The first time I went to Israel was over Yom Kippur. I was staying in Jerusalem over the holiday in a bed and breakfast near the bus station, and when the sun went down and all was quiet I went out and walked the streets and over the Bridge of Strings with the entire city to myself, cutting down the middle of the road in the direction of where the traffic would have been, listening to the sounds of a city at peace with itself. The next day I went down to the Old City, to the churches and the Western Wall, and also to the Mount of Olives to survey Jerusalem. This photograph is from the walk back, taken in the afternoon, the streets still empty of traffic and people save one cyclist and a lone walker.
What began then as a piece of poor planning on my part, with the museums and shops and restaurants closed, actually turned into an essential and unique experience, for me at least. It was a moment when, arguably, I was seeing Israel express itself as a homeland for the Jewish people and as a Jewish state most fully, totally. To then go to Tel Aviv the next day or the day after that, to see the normal and the every day but also the warmth and gaiety and carefree, was to see the other half of it. It was to see the divide between the two cities heightened. These contrasting expressions of Zionism are ones I cannot forget.
Today, Barkat’s prized Zionist sector is still in the minority, with more Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem than secular and Modern Orthodox Jews. But at least that minority is finally growing—“we’re opening 27 new kindergartens in the Zionist sector this September”—and not shrinking as it was under his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski. When I raised the possibility that perhaps the negative migration was affected by the Second Intifada, Barkat seemed taken aback. “There’s no direct correlation,” he said. “The changes had nothing to do with security. We’re focusing on the positive. It’s about marketing Jerusalem. Take the events in the Old City,”—he said, in reference to festivals, sponsored by the municipality, that draw thousands. “They boosted the return of the public there. It’s better now than it was before the Intifada.”
“Of course he was lucky,” said Nir Hasson, who covers the Jerusalem beat for Haaretz. “Lucky for the separation fence that effectively ended the threats to the city. Lucky for five years of relative prosperity. And lucky for the light rail that Olmert initiated in a very unpopular move, whose installation took forever and made everyone miserable. The day he took office, Barkat hinted he might even do away with it, but in the end he was more than happy to be the one cutting the ribbon.”
Barkat may have been lucky, but he has remarkably few vocal critics. “Jerusalem doesn’t need a complicated philosopher king, but someone who knows how to get things done,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and longtime Jerusalemite. Halevi thinks Barkat is the best man on the job since Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s legendary and much-loved mayor and master-builder, whose reign lasted for almost 30 years (1965-1993). “What he’s accomplished is phenomenal. He’s succeeded in promoting a vision of a modern Jerusalem, using culture as a vehicle, without rousing the ultra-Orthodox against him in an organized way. He’s brought large numbers of secular Israelis to Jerusalem, if not to live here than at least to visit, and that’s a tremendous first step.”
When Amos Oz was eight, he was a witness to the birth of a new nation.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, thus allowing for the possibility of a Jewish state there. As Oz describes in his poetic, wandering memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, it was after midnight when on Amos Street, his “faraway street on the edge of Kerem Avraham in northern Jerusalem,” shouts first of terror then of unadulterated joy “tore through the darkness and the buildings and trees”. Oz, who had been listening to the vote on the radio, ran out into the throng and sat upon his father’s shoulders as they danced into the night, singing Zionist songs and weeping at the prospect of Israel’s rebirth.
At around three or four in the morning, Oz crawled into bed fully dressed. His father lay beside him, and proceeded to tell him of life in the old country, how in Odessa and Vilna he and his brother were bullied, harassed, and attacked. Henceforth, Oz’s father said to him in the dimness, “‘From the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. For ever.’” This is the only time in Oz’s life, not even when his mother passed, that he saw his father cry.
Then, at seven o’clock on November 30, just three hours after all of Jewish Jerusalem had emptied to celebrate partition, shots were fired at a Jewish ambulance that was transiting through an Arab neighbourhood. What commenced was what amounted to a civil war, running in the months between the UN vote and Israel’s declaration of independence. Jerusalem became cut off from Tel Aviv: the schools closed; food and oil was rationed; and Oz recollects the stone houses in Kerem Avraham shaking as the shells landed around them.
The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, had called for calm, but in the end the scene at Women of the Wall’s monthly visit on Friday morning was far from it. As Judy Maltz and Yair Ettinger report inHa’aretz, thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators turned up to picket and try and block Women of the Wall from worshipping as they deem fit:
The demonstrators jeered at the women as they prayed, some throwing water bottles and chairs in their direction. Dozens of riot police were on hand to separate them from the women’s prayer group and they grew increasingly violent. After the women exited Dung Gate, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators ambushed them with rocks.
…Several young seminary girls questioned by Ha’aretz said that they had come to the Western Wall because they were told to do so. One young woman, named Rachel, who refused to provide her last name or the name of her seminary, said she had come to protest women praying in the men’s section. Women of the Wall, however, do not pray in the men’s section, but in the women’s section.
Rabbi Aaron Frank, the principal of Beth Tefiloh, a modern Orthodox day school in Baltimore, said he had just “come to daven” at the Western Wall with a few of his students. But when a group of ultra-Orthodox noticed him being interviewed by a foreign TV crew, they began shouting in his direction: “You are a Reform Christian. You are a Muslim. You are the pope.”
This is shameful. The Western Wall belongs not to one Jew, nor one strand of Judaism — it is the collective property of all Jews: secular, Liberal, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox. It must be possible for haredi Jews to pray as they wish, and for Women of the Wall to do the same, without the two coming into conflict.
The onus, in this instance, is on the haredim: it is about time they acknowledge, at least in the public sphere, that there more than one way to be Jew. This begins with refraining from calling Jews who aren’t ultra-Orthodox goyim, and ending these brash displays of verbal and physical intimidation at the Wall and on the street. At the moment, their words and actions not only undermine religious pluralism in Israel, but the few gathered at the Wall today threaten the haredi community more widely, particularly given that their privileged position is evermore being called into question. The haredi community — known for its charity and dedication to study — is better than this.
Perhaps to clarify: It is not that one Jew does not have the right to tell the other how to be a Jew from time to time. To assert to the contrary would be a threat to discourse and argumentation, and evolution of thought and religious practice. Better to say, then, that while it is fine for one to Jew tell the another how to be a good Jew, they do not have to heed that advice, and should not be forced to do so, either.
President Obama made the fullest and most complete case for peace and the two-state solution that I have heard from any world leader today in his speech in Jerusalem. Touching on the legacies of Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, and drawing on the work of Ariel Sharon and the novelist David Grossman, Obama told Israeli students that peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.
On the necessity of peace:
I believe that peace is the only path to true security. You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
There are other factors involved. Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war, because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm.
And this truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab world. I understand that with the uncertainty in the region, people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of nonsecular parties in politics, it’s tempting to turn inward because the situation outside of Israel seems so chaotic. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve and commitment for peace, because as more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders — those days are over.
President Obama will land in at Ben Gurion International Airport at around noon on Wednesday, March 20, where he will be greeted by President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to an official welcome at the president’s residence. Hereafter, he will go to Yad Vashem in order to lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.
Thereafter, Obama will visit Mount Herzl, where he will lay wreathes on the tombs of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin.
In the afternoon, Obama will conduct meetings with Netanyahu and various delegations in order to discuss the security situation in the region as well as the peace process. After a press conference, Obama and Netanyahu will take supper together, along with their staffs.
It is important from time to time to check in Mondoweiss just to confirm my suspicions. It is necessary to make sure that it is still, as someone put it to me the other day, the Washington Free Beacon of the left: an ideological organ masquerading as a news organisation. After all, just because Mondoweiss has suggested in the recent past that Tel Aviv is a ghetto and the embodiment of the failed Zionist dream, that Hanukkah celebrates murder and blood lust, and that the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel is a Court Jew, doesn’t mean they will go on saying these outrageous things forever, right?
I needn’t have worried. Thankfully, Mondoweiss remains a kind of gift that keeps on giving — or, a foul-tasting dinner that keeps on repeating. First, on January 10, Tom Suarez wrote what was supposed, I imagine, to be a cartographic history of the conflict over Jerusalem. Not that it worked out that way:
The capital of Israel is and always has been Tel Aviv.
Hardly a good note to begin on. The seat of government has been in the west of Jerusalem since December 1949 and thus is the de facto capital of Israel. Tel Aviv was the seat of power for a brief period between May 1948 and December 1949 until the shift towards Jerusalem. That said, it remains host to the world’s embassies and consulates, until such a time as the final status of Jerusalem is resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians (who will receive the Arab neighbourhoods as their capital). But, do carry on:
The 1947 UN Partition Resolution that created the Israeli state stipulated that Jerusalem would be an open, international city administered by the UN. But like the Partition itself, this was not to be: Zionist forces quickly seized most of the city, with both David Ben-Gurion and his political nemesis Menachem Begin vowing never to relinquish it, and Jordan’s Abdullah I taking East Jerusalem and the West Bank in exchange for delaying any Arab defense.
I’m always concerned by people who use the formulation “Zionist forces” as opposed to, say, Israeli troops or in this context the Haganah, but that isn’t the most egregious error here. As Suarez wilfully ignores, the implementation of the United Nations’ Partition Plan was made impossible by Arab nations’ refusal to recognise it as valid. Israeli forces did indeed push eastward towards Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli War, a conflict initiated by an attempt by five Arab states, Palestinian forces, and other mercenaries and volunteers from across the Middle East to destroy the Yishuv and the nascent State of Israel.
A community in the grips of a moral panic will, as a rule, first target its misfits. All who have been arrested or questioned by police in Nahlaot are very clearly outsiders in the community. They were, a neighbor told me, “atypical, easy to accuse, misfit, single older men.” Many, like Satz and Primashelanu, are mentally handicapped. Noach Friedman, who was institutionalized after being released, would barge into homes and break plates and has had to be rescued from his studio apartment twice after setting his bed on fire. Naftali Zilberman and Yaakov Weissfish, who were both arrested and released, are also mentally handicapped. Zalman Cohen is a belligerent South African immigrant married to a convert who used to interrupt walking tours of the neighborhood. Skippy is a non-Haredi senior citizen with a ponytail who was repeatedly described to me with terms like “obnoxious” or “asshole,” and is an exercise fanatic. (He was originally identified, I was told by a parent, after the kids said they were forced to do calisthenics. “These retarded guys were forcing the kids, as part of the molestation, to do exercise,” the parent told me.) Missionary Christians, of course, are the ultimate “other” in a Haredi community.
This is the reality that the Nahlaot community now finds itself in. There is no room for skepticism. Even the accused pedophiles whom I have communicated with believe there are pedophiles in Nahlaot—it’s just not them. But the required logistics of a secret pedophile ring this size—the organization necessary to continually and extensively abuse an entire demographic of a whole neighborhood without being discovered—remains the least credible aspect of the allegations. The difficulty of keeping a conspiracy a secret increases exponentially with each additional member, and with as many as 70 it’s virtually impossible. “You cannot be engaged in this kind of activity for this long and leave behind little or no corroborative evidence,” Lanning said. “The more people involved in a crime, the greater the crime, the greater the likelihood that there’s going to be some kind of corroborative evidence left behind, physical evidence.”
After expressing the findings of my early research, I told Steinherz, the therapist, that I needed corroborative evidence aside from the children’s testimony in order to report that there was indeed a pedophile ring in Nahlaot. The evidence I was ultimately provided or made aware of included: court documentation that strongly suggested police incompetence or corruption; archived web pages that showed that some of the accused had lied about not knowing each other; medical records of various ailments; pictures the children drew; the detailed account of a therapist named Levana Khalili, a witness for the prosecution; and stories of corroboration among the children. None was evidence of a pedophile ring; all was material that reinforced an already assumed narrative. Yet in all my conversations with Steinherz, parents, rabbis, therapists, and community organizers, not once was it acknowledged that these might be the products of a child’s imagination.