Jerusalem is one of the strangest cities in the world. Let’s leave aside all the tourist promotion about “Jerusalem of Gold” and “a city holy to three religions.” And the Israeli claim that it is “Israel’s capital, eternal and undivided.” All that is window dressing for what Jerusalem really is. A city which has been fought over for thousands of years by scores of armies fighting on behalf of scores of religions and nations. It’s possible that over time more blood has been shed over the city than any other in the history of the world. And now, it is a city filled with hatred, with extremists eager to kill the Other. It is a city divided as few other cities in the world today are.
Frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth it. In David’s day it was a small city inhabited by Jebusites, who were eventually exterminated. Possibly, located high in the Judean desert, it made for a good defensive position. But how did it become what it is today: an icon of religious hatred and strife?
I question the ultimate point of all this suffering over this city, as someone who’s lived in Jerusalem, studied at its universities, worshiped at the Western Wall, shopped in its markets, walked its streets, davened at its shuls, spoken its language, celebrated its holidays. Nevertheless, I come back to my oft-repeated response to this veneration of the Holy City. Jews were never much for worshipping stones and ruins. Jews, especially those in the Diaspora, were far more taken up with finding modes of survival outside Israel.
Yes, of course our Prophets mourned the destruction of Jerusalem and the prayer-book offered meditations on the eternal role of the city in the heart of every Jew. But unlike Christians, until the early 20th century, there were no mass movements of return. That is why I’ve decided that the 21st century version of Jerusalem worship is a form of Judean pagan idolatry. This idol-worship divorces us as Jews from the values which enabled us to survive for so many centuries outside of Israel.
All of this is an introduction to the latest insanity griping Jerusalem. In the course of a few days, Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day, a holiday in which thousands of settlers march like Brown Shirts through Palestinian neighborhoods in the city, bellowing provocative racist chants and waving thousands of Israeli flags. It’s something like what a bad dog owner would do to train a dog not to take a dump on the rug: you rub their nose in it, as if that will somehow teach them you’re boss and must be obeyed.
The march they undertake through these non-Jewish neighborhoods is the Israeli equivalent of the alt-Right assault on Charlottesville. These settlers are Israel’s version of white supremacists. But unlike the latter, Israel’s settlers actually run the country. Its politicians serve their wishes and are at their beck and call. There are secular Jews, but their interests are swamped under a rising tide of religious fervor.
Among the lyrics these pagans chant: “”Avenge but one of my two eyes upon Palestine, may their name be wiped out.” I also feature a photo of a t-shirt sold to these marchers. It features a few brave settler lads toppling the Dome of the Rock, with a caption: “Sometimes, you’ve got to take your kippah [‘cap’ or ‘dome’] off.”
Such provocation doesn’t cow the Palestinians. Just the reverse, it spurs the next suicide bomber or knife attacker. The next time you hear of an Israeli soldier or settler killed or wounded, remember these videos, images and slogans. They are precisely why the cycle of violence never ends.
Adding the final insult to injury is the opening of the “new” U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The embassy isn’t new and isn’t really even an embassy at present. It’s the U.S. consulate and it’s actually not even built within the Green Line. It’s built on disputed territory, former Palestinian farmland and what was later considered No Man’s Land after 1948. It was conquered in 1967, when Israel ousted the Jordanians and took control of the city. But Israel refuses to recognize a formal border between Israel and Palestine. So, ironically, we’ve built our new embassy on territory that is at best disputed, and at ‘worst’ Palestinian land. But that shouldn’t surprise, because almost the entirety of the Israeli settler movement is based on such theft and usurpation of Palestine. One can even argue that Israel’s founding in 1948 based, as it was on the expulsion of 1-million Palestinians and the destruction of 400 of their villages, is the original usurpation. So why should the U.S. presence there be any different??
The opening prayer will be delivered on Monday by Dallas evangelical preacher, Robert Jeffress. He was invited because, of course, he’s a mainstay of FoxNews. There he rails against every major religion except his own:
[Jeffress] has referred to both Islam and Mormonism as “a heresy from the pit of hell.” He believes Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are all cults, and that Catholicism represents the “genius of Satan.” Jews, he believes, are going to hell. “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” he’s said. Islam, he said, “is a religion that promotes pedophelia, sex with children.” And in a statement sure to please the Israelis, he has compared the treatment of Christians in the United States to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews right before they launched the Final Solution program to exterminate them.
You can’t make this up. What’s astonishing is that Israel is welcoming to its midst a Christian evangelical anti-Semite; and doing so with open arms. If anyone questions the final morphing of Zionism into a movement that offers nothing but hate for Judaism, at least Diaspora Judaism, this should affirm the claim.
Israel has lit a powder keg of provocation and deliberately so. No Israeli leader has any appreciation of one of Newton’s laws: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Palestinians certainly will respond. Perhaps even Muslims around the world will respond. They will be outraged. They will hate Israel. They will probably hate Jews, because these settler Brown Shirts are marching less as Israelis and more as Jews, who seek to conflate the two statuses.
Last year, there was a Knife Intifada in which over 200 Palestinians were killed, many murdered by Israeli vigilantes and police. That commenced when Israel restricted Muslim worship at the Haram al Sharif. What do you think will happen now? That Palestinians will break out their picnic baskets and invite their Israeli friends to join them? No, of course there will be mayhem. There will be revenge.
An interesting side note regarding the [in]famous song, Jerusalem of Gold, by Israeli singer, Nomi Shemer. It takes its name from lyrics which implicitly refer to the Dome of the Rock, which shines like gold in virtually every tourist photo of the city. Ironically, this is the very gold dome which these heathen pogromists wish to destroy. Oops, no more Jerusalem of Gold. Instead, we’ll have Black Jerusalem, a city draped in sackcloth and ashes for the devastation committed in the name of God and religion. But that too, alas, is foretold in Biblical books like Lamentations.
H/t Ofer Neiman.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.