My Word: The Jerusalem flag conundrum

Nothing demonstrates the problems and paradoxes of Jerusalem’s status and situation as this annual event, a celebration of the reunification of the capital during the Six Day War.

 ISRAELIS DANCE with flags outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City during the Flag March last year. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ISRAELIS DANCE with flags outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City during the Flag March last year.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There is a battle for Jerusalem that is colorful but serious. It’s the battle of flags and ahead of Jerusalem Day on Sunday the different colored pennants are being waved so furiously that the lines and colors sometimes blur.

All eyes are on Zion where the Flag March or Dance of Flags is scheduled to take place. Nothing demonstrates the problems and paradoxes of Jerusalem’s status and situation as this annual event, a celebration of the reunification of the capital during the Six Day War. Over time, the Flag March has become identified largely with Israel’s right-wing and national religious public. This year, the municipality is making more of an effort to ensure there are a range of festive events to suit different political and religious stripes.

But 2022 is not 2021. We’re a year older and wiser, or at least warier with experience. Last year, Hamas threatened to launch rockets on the capital if the Flag March went ahead. Even though the route of the parade was changed at the last minute in an attempt to ease tensions, shortly after 6 p.m., as Jerusalem’s streets were crowded with celebrating people, Hamas launched rockets at the capital. It was a very perverted way of declaring its love for the Holy City, but Hamas is not subtle. 

It has renewed its threats again this year, although this time the rockets won’t come out of the blue, as it were. Presumably, Hamas relies on Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome system to keep Jerusalem safe from its rockets. 

The attack last May triggered the 11-day Guardian of the Walls mini-war with the Gaza Strip. Israel certainly doesn’t want another war. It didn’t want one last year, either but Hamas and other terrorist organizations including Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to escalate the tension and rhetoric with its battle cry that “Al Aqsa is in danger.”

 THE DENIAL PHENOMENON of the Palestinian Authority, that Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount or Jerusalem, increases. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) THE DENIAL PHENOMENON of the Palestinian Authority, that Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount or Jerusalem, increases. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

During Ramadan last month, hundreds of thousands of Muslims went to pray at the mosques on Temple Mount, Islam’s third holiest site and Judaism’s most holy site. The presence of Jews there, however, caused consternation and warnings from around the world.

This year, more than ever, 55 years after the reunification, the word needs to go out from Jerusalem that we won’t – can’t – give in to threats. Dangerous incitement needs to be flagged, before it leads to more terrorism and violence. 

Jerusalem is the Israeli capital. It is the country’s heart and soul. Tel Aviv might be the commercial center, but there is no Israel without Jerusalem. 

I have often thought that official visits to Jerusalem should start with the archaeological finds of the City of David rather than Yad Vashem. Jewish history did not start with the Holocaust. Neither did Israel’s story. Without recognition of the roots of the Jewish people here, there is no future. 

Hamas wants to rain rockets on our parades, but if we cancel the festivities we will be left with nowhere to run and hide.

If we don’t unite around Jerusalem, there will be nothing left.

We are told that King David chose Jerusalem as his capital because it didn’t fall into any of the regions divided among the tribes. It was a site that belong to all, a holy place where both the First and Second Temples were built atop Temple Mount. Throughout the millennia and the many times its rulers changed, only the Jews ever made Jerusalem their capital city. 

Through exile and return, exile and return, Jews have always turned to Jerusalem when they pray. And we always prayed for Jerusalem, both the physical and the metaphysical.

Jordan held part of Jerusalem for a mere 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, during wars launched by the Arab world with the intention of eradicating the Jewish state.

Today, following the Abraham Accords, it is clear that attitudes to Israel are changing across the region. It’s something we can all benefit from. The Palestinians could gain from it too if they were to choose peace over anti-normalization.

Within Jerusalem, too, there needs to be more cooperation. Every war, rocket, or riot takes its toll on all the communities within the city. Yet there is great potential. When I’m feeling optimistic, I envisage, for example, a situation where on Saturdays, when most restaurants and shops close in Jewish neighborhoods, the eateries and stores in Arab communities would be extra attractive as tourist destinations.

There are many oases of coexistence within the city – the Hebrew University, the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, the museums and the hospitals, among others. Critics who talk of an apartheid policy have obviously never been hospitalized here. Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work to help Jewish and Arab patients, without differentiation.

But this, too, has come under attack. When scores of members of an Arab family ransacked a ward and attacked staff at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus last week after a relative died there, it was not a sign of respect for the dead, or the doctors and nurses and definitely not for the hospital itself. It was an act of lawlessness and the perpetrators cannot  be excused and allowed to go free. 

There are other red flags. The violent protests during the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh were not a spontaneous outpouring of mourning. Mourners don’t throw cement blocks and bottles at police. Rioters do. The Palestinian flags they carried were not waved in peace.

Similarly, genuine worshipers do not desecrate mosques by storing Molotov cocktails and rocks there as occurred during Ramadan. The Muslims on Temple Mount who attacked police as the officers prevented them from hurling objects at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below were engaged in unholy business. They raised the green flag of Hamas, a sign and a warning.

The security situation makes being alert second nature to Jerusalemites. Whenever there is a round of Palestinian hostilities, my neighbors quip that it must be the only capital in the world where people are scared to go out during the day but feel safe on the streets at night.

This year, some joked that it was ironic that Jews were hesitant to walk through certain areas carrying Israel’s blue and white flag, while in New York last week thousands proudly gathered to march down Fifth Avenue for the annual Celebrate Israel parade.

Not incidentally, many of those who want the Flag Parade banned, considering it a provocation to Palestinians, were in favor of the “Nakba Day” events, commemorating “The Catastrophe” of the creation of the State of Israel. Here, Palestinians and their supporters were free to wave their flags in the name of freedom of expression.

TWO JERUSALEMS exist alongside each other – not East and West, which do meet here – but the heavenly and the earthly. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, Jerusalem would have to forgo its name as the Holy City. Jerusalem is not perfect. There are pockets of poverty, social problems, traffic jams and housing prices that seem to be reaching up to the heavens along with the new skyscrapers.

There are divisions among communities that are (flag) poles apart. And yet, there is a huge amount of grace. Neighbors who can be annoyingly noisy and nosy, can be equally caring in an emergency. There are numerous perfect strangers, people willing to help others. 

Community gardens and communal, neighborhood projects flourish. 

Jerusalem sometimes seems to have tension built in among its stones, held in place by the weight of 3,000 years of history. Nonetheless, the noise of construction and bustling streets are a sign that it is always developing. Residents are resilient. Anyone who truly loves Jerusalem can help make it a better place by respecting it, the old and the new.

Will Israel be able to celebrate Jerusalem Day in peace this year? The answer, like the flags, is blowing in the wind – and Hamas continues to blow an ill wind from Gaza. Instead of being intimidated, we need to drop the white flags and raise the Blue and White. There’s plenty to celebrate.

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