(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
“Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period.”
Redemption will come only if they are told: “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important, but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself.
– Yehuda Amichai
TOURING CAN be a tricky mind game, where what is revealed to the eyes often goes unnoticed by the heart. “India is great, such a shame it’s full of Indians,” a rude young man once told me on his return from months of traveling. A traveler’s wide-open eyes may be fascinated by green hills, while at the same time blind to the people living among them.
Applying the same blind-eyed approach closer to home, I ask: “Jerusalem is great, but what about Jerusalemites?”
Living right next to Mahaneh Yehuda I regularly observe visitors with cameras pointing enthusiastically at the beautiful crimson flowers blossoming above my doorstep, while the woman sitting underneath them sipping her morning coffee goes unnoticed. Groups walking through the neighborhood during the days of slihot leading to Yom Kippur must be thinking no one lives here, otherwise how could they dare scream and shout at 5 a.m.?
On Shushan Purim this year, a group of young religious men stood right outside my window and loudly chanted minha. There are three synagogues on my street, but the fellows felt like doing it outside, thinking the streets are theirs to rule.
Yehuda Amichai’s redemption song seems all the more relevant to the relationship of Jerusalemites with the city’s tourists during Pessah, which is “the time of our redemption.
This past holiday, tens of thousands of visitors flocked to the city,
with Easter bringing even more from around the world. How many of them
were considerate of the city’s residents? It is understandable that
first-time visitors who arrive for a three-day excursion are entirely
focused on the city’s astounding historical sites. But what about
Israelis visiting their capital, or Jewish visitors who come here
annually? Do they stop and wonder what present-day Jerusalem is all
ONE GOOD example is a short walk from Amichai’s Roman arch near David’s
Tower. Ir David, the City of David, just outside the Old City walls, is
a central archeological site visited by many wishing to understand and
connect to Jewish life here some 3,000 years ago. As its Web site
reads: “Deep underground, the City of David is revealing some of the
most exciting archeological finds of the ancient world. While above
ground, the city is a vibrant center of activity.” I’ve gone deep
underground, and it’s indeed exciting.
The city above ground, tourists are told, starts and ends at the
visitor’s center. Truth of the matter is that archeological finds are
sprawled across an entire neighborhood. Walking through it with heavy
baskets of fruit and vegetables, or sitting and sipping their morning
coffee, are thousands of Palestinians living in Wadi Hilwe/Silwan.
Underneath their homes are the streets of ancient times. But do
visitors see those living above-ground, do they acknowledge their
existence? Several on-line accounts of the tours conducted by Ateret
Cohanim in the neighborhood during Pessah draw a picture similar to
Amichai’s experience, where only the dead seem alive.
Following suit with the Ir David Visitors’ Center and Ateret Cohanim is
the Jerusalem Municipality. Its NIS 30 million plan for the area is
crafted so every shekel will go toward Ir David tourism. In a part of
town where virtually no playground can be found, it will be turning the
few available open spaces into parking lots, against the clearly stated
wishes of the residents. In a neighborhood that for years has needed
urgent road repairs, only those located around the Ir David Visitors’
Center will be repaired. The rest can wait.
There is no school in this neighborhood. No post office. No health-fund
clinic. In the coming days the municipality will resume its
reconstruction work there and invest millions, but there will still be
no school, no post office, no clinic.
Future tourists will come and go while Jerusalemites living there continue to have it the hard way.
The past is part of our present, but so is the future. Ignoring the
basic needs of today ensures a sorrowful tomorrow. Surely the path to
redemption in Jerusalem cannot be found where negligence and
discrimination lie right in front of our eyes.The writer is a history graduate of Tel Aviv University and
spokesperson for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
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