Unified Jerusalem

If only our elected officials and leaders would worry themselves less about symbols of power and control and less about enforcing collective identities.

Jerusalem Day (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Day
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has announced this year his decision that next year (2017) shall be the year of “Jerusalem’s unification” in the education system. The year will not be dedicated to “Jerusalem – the Israeli capital,” or “Jerusalem – past and present” but to the “unification” of the city. Why has Bennett chosen this phrasing in particular?
Well, it seems that the intention is not to focus “simply” on Jerusalem, but rather on the political-military significance of the city since the Six Day War, the most mythic of all wars of Israel, that brought the results of “unification” to the city and that will mark its 50th anniversary next year.
When Bennett explained about the activities he has planned for Israeli children for this special theme, he mentioned future field trips to the Old City (which was “freed” in the 1967 war), the Knesset, the Supreme Court and military-related sites. Jerusalem is chosen to be presented in its most fancy political uniform, which for the minister seems to be equivalent to Jerusalem itself.
In an exhibition that was put up in the National Library of Israel some years ago with the title “Vessel to Vessel,” visitors could see, among other exquisite exhibits, the famous songwriter Naomi Shemer’s small notepad, in which she wrote the extra stanza of what is probably her most famous song – “Jerusalem of Gold.” The song – the most iconic modern Hebrew song on this subject – was written following a request of Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, made about a month before the war.
As Shemer tries out this phrasing first: “The wells are ours, so are the marketplace and square,” but then, as one can see in the notepad, she changes her mind, deciding finally to write, “We have returned to the wells, to the marketplace and square.”
It seems Shemer understood that the real issue is the history of the people of Israel, that is tied most intimately with the story of Jerusalem, the ideal, the symbolic and longed- for.
Indeed, the “political Jerusalem” has never really interested the Israeli public, that mostly doesn’t know where the “green line” passes through it, for example, what is east and what is west, and what it all means. Most of the public understands about the Western Wall and the historic symbols of the city such as the Tower of David, the walls of the Old City, its churches, mosques and synagogues and the dreams it carries around it as a fairytale mist.
What does Minister Naftali Bennett mean with his decision to dedicate the educational year to the “unification” of the city?
One thing seems to be clear – he does not aim for a full, comprehensive history, for an intellectual examination of Jerusalem, that is entangled in Jewish and Hebrew heritage as well as other histories and heritages. He does not aim for knowledge; he aims for indoctrination.
One might guess that Bennett would have advised Shemer to stick to the first version of the verse: the wells, marketplace and square are ours, and that’s what matters.
But, in truth, this was never the point. Throughout the thousands of years, when the water reservoirs were not “ours,” they were nonetheless ours. The longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem (the ideal no less and probably much more than the actual) are surely one of the incentives that built the illusive term we refer to as “the modern Jewish nationality,” but this doesn’t seem to interest Bennett. Jerusalem interests our education minister only as a political tool, a declaration of power and military victory.
For what is “unified Jerusalem”? And what is unified about it? Is it the Arab population, that amounts to some 40 percent of the city’s population and who mostly do not enjoy civil rights (as they have no Israeli citizenship)? Is it maybe the Arab neighborhoods that have a wall separating them from the rest of the (Jewish) city (such as Shuafat and Kafarakab)? What are those walls that separate between people in this strange “urban complexity”? Who belongs to the city and who does not? And why?
Will Israeli children discuss these questions as well? Will they talk of the complex reality this “unification” has brought to city?
If only our elected officials and leaders would worry themselves less about symbols of power and control and less about enforcing collective identities, perhaps we could see the people who live beyond those walls that are a part of our lives, whether we want to admit it or not.
But where there are only symbols to talk of, eternity seems to be closer than ever (“Jerusalem is unified for ever and ever,” as the famous political Israeli saying goes). In this state of mind regular day-to-day human beings very rarely find their way into the curriculum.
This paper was originally published in Hebrew and Arabic in
Haokets online magazine.