Crawling and Dancing A Portrait of Two Jerusalems
Come my friend, let me paint a portrait for you, not with brush strokes and color but a portrait of words, if possible. It is a portrait of a place I have come to love dearly. I do not think words can do it justice but I am compelled to try.
This portrait tears my heart and makes me unsettled, a tale of two cities in one that leaves me dissatisfied with simply accepting the Jerusalem I first came to know.
One side of this picture is bright and cheery; you do not need to search hard for it is presented for all to see. It is the side that tourists praise as they wave flags and dance in the city’s many events, parades and celebrations. It is flashy to the point of excess, gaudy at times. It is also modern and full of opportunities to satisfy the insatiable hunger for greater consumption that westerners tend to have. This side of the city seems to speak of victory and comfort, of ignorant bliss and strength.
Come closer, though, my friend, and you may see something else; you may see at times that while one half of the city is dancing, another part of the city is forced to their knees, crawling through their suffering, in the attempts to keep the other side of Jerusalem hidden from visitors, to keep the truth from putting a damper on her extravagant festivities.
The city may try to veil it under the pretense of parades and music, but this “other Jerusalem” is still there. This Jerusalem is one of sorrow, poverty and growing restrictions.
Look, my friend, and keep your eyes open, and you may see the residents of this side of Jerusalem consigned to a very limited life, rarely leaving their neighborhoods unless, of course, it is to serve as cleaners or construction workers for the more affluent parts of the city. Western Jerusalemites think that these East Jerusalemites should be grateful for those meagre bones thrown their way.
However, watch closely, and you might observe one of these “grateful residents” as they wake before dawn, carefully avoiding the trash and sewage that seeps into their streets, visible signs of the neglect Palestinian neighborhoods of a “unified Jerusalem” receive, and then wait for two hours to get through a blockade restricting their movement, and finally arrive to scrub toilets for hours for the more privileged parts of Jerusalem.
Keep your eyes open and you might watch as this same resident goes home to find that her family’s home will be destroyed because it is apparently built illegally, after years of trying to receive a legal permit from the Ministry of Interior, though why they tried is a mystery since there is a clear policy to reject attempts at legal permits for Palestinian Jerusalemites. You might also see this same resident fighting to get her children registered, as years have passed and they still “don’t exist” legally, and now they should be starting school and receiving healthcare.
You may draw away from the picture suddenly, dismayed. Is not Jerusalem unified, you may ask. You may have been told to unquestioningly support this government, to place Jerusalem on a pedestal for all to see. You may be nervous that her attractions will taste less sweet having seen this picture.
Yet, may I remind you that this is a city that killed her prophets for exposing her hypocrisy, a city that has always clung to power, doling out oppression and shedding innocent blood in order to satisfy her hunger. Has such a dark history been suddenly replaced? Or is it continuing under another name, in a more modern context?
So, my friend, I leave you with a picture, lovely and easy on the eyes on the one side; dark and painful on the other. Can you love her, all of her, with me? Can you appreciate her rich, though also tragic, history and astounding beauty, while also desiring to see justice and love shown to all her inhabitants?
Perhaps, you can help me envision a different Jerusalem; perhaps we can paint a new portrait in the near future, though what that will look like I cannot tell. I can only give you what I have seen in this city that I have come to love; I can only paint you a city of contradictions- of heartbreak and exuberance, of poverty and wealth, of crawling and dancing- so that we can honestly work towards something better.