And then my phone died. What happened afterwards was the scariest part of the day. The group of young Israeli marchers continued with these chants, and began to surge up towards the barrier, where Israeli police officers were separating them from the Palestinian photographers on the other side of the barrier. The Jerusalem Day marchers began throwing things at the Palestinian photographers, first just plastic water bottles, and then wooden flag poles, and then broken pieces of wooden flag poles. It felt like it was tottering on the brink. From what I saw, no one was severely hurt, but it was frightening (You can see video of this moment on Robby Berman’s Facebook page, and a friend noted that you can see me (looking befuddled and confused) at minute 2:26).
I understand the temptation that many have to write this off as a group of rowdy, obnoxious kids. But the essence of the matter is this: This is how the Jerusalem Day marches have looked every year that I’ve attended (2012, 2013, 2014 and yesterday). And yet the Israeli government still grants the marches permits to through the middle of Palestinian East Jerusalem, rather than finding a simple, alternative route to the Kotel. These kids are not the problem. They are swept up in an awful system, and it’s not hard to understand where they are coming from, even as I am crushed by their actions.
The problem is the policy.
The problem is that the Jerusalem Day marcher’s declaration of exclusive Jewish ownership of Jerusalem is in line with the Israeli government’s vision for our city.
May it never be so.
I’ll end with a poem that I originally wrote in the lead up to Jerusalem Day 2012: