,” he said.
“Because of them, we’re one of the poorest cities in
Wander also expressed distaste toward Arabs, whom he said also
drain the economy by not contributing enough.
“There are too many Arabs
in Jerusalem,” he said. “Because of east Jerusalem, our financial situation is
worse than it should be – the Arabs and [ultra-] Orthodox make it
Wagd Rlich, who works at a local food market in east Jerusalem,
said he viewed Jerusalem Day as an ideological and economic intrusion that
celebrates the Arab defeat in the Six Day War and forces Arabs to close all
their shops in east Jerusalem against their will.
“Every year [on
Jerusalem Day] the government and police force our shops to close and ask the
Arab people not to make any trouble because so many Jews visit Jerusalem,” he
said inside his east Jerusalem store.
“They bring a lot of soldiers here
to make sure everything is closed, so we lose even more money,” he
“This day is not a celebration for me because everyone knows
about the occupation of 1967, and that the UN gave us this. On this day, you
don’t see any Arabs because all the stores are closed, but we see Jews
“We respect all people because we are all brothers, but we
don’t respect the occupation and we hope and pray for peace everywhere, not just
here. What’s important is the people, not the land.”
Jerusalem hardwarestore owner, who requested anonymity, said he also dreads the
annual celebration because he loses business opportunities due to the forced
“Every year it’s the same thing – they [Jews] march here and
force us to close our shops,” he said outside his store’s doorway, near the
“It means nothing to me because [Jerusalem] doesn’t belong to
us. Thirty years ago there was more opportunity, but today there are not as many
jobs and too many taxes. It’s a poor city.”
Finally, Ibrahim Ahmad Abu
El- Hawa, a well-known east Jerusalem resident and activist who has traveled
extensively around the globe to discuss the city’s challenges, expressed hope
for the future of Jews and Arabs living side by side within the
“Jerusalem belongs to God – not the Muslims, not the Jews and
not the Christians,” he said.
“We have to believe we are all one, and not
say, ‘It’s mine,’ because we are always a guest here. We have two mothers, but
the same father, and the most important thing is the seed.
understand the Green Line,” he said as he pointed to the partition.
made it? God? No, man did. The biggest problem is that we don’t visit one
another. We have built a wall between us.”
With respect to
Jerusalem Day, Hawa, a father of 10 and grandfather of 32, said the Arab
population has been neglected and displaced, and therefore are not truly
citizens of the city.
“East Jerusalem is crying because it is not being
taken care of by the West,” he said.
“People can’t just care about it
once or twice a year, because we are suffering.”
According to ACRI, in
2012, the Interior Ministry revoked the status of 116 Palestinians from
Jerusalem, and since 1967, the residency status of 14,263 has been revoked or
The official Jerusalem Day commencement ceremony took place
Tuesday night at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in Kiryat Moshe. It was attended by
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Housing Minister
Uri Ariel as well as numerous rabbis and other officials.
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