Shaalu Shalom Jerusalem Day
Sarah Brammer-Shlay is a rabbinical school student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She is currently living in Jerusalem.
Monday May 10 is Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim), the day that marks when Israel began its illegal occupation of East Jerusalem. Some will say this is a day where Jerusalem was unified, that it is a day to celebrate.
Over the past week the State conducted violence in East Jerusalem has been appalling and excessive in a way hard to find the accurate words to describe its horror.
Last week in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Palestinian families homes’ were raided, sprayed with tear gas and people were pushed out of their homes violently. A friend told me when police come in and raid these homes they often spray “skunk water” outside of the homes, which is essentially sewage water. It is common practice for police to use this in East Jerusalem in protests. Just two weeks ago it was used against Palestinians while Jewish fascists stormed through East Jerusalem yelling “death to Arabs.”
There has been a deadline enforced, delayed, enforced, delayed by the Supreme Court in Israel that will lead to the decision of whether or not Israel can officially evict families in Sheikh Jarrah who have lived in these homes for decades and decades. This deadline continues to be extended due to Palestinian and international resistance to this major injustice.
On Friday night, Israeli border police stormed Al Aqsa mosque as Muslims were praying during the last Friday of Ramadan. Police threw stun grenades inside the mosque as people prayed. Police shot rubber bullets at worshippers and Palestinians in the area. The latest report I heard said three people shot by rubber bullets lost an eye. I keep imagining what it would be like to be in the middle of prayers on Yom Kippur and have stun grenades thrown into the sanctuary. I would want to think the world would cry out in uproar. I would want to think that there would be a clear understanding of the immorality of this situation.
A few weeks ago I was at a protest in Sheikh Jarrah against the potential expulsion of the Palestinian families in this neighborhood. It was a calm protest until the border police showed up. Then in a matter of minutes the police began to beat non-violent protesters up, including Knesset Member Ofer Cassif. They began to throw stun grenade after stun grenade on a tiny street filled with protesters and a few cars. And they kettled us in making it impossible for us to leave. It was an overwhelming and scary experience. While this was happening the settlers who have already been successful in kicking other Palestinians out of the community were watching this violence from the border police, some with delight.
When I began to see the reality in front of my eyes in Jerusalem roughly a decade ago, things began to clarify for me. It was so easy to walk by Palestinian communities in Jerusalem or ignore them completely, and for me to only see Jerusalem as Jewish, as mine, as Israel’s. Once I understood the true ugliness of what was happening, I understood this was not only Jerusalem. This was happening all over this land. There was and is an organized attempt to push Palestinians out, to make it seem like they were never here. It is not settlers simply operating as individual agents, it is a plan crafted and orchestrated by the State.
Four years ago, I protested against the racist march that happens each year on Jerusalem Day, the March of Flags. As I’ve written about before, the border police assaulted me and others and broke my arm/elbow, causing me to need intensive arm surgery. I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t intense being in Jerusalem now, mentally preparing myself for that day four years later this upcoming Monday.
Each year on Jerusalem Day the border police walk through the old city and “sterilize” the place from Palestinians being there. That is the official term they use “sterilize.” As Jews, as humans we cannot deny the ethnic cleansing that is happening here when the State does it so obviously, when we simply open our eyes just a bit.
I find myself reflecting today on something we read in the Haggadah on Passover each year in the Four Children section. For the wicked child, we read that they are wicked because they distance themselves from the actions of their community. The Haggadah explains that the Wicked Child asks, “What does this ritual mean to you? To you and not to this child. Since this child withdraws from the community.” We learn from this that to be wicked is to withdraw, to think you are not involved, to rid yourself of responsibility. There has been a lot of reclaiming of the wicked child over the years, which I feel fine with because it in fact recognizes the humanness of the wicked child and recognizes that we could also fall into that role, it within the realm of possibility.
I can’t help but wonder what it would mean for Jews to understand the wickedness of the system in this land of Israel-Palestine. The wickedness of what it means to wake up each morning for 10 years and think you might be pushed out of your home. The wickedness of not being able to protest without reasonable fear of horrible violence. The wickedness of having COVID-19 vaccines denied to you, as your settler neighbors have theirs. The wickedness of your donkey being stolen by settlers and then the army supporting the settlers. Unfortunately the list of examples of State violence towards Palestinians goes on and on.
I acknowledge it can be painful to open your eyes to this wickedness. If I am being honest the pain does not go away but it takes on different forms. And the pain today for me is the deep sadness and disappointment I feel when my fellow Jews, act in the way of the wicked child; one who does not open their eyes enough to see they in fact are at that table having that conversation, that they too are involved.