Multi-sided struggle for Jerusalem

The Jerusalem city council’s district planning committee on Dec. 28 approved plans for a large tourism complex in the flashpoint neighborhood of Silwan, just south of the Old City. The project is to be built on a plot of land currently being used as a parking lot opposite the Dung Gate, main entrance to the Western Wall and the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. It would be managed by Elad, a hardline settler organization, which runs the nearby archaeological site at David’s City. Local Palestinian activists protested the move. “This project aims to promote settler tourism and religious tourism,” said Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Silwan Defense Committee, who said the city had confiscated local land for the project. “This complex will change the character of the area and will emphasize the idea that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people—because it is a political project too.”

The complex would be higher than the Old City walls and would in some places block Silwan’s view of al-Aqsa mosque. Silwan is part of the so-called Holy Basin around the Old City, purported site of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the biblical kings David and Solomon. The neighborhood, built on the steep hillsides of the Kidron Valley, has seen regular clashes between locals and a 400-strong community of Jewish settlers living in their midst.

Earlier on Dec. 28, city councillors approved plans for another 130 housing units in Gilo, a settlement neighborhood which lies close to Bethlehem. (AFP, Dec. 28)

On Dec. 26, dozens of haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) hurled stones at policein the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh after officers had removed public signs calling for segregation between men and women in the city. Some haredim called police “Nazis.” There were no reports of injury. (YNet, Dec. 26)

The following day, some 4,000 participated in a rally in Beit Shemesh against gender segregation and violence against women by haredi extremists. The rally was held near a religious girls school attended by 8-year-old American immigrant Na’ama Margolis, who was featured in an Israeli TV news program, saying she was afraid to walk to school following harassment by local haredi men. She said haredi spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.” (JTA, AP, Dec. 27)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch after the Beit Shemesh controversy, asking him to instruct the police to take decisive action against the exclusion of women from Israel’s public sphere. LHe also spoke with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, inquiring whether laws regarding the inclusion of women in Israel’s municipalities were being enforced. (Ha’aretz, Dec. 24)

In another case of slugfests at holy sites, on Dec. 28, around 100 priests hurled brooms at each other in Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity as they were cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas. The outburst, broken up by baton-wielding Palestinian police, broke out as the Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics, who each control a portion of the church along with Roman Catholics, got into the scuffle over a “turf war.” The BBC reported that the 1,700-year-old church is in decrepit shape because priests can’t agree on who should be footing the bill for its repair. (Ianyan, BBC News, Dec. 28)

See our last post on the struggle for Jerusalem.

  1. More “price tag” attacks in Jerusalem
    Two Palestinian-owned vehicles were torched in East Jerusalem early Wednesday morning, police said. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an that “price tag” and “revenge” were sprayed near the burnt out vehicles in Sharafat, a Palestinian village near Gilo settlement. (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 4)

  2. Ethnic cleansing in Acre?
    Arab families and their supporters have erected a small tent camp outside Old Acre’s Khan al-Umdan district to protest their eviction from an apartment building by Israel’s state-owned Amidar Company. Amidar says the eviction is to allow for the building to be renovated and made safe for its residents. But the residents suspect that Amidar, the Old Acre Development Company and the Israel Lands Authority want to evict as many Arab families as possible for the benefit of developers and potential buyers, mostly Jews and foreigners. (Ha’aretz, Jan. 3)

  3. Israel’s Military Rabbinate erases Dome of the Rock
    Israel’s Military Rabbinate released an educational document ahead of the Hanukkah holiday last month, featuring a photo of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—with the Dome of the Rock digitally removed. The photo was featured in a packet prepared by the Rabbinate and issued to Israel Defense Forces bases, entitled “The Festival of Jewish Heroism.” The photo was brought to the attention of Ha’aretz newspaper by a reserve officer who received the material.

    The IDF Spokesman’s Office said “the Dome of the Rock did not exist at that time, so there was no need for it to appear in the picture.” The anonymous reserve officer countered that “the Military Rabbinate to be more alert about the educational messages it passes on, especially considering the Temple Mount’s history… A world war could break if someone would try to do something about that place, and I think they should be more cautious when approaching the subject.” (Ha’aretz, Jan. 5)

  4. Rick Santorum: West Bank is “part of Israel”
    The New York Times’ The Lede blog notes Jan. 5 that Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told a man in Iowa six weeks ago that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. They’re not Palestinians—there is no Palestinian—this is Israeli land.”

    A video of the exchange, which was recorded by CNN, shows that Santorum responded to a question about whether or not Israel “should dismantle its settlements” by suggesting that the West Bank was as much a part of Israel as Texas and New Mexico are part of the United States. The entire territory, Santorum added, “is legitimately Israeli country,” so Israelis “have a right to build things based upon their ownership of that land.”

  5. As if apartheid weren’t bad enough…
    File under “WTF?” Gender segregation at a government ceremony? Huh? From the New York Times, Jan. 14:

    Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women
    JERUSALEM — In the three months since the Israeli Health Ministry awarded a prize to a pediatrics professor for her book on hereditary diseases common to Jews, her experience at the awards ceremony has become a rallying cry.

    The professor, Channa Maayan, knew that the acting health minister, who is ultra-Orthodox, and other religious people would be in attendance. So she wore a long-sleeve top and a long skirt. But that was hardly enough.

    Not only did Dr. Maayan and her husband have to sit separately, as men and women were segregated at the event, but she was instructed that a male colleague would have to accept the award for her because women were not permitted on stage.

    Though shocked that this was happening at a government ceremony, Dr. Maayan bit her tongue. But others have not, and her story is entering the pantheon of secular anger building as a battle rages in Israel for control of the public space between the strictly religious and everyone else.

    At a time when there is no progress on the Palestinian dispute, Israelis are turning inward and discovering that an issue they had neglected — the place of the ultra-Orthodox Jews — has erupted into a crisis.

    And it is centered on women.

    “Just as secular nationalism and socialism posed challenges to the religious establishment a century ago, today the issue is feminism,” said Moshe Halbertal, a professor of Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University. “This is an immense ideological and moral challenge that touches at the core of life, and just as it is affecting the Islamic world, it is the main issue that the rabbis are losing sleep over.”

    The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women’s health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.

    Public discourse in Israel is suddenly dominated by a new, high-toned Hebrew phrase, “hadarat nashim,” or the exclusion of women. The term is everywhere in recent weeks, rather like the way the phrase “male chauvinism” emerged decades ago in the United States.