Jerusalem Day: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While the United States is condemning Israel’s national Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for his visit to the Temple Mount on Sunday, some Israelis were busy themselves stretching out the one-day holiday of Jerusalem Day to an entire weekend of marches, flags and chants which have blurred from celebratory to downright ugly and racist. 

I covered the march for The Media Line (TML) on Thursday (read/watch here) and ventured with a cameraman to Damascus Gate. There we were approached by multiple Jewish teens who noted we were press and asked, “Are you left wingers?” (Press=left, no other possibility!)

Not sure if that would be worse than Arab because later another teen – he was 14 – asked where we were from. I assumed he meant where TML is based and so I responded, “America.”

“Oh, then you’re lucky,” he said.

“Why am I lucky I’m from America?” I asked.

“Because if you were Arab…” and he trailed off with some menacing hand gestures. 

I had just witnessed swarms of these young people throwing glass bottles, rocks and cans at a line up of journalists (visibly “Arab” because one of the women was wearing a hijab”) standing in a sealed off section to the side of Damascus Gate. 

Sticks and stones, as you know the saying. But the words were also biting:

“Burn your villages! We will burn your villages.”

“Arabs are sons of bitches.”

“Death to Arabs.”

Of course, this is the reason the journalists were there. In recent years, this holiday – meant to celebrate Israeli pride at capturing the Western Wall and the eastern side of the city, uniting it under the Jewish state – has turned into a provocative and combative time.

Whether it is rockets, as was the case in 2021 and led to an 11-day conflagration between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, or “simple” threats, the rhetoric and, well, hate on this day is palpable. 

What is most surprising is the young people who carry this hate. To be clear, they are not representative of everyone. Many more would condemn their language and actions. But they are hundreds, maybe thousands, of boisterous and driven teens who paraded through the Old City, and they are forming what we call “the next generation.”

Hundreds to thousands of teens who use language that in America would get them canceled, sidelined or arrested in a split second.

And it didn’t end with Jerusalem Day.

On Saturday – the Jewish sabbath – hundreds more teens, most of them female, marched through the Old City. We sat there outside Mardig’s Grocery in the Armenian Quarter, one of the main thoroughfares to the Western Wall, as they sang at the top of their lungs. The singing almost invariably turned to chants.

“Burn your villages! We will burn your villages,” they singsonged as if it was a casual everyday mantra while looking at those of us milling outside the store. As if they even know who we are and if we have any villages to burn.

During one of these tirades, someone in the group – perhaps the “responsible” one – redirected their singing to “Am Yisrael chai” – the people of Israel live. 

On Sunday, Ben Gvir visited to the Temple Mount because, as a Jew, he believes he should be able to visit the holiest site in Judaism. This, of course, stirs the pot, angering the Palestinians, other Muslim nations and drawing condemnations from abroad because a minister of the Israeli government is about to upset the “status quo.”

And then he speaks, as the national security minister, about exerting Israel’s authority. 

“We are in charge here,” Ben Gvir declared. “I am happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Jewish people,” … “prove who is in charge in Jerusalem.”

But the very language of “we are in charge” has been the mission statement carried by the parading teens who threaten Arabs, left wingers and any “others” with burning their villages, if not worse.

As for those who will note the hatred emanating from the Palestinians, I didn’t get a chance to see or speak with any since the police kept the Old City sealed in order to prevent confrontations. 

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