Jerusalem Day, Part One.

This morning, as my Hebrew class was being led through a rousing rendition of Israel’s alternate national anthem Jerusalem of Gold, a song that praises the conquering of East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the shops in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City were beginning to close.

Today is Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – an annual Israeli holiday that commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem (pre-1967, East Jerusalem was ruled by the Jordanians and West Jerusalem by the Israelis) following Israel’s stunning victory during the Six Day War. This afternoon will see the “March of Flags”, an event where predominantly religious Zionists walk from downtown Jerusalem to the Old City. To give an idea of how religious many of the participants are, men and women participate in separate groups. They will drape themselves in Israeli flags and parade through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. There will be skirmishes, stone-throwing, and arrests. Some will inevitably yell racist slogans; “death to Arabs” has been a favorite in years past. There will be prayers and songs and they will dance the Hora in the alleyways of the Old City. Israeli police will accompany them and will quickly and efficiently quell any Palestinian counter-protests. And because all of this, residents of the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to stay indoors and close their shops “for their own safety”.

Yom Yerushalayim is a macabre show of ultra-nationalism; a celebration of Israel’s unwavering occupation of East Jerusalem.  For some it’s not enough to evict families and demolish homes in East Jerusalem. Some need to partake in the March of Flags and shut down Palestinian cafes and candy stores too.

Today, thousands will sing Naomi Shemer’s sugar-coated Jerusalem of Gold, but another song is more appropriate. Meir Ariel was a paratrooper who served in the Six Day War and was one of the soldiers who “liberated” the Old City. His experiences in the war inspired him to write a song criticizing the Israeli public’s ecstasy following the triumphant result of the war. He called it Jerusalem of Iron and borrowed the tune and structure of Shemer’s hit.

“Jerusalem of gold, and of light and of bronze,” Shemer sings, “I am the lute for all your songs.” Ariel’s version speaks of bereaved mothers and mortar shells. “Jerusalem of iron, of lead, of darkness…” Ariel counters.

There’s been a protest near the Old City organized by a group called “Jerusalem Won’t Tolerate Racism”, and I’m headed there now. More soon.

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