On the cusp of a slippery slope

In spite of what you see on the news, I still feel quite safe in Jerusalem. However, I’m not crazy and I won’t be reporting live from the Temple Mount.

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Unless you’ve been too wrapped up in the drama at the White House, you might have noticed that the Temple Mount has been in the news lately.  This post won’t be a point by point explanation of that, nor will I get into all the vitriol.  The salient facts are:

  • On July 14, two Druze border police officers were gunned down near the Lions’ Gate by terrorists who had homemade guns hidden in the compound of the Temple Mount aka the Haram al Sharif.
  • Jews consider the Temple Mount the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims consider the Haram al Sharif the third holiest site in Islam.
  • Jews and other non-Muslims are only allowed to enter through one gate and I believe they have to go through security (it’s been a long time since I’ve been there). Muslims have access to several gates and undergo spot checks at most.
  • Israel is responsible for the security and the Waqf, a Jordanian organization, administers the site. So when Israel put up security measures (metal detectors and cameras), the Waqf refused to enter and called on all Muslims to boycott the site.
  • Muslims prayed outside the compound, but it was not all “Kumbaya” and strumming guitars in the name of peace, love, and understanding.
  • Israel took down all the security measures and the Waqf still was not satisfied and Palestinian leaders were calling for a “day of rage.” But as of this writing on Friday, prayers on the Temple Mount ended peacefully – though there were plenty of clashes elsewhere.
  • I’m leaving out the attack on the Israeli embassy in Jordan, and the murders of three family members by a knife-wielding terrorist in their house, among other things, which are apparently directly linked to the anger about the security measures.

I’d like to jump out of the 24-hour news cycle and try to look at the big picture.  I’ve written about the UNESCO decisions before (here and here) and I continue to be troubled.

  • I finally found the hundreds of pages of documentation on the Hebron decision and in skimming them, I did not find anything that was blatantly false. One questionable element was that Hebron is in a country called Palestine.

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  • Israel is always slamming these decisions of World Heritage Sites in Danger and I wondered how sites get nominated. Why doesn’t Israel nominate sites?
    • I found out that a state that has signed on to the World Heritage Convention can nominate sites within its boundaries. Both Israel and Palestine are states that are recognized to have signed on to the convention.
    • That means that in spite of Israel’s Knesset law annexing and unifying Jerusalem, Jordan is the nominating country for the Old City of Jerusalem (though it is listed without a country).
    • In that case, Hebron should technically also be nominated by Jordan, yet the documentation shows that it is nominated by “Palestine.”
    • Alternatively, shouldn’t either one of the parties disputing the territory be allowed to nominate?
    • In both cases, Jerusalem and Hebron are not recognized as being in Israel.
  • The Hebron decision, by the way, was schedule for next year, but they moved it to this year under special circumstances. It seems like UNESCO is de facto recognizing that Hebron is in the boundaries of a country called Palestine, thus recognizing both the country and its general borders.  They also recognize Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Battir as part of Palestine too.  As far as I know, there has not yet been a final status agreement between the parties on where the borders would be should Palestine be created in the disputed territory on the west bank of the Jordan River.

Jerusalem and its Walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger.  In skimming the conservation report for 2017 prepared by Jordan and Palestine for UNESCO, Israel is accused of breaking the “status quo” all the time.  So two weeks ago, putting in security measures violated the status quo, which is a strict constructionist view of how to maintain the status quo.  The security measures weren’t there in 1967, thus they should not be there now.  Security is trumped by the politics of the status quo.

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Screen capture from the conservation report

Here’s my final point about the status quo and why we have to be so much more diligent about paying attention to UNESCO.  Buried in a footnote on page 39 of the conservation report is this:

Under the terms of the Status Quo on holy sites, a decree fixed the Ottoman Sultan in 1757 and codified in more detail by a British government Commission in 1922, 1929 and 1933 the Wall is a Muslim Waqf property and the Waqf owns the Buraq Wall and the Buraq Plaza in front of the wall. In these decrees, Jews have the right to stand on the pavement in front of it and pray. (Emphasis added.)

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This is what is considered the “status quo.”

So according to documents accepted by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization – Jerusalem is not in Israel, the Cave of the Patriarchs is an excellent example of first century CE architecture, and the Western Wall is the western wall of the compound of the Haram al Sharif. Oh, and Jews and Christians might have some connections there.

By the way, next week is Tisha B’Av, a day on the Hebrew calendar that marks the destruction of both Temples among other major tragedies for the Jewish people.  I guess we’ll have to see what happens next Tuesday.

Links for more information

Breakdown of what’s happening on the Temple Mount – op-ed.

Old City of Jerusalem listed under Jerusalem – not under any country – and noted that it is nominated by Jordan.

Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town listed in Palestine.

 

Jerusalem Light Festival

This week I took two evenings to sprint through the Jerusalem Light Festival.  I’m always so proud of Jerusalem and especially our city administration for coming up with interesting and fun cultural events.

This year’s walking paths for the Light Festival went from the southern-facing Zion Gate up to the northern-facing Damascus Gate (yes, the infamous Damascus Gate).  Tours within the Old City meandered through the Christian quarter and the Jewish quarter.  It felt to me like there was an attempt to tie the two halves of the city together, but it didn’t quite work.  I saw quite a few Arabs and a few Jews and tourists when I ventured to the Damascus Gate, but the main crowds were to the south and I saw many Arabs, Jews and tourists there too.

Let me just say something also about the crowds.  The phrases “sweaty crush of humanity,” “barbarian horde,” “madding crowd,” and “oppressive multitudes” come to mind.  I’m getting flashbacks of mosh pits from my university days, but not in a good way.  It’s as if you plan for an elegant reception with light refreshments and the guests come bringing all their friends. They are ravenous, eat everything in sight with both hands and then demand more.

Still, I’m glad that Jerusalem is putting in the effort.  Now the crowds just need to do the same.  Here are a few lovely highlights from as much of the Light Festival as I could bear.

Damascus Gate as a platform for other gates.

A film presentation on the wall near Jaffa Gate.  It used the texture and shape of the walls to make the film more dynamic.  Well done!

Explorations of light that have nothing to do with the walls.

The walls as a platform and, if you look closely,
the crush of humanity, I mean, people enjoying the festival.

 

Jerusalem of Light

Signs of summer are starting to show up in Jerusalem.  The city put up these fun mini-umbrellas on Yoel Solomon Street.

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Later in the evening I stepped out again to see the mini-light show on the walls of the Old City.

And then I walked through Mamilla on the way home.  And it was crowded!  It seemed to be an equal mix of Jews, Arabs and tourists.

The crowds are worth pointing out.  A week ago, a young police officer was killed by a terrorist at Damascus Gate, a northern gate.  Mamilla is near Jaffa Gate, a western gate.  They aren’t that far apart with only the Christian and Muslim Quarters separating them from each other.  Also, it’s Ramadan.  And yet – it’s nearly 10pm and the streets are full.

Jerusalem is beautiful at night and I’m so glad that our mayor and the city council have made it both possible and aesthetically pleasing to be out and about in the city.  We don’t quake in fear in the face of terrorism.  The minute we do, they win.

Jerusalem is known as the city of light.  And for good reason!

Next week we will host the “Light Festival, Jerusalem,” so expect more pictures of the beautiful walls of the Old City from Zion Gate in the south up to Damascus Gate in the north featuring light installations by artists from all around the world.

It’s my pleasure to be the messenger

As I was walking to the Western Wall this morning it occurred to me that I live in one of the most special places on earth.  The Old City of Jerusalem is just part of my neighborhood, so I often forget to take a moment and enjoy my surroundings.

After a rainy and cold week, the sun was shining this morning.  It was the perfect day to deliver a small note to the Western Wall on behalf of a friend and take the opportunity to say a few words of gratitude for all the blessing I have in my life.

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A note for a friend (the blue-green one)

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Looking up

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Panorama

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Recent excavation at the Western Wall Plaza of a Roman era street

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Tower of David, Jaffa Gate

Oh, Jerusalem

Today is Inauguration Day in the US.  In Israel, it’s just an ordinary Friday.  We’re running our weekly errands and preparing ourselves for Shabbat or other weekend plans.

US voters in Israel tend to vote for the president on one issue and one issue alone: how will the next president relate to Israel.  It’s a variation on the punch line, “yes, but is it good for the Jews?”  This is understandable.  We human beings care about our immediate surroundings, our families, and our close friends.  If it doesn’t affect us personally, then it’s more of an “out there” issue and not an “in here” issue.

Israel, it turns out, has the same opinion.  I ran across a video from Mayor Nir Barkat asking citizens of Jerusalem to welcome President Donald Trump as a friend and to sign a letter supporting the decision to move the US embassy to the undivided capital of Israel, Jerusalem.  I’ve spoken to other Israelis and they agree with our mayor.  I don’t think this is a minority opinion.

(It’s 1 minute and subbed in English.)

As great as Trump may be for Israel, I feel that Israel may be a bit narrow in its view and possibly short-sighted.  Leaving peace negotiations aside and all the problems in the Middle East (yes, I can do that!), if a person is insulting the leadership of other countries, nominating a cabinet that seems to be unqualified for their positions, and is divisive in his own nation – is that person actually good for Israel?

I would have to research it more, but it seems similar to Israel being one of the few countries that had dealings with South Africa at the height of Apartheid when all other countries were boycotting South Africa.  The rationale was that Israel had so few friends in the world.  Is that the case today?  Many, many Israelis would say it absolutely is.

Well, I’m not a political analyst, so I don’t know what will happen.  It remains to be seen.

I still like our mayor – he’s done a lot of great things for Jerusalem – but since I’m already questioning him, I have another complaint.

I don’t drive in Israel.  I have a license, but I don’t enjoy the experience and I live in a place where parking is almost non-existent.  It’s a lifestyle choice.  But this week, I had an unbelievable experience in traffic.

MFA was driving and I’m glad she was and not me.  I don’t know if I could have handled it.  After lunch one day, we got into the car to drive the 5-10 minutes to my house.  We got on a main road and saw that it was clearly rush hour, but still, it was only about a mile, traffic should be moving, right?  Nope.

trafficThis is our route and the traffic situation as I write this post.

This main road runs under the walls of the Old City, so it’s impossible to turn off onto a side street – there are no side streets – so you are stuck.

On the way, in the opposite lane, we saw a guy violently pop his car up on a curb, leave his wife in the car, and forcibly pull another guy out of his van to let him know how much he disliked his driving.  That was tense.  Luckily, they got back into their cars and went on – whew, no fisticuffs.

We finally get to the left turn we need to take and MFA is careful not to block traffic in the intersection too much since we can’t quite get all the way into the next street.  Then we’re stuck there for a good long while.  We move about a foot in 10 or 15 minutes.

A young woman edges up close to us as if she wants to get into our lane.  This seems totally bizarre because there is no reason for her to get into our lane right here and she’s blocking cars behind her as well as merging traffic from the other side. People, including a bus driver, get out of their vehicles to yell at her and she just shrugs her shoulders at them.  Some – who are not blocked by her – are laughing because this girl clearly just doesn’t care at all.

The car in front of us moves a bit and MFA decides to be nice and let the girl in because it should loosen up all the traffic that she’s blocking.  And this girl, this crazy, crazy girl, cuts across the lane to MAKE A U-TURN!!!  She’s blocked by traffic going the other way that won’t let her in.  And at the same time, ANOTHER CRAZY GIRL taps the back of the first girl’s car and swerves around her TO ALSO MAKE A U-TURN!!!

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In our car, we are both screaming.  WTF!!!

When we get to the end of the street we see that many of the problems here stem from double-parked tour buses and people blocking traffic as they try to get into the parking garage.  After we passed the last entrance to the parking garage, there was not a car in sight!  Nothing.  Completely clear roads.

I’m sure I should care about the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, but to be honest, I think a bigger issue is this stupid traffic and selfish drivers.  Yeah, I probably seem to have narrow vision and may be short-sighted, but I’ll tell you what: When the sun is setting and the colors are changing on the gorgeous walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, I don’t want to feel murderous rage toward my fellow human beings who don’t care at all about anyone else around them.

No matter what Trump’s relationship with Israel is, he’s not going to fix traffic.

Dear Mr. Mayor, I know you need to have vision and see the big picture, but I’m too embarrassed about this traffic situation to want anyone to visit, much less move the embassy!!  Fix this first!!

Dire Straits Experience in the Sultan’s Pool

This week I had the absolute pleasure of seeing the Dire Straits Experience at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem (with thanks to my friend LC for suggesting it).

I didn’t remember all the songs (and to be fair, I’m not a die-hard Dire Straits fan). But the Mark Knopfler feel was there – the voice, the guitar solos, the unique style.  One of the members of the Dire Straits Experience was in Dire Straits and mentioned that the last time he was in Jerusalem was in 1985 and he was so glad to be back in this special city.

The last time I saw a concert in the Sultan’s Pool was also in 1985.  I went with my cousin to see a popular Israeli band, Mashina.  I was so impressed that my aunt bought me the record (and yes, I do mean the LP vinyl black round thing you play on a record player).  There was a US kids group too, but I don’t remember anything about them.  Most everyone was there to see Mashina.

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We don’t get a lot of big names in Jerusalem.  We only just upgraded our stadium, but I’m not sure anyone really wants to play in it because Jerusalem is complicated.  Louis C.K. recently came to Jerusalem for a show, but his comedy tends to be complicated and we have a lot more native English speakers in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv.

We have more small venues.  One of the best is the Sultan’s Pool.  In ancient times, it was a reservoir and in fact, an arch with a faucet and an inscription in Arabic still stands to remind us of the history.  Now it’s an open-air amphitheater under the walls of the Old City.

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Between ancient times and modern times, or more specifically, between 1948 and 1967, the Sultan’s Pool was no-man’s-land.  Jordanian snipers sat on the walls of the Old City and guarded the border that ran through the valley.

I think it’s interesting that the Sultan’s Pool is the top of the valley called Guy Ben Hinnom.  Slurring the words together you get the vocalization of “gehinom” or the Jewish equivalent of purgatory.  The Bible mentions the valley (guy) of Ben Hinnom as a place of child sacrifice (II Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31 and 32:35).  And yes, from 1948 to 1967, the border (aka the Green Line) ran through this valley.

The saxophonist, who had played with Dire Straits in Jerusalem in 1985, mentioned that they’ve played in many different countries in a variety of political situations, but it was music that brought everyone together.  And he’s right.  Today, we’ve turned the no-man’s-land gehinom into a valley filled with music.

Here’s a video of a few collected clips that I took at the concert.  The quality isn’t great, but it gives you the experience of the Experience.  At the very end, I passed a street musician – a haredi guitarist – and it sounded like he had been inspired by the concert.

I was far away from the stage – and now I’m a little bit sad that they didn’t play “So Far Away.”

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Concerts today – pictures of people taking pictures/video with their phones!

Still the light show was fun!  The noise curfew is at 11:00pm and so after 2.5 hours, we said Good Night to the Dire Straits Experience.

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“So Far Away” – Dire Straits

“Next Year in Jerusalem!”

next year in jlemFor Passover in 2001, I was in Israel volunteering at Kibbutz Maagan Michael and I had an invitation to a Passover Seder in Jerusalem.  I think for most people, they just say “Next Year in Jerusalem!” at the end of the Seder as part of tradition with no intention whatsoever of being in Jerusalem the next year.  For me, it had long been my secret wish to have Passover in Jerusalem.  It was less a Zionist imperative and more “I’ve been saying it for years and now I’m going to do it!”  And wouldn’t it be amazing to fulfill that dream?

So here it is April 2001 and I am actually going to be in Jerusalem for the Seder.  This is it!  Dream fulfilled!  I came to Jerusalem for the Shabbat before Passover – known as Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat).  On Saturday, I had lunch in the home of a religious family who lived in the Old City.  The family spoke very little English and my friend and I were there only there to meet the son (a friend of my friend, both of them were named Yair, which was a little confusing) who was going to walk with us around the Jewish quarter and take us to the Western Wall.  We hadn’t actually planned to have lunch, but our timing was a little off and they were just sitting down, so they invited us to join them.  So with my extremely limited knowledge of Hebrew, I listened to the conversation and the prayers and found that I could pick out a few words.  One of the phrases I remember hearing is Shabbat HaGadol.

There were at least eight of us at the lunch.  The food was excellent and filling.  The conversation flowed in Hebrew, and the two Yairs filled in some of the gaps for me.  And then it happened.  The idea of fulfilling my secret wish, actually being at the center of Judaism here in the Old City, and sitting at a Shabbat lunch surrounded by Hebrew simply overwhelmed me.  My eyes welled with tears.  And then one slipped out and rolled down my cheek.  I was embarrassed, but after the first one, there’s really no stopping them.  I wasn’t crying exactly.  It was really more like my emotional cup was overflowing and it came out of eyes in salty tears.

The family and my friends sitting around the table let it happen like it was the most normal thing in the world, as if everyone who comes to Shabbat lunch on Shabbat HaGadol leaks tears all over the table.  The embarrassment was my own, but it only lasted a short while, because no one seemed to mind.  They noticed, but saw that it was because I was washed over with emotion, not because I was sad.  I did explain afterwards through translation that it was because sitting there in that moment represented a secret wish fulfilled.  It was next year and I was in Jerusalem!

The story of my tears became sort of a legend in the family.  I spent other holidays with them – without all the tears.  But they always remembered that I was the one who cried at their table and by the next Passover, I had turned my life inside out and upside down and moved to Israel.