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Jerusalem Diary 2023: Goldilocks and the Three Demonstrations

May 18, 2023

I started the day with the March of Flowers organized by Tag Meir, an organization that teaches tolerance and empathy and creates public events to raise the voice of those committed to democratic values. 

Hours before the Flag March, Tag Meir organizes volunteers to go into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and hand out flowers along with a flyer in English, Arabic, and Hebrew that says, “Dear neighbors, residents of the Old City, we have come here to reach out to you on this complicated day, to distribute flowers and purchase from your stores. We are sorry that the day is causing harm to your business and your livelihood.”

At the start of the march, I found about 70 people, skewed toward retirement age. Many of them were familiar to me from my liberal, religious, English-speaking neighborhood. I got an armful of gerbera daisies and a stack of flyers, and we headed for the Damascus Gate, a central gathering place for Jerusalem Palestinians. We walked by a handful of Israeli teenagers who had come to the Flag March. They told us, “You don’t give flowers to people who want to kill you,” and one shouted, “Death Penalty for Traitors” (meaning us). 

The merchants in the Muslim Quarter did not seem terribly moved by the flowers or the apology. As a gesture, it felt “too soft.” 

In the afternoon, as the center of town filled with thousands of teenagers and families wearing blue and white and carrying Israeli flags, I found a small demonstration organized under the slogan “Fascism won’t Pass: Opposing the March, Demanding Free Jerusalem.” The crowd was no bigger than the morning’s group, but it was a lot younger. Corralled into a small area and separated from the marchers by a line of police, they played drums and called out a rotating line of slogans against the Occupation, racism, Israeli Apartheid, and more. 

I agree with most of the slogans, but they are alienated from Israel in a way that I am not. It felt “too hard.” 

Finally, I encountered a march that was an extension of the weekly protests that have brought “mainstream” Israelis into the streets to try to prevent the government weakening the judicial system beyond repair.  The protests have been criticized for promoting democracy for Israeli Jews while ignoring the deeply undemocratic military regime that controls the lives of millions of Palestinians. These marchers demanded “Democracy for All.” 

I could say that this march was “just right,” but I actually believe that we need all three messages. I might not have felt personally comfortable among the young, tattooed drummers, but they are the only ones to oppose the occupation without flinching, and to call for true equality. Palestinians might have been underwhelmed by Tag Meir’s flower brigade, but it is essential that the people coming to the Flag March see that their view is not unanimous, that there are Israeli Jews who have different values and a different vision for the country.

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