Seeing Past The Wall

guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon

For almost two decades, my relationship with the Western Wall, or Kotel as it’s known in Hebrew, has been deeply fraught. Having been raised in a religious Zionist family, I was taught as a child to revere “these stones that have the hearts of men” as sacred. But one year, when I was 15 years old, I had an experience at the Wall that changed all that.

It was the holiday of Shavuot and the custom in my hometown of Jerusalem, was for people to stay up all night studying Torah and then walk to the Kotel to pray at dawn. Having participated in an early prayer, I was on my way out of the plaza when I spotted a few dozen non-Orthodox men and women gathered in the parking lot. Before they were able to get very far into their egalitarian service, the group was surrounded by a jeering mob of ultra-Orthodox thugs who yelled insults and threw garbage and dirty diapers at them. I remember standing with the non-Orthodox group in solidarity until the police arrived and forced us to leave.

Today, I am no longer a religious Zionist. For the past four years I’ve been working on a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has upended the way I think about Israel, Zionism, and my own Jewish identity. Indeed, I now know that the Western Wall plaza is actually the site of a disturbing crime. A mere two days after capturing the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli military approached the residents of the Moroccan quarter, which ended just meters from the Western Wall, and asked them to leave. When they refused, their houses were demolished and they were expelled. More than one hundred Palestinian families were made homeless that day and at least one woman was killed during the demolitions. They were not the first Palestinians to be treated by the State of Israel in this manner and they would not be the last.

In a way, the internal Jewish dispute over who gets to pray at the Kotel is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The logical and just solution is for everyone to be able to share the space equally. But one group claims exclusive rights and uses the violence of the state as a vehicle to maintain its privilege there. The difficulties in achieving a just solution are not practical so much as they are psychological and emotional. Moreover, the problem is not the presence of Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshippers in the same space. The problem is the inequitable orientation of the police toward the two groups.

I’m hopeful that the latest proposal by Natan Sharansky to solve the problem of non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel will work. After all, most Israelis do recognize that Jews of different stripes have an equal right to pray at the Western Wall. And what a small step it would be to go from that to seeing the other half of the population living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, along with their brothers and sisters in exile, as having an equal right to share the land. Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from “the stones with hearts of men,” to “the men with hearts of stone.”

Eli Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is currently raising finishing funds through Kickstarter for his second feature-length documentary, A People Without a Land.

3 Responses to “Seeing Past The Wall”

  1. All I can say is that this guy is a complete fraud. All those houses built on the Western Wall Plaza were erected there so Jews could not pray there. The alley was used to abuse Jews so many times, it had to go. As for Palestinian, that’s a total misnomer. I am a Palestinian. Jewish Palestinian. My dad has a Palestinian ID card, so does my mother, and my wife’s parents. they are the only true palestinians. becuae only Jews wanted that ID, the Arabs were basically arabs, intgerlopers into the Holy Land.


    yuval Brandstetter MD · April 11th, 2013 at 11:59 am
  2. wow, that’s a lot of self-deception for a single paragraph. Really, those people built those little houses just for the Jews? Impressive.


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · April 11th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
  3. @Kol, will you also argue that mosques were built upon synagogues because there was nowhere else to build?

    One can take a progressive view of the conflict without revising the history of the Jews’ status of dhimmi. They were second-class citizens subject to discriminations, but especially to religious humiliation meant to illustrate to superiority of Islam to Judaism.

    Ignoring the unpleasant facts on only one side serves only to discredit your point of view.


    Dan Z · July 21st, 2013 at 9:41 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik