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Jerusalem Diary, May 2021

I live in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem, which was cut in half by the ceasefire line drawn in 1949 at the end of Israel’s War of Independence. The two halves were reunited after the Six Day War, but one side remains overwhelmingly Arab, and the other, overwhelmingly Jewish. My balcony overlooks the former dividing line. 

May 8, 2021

Following a week of escalation and dread, sirens heard in Jerusalem. Rockets fired from Gaza, apparently fell in the Jerusalem hills. We're fine, except for the broken heart. I've been trying for days to find words. Will try again later.


May 11, 2021, following the cancellation of the Flag March

Last night at about 8pm we heard angry voices through our windows. I couldn't see out to the street, but a neighbor told me what he saw from his fourth-floor window. A group of national-religious Jewish young men came down the street. They are easily identified by their dress and hairstyles, and many who had come to town for the Jerusalem Day marches were further identifiable by school t-shirts and flags. They had sticks, rocks, and flags. Half a dozen young men had come up the hill from the Arab part of the neighborhood and were facing off against them.

I heard a man shout in Arabic-accented Hebrew laced with a Russian curse, "F-- your mother! Get out of here!" A man speaking native Jewish Israeli Hebrew shouted in agreement, "Go home! You don't even live here. I've lived in this neighborhood for four years and we've never had any trouble."

The neighbor told me one of the Jewish guys threw something--probably a rock--and hit one of the Palestinians. A police car arrived, parking halfway into our driveway, perpendicular to the street, with red and blue lights flashing.

We went downstairs to see what was going on and perhaps to be useful, privileged witnesses. I saw a Palestinian man in his 20s yelling at a cop from several feet away, apparently explaining that he had been hit and saying that if he had thrown a rock he would have been arrested or shot. The police officer--a woman of Ethiopian background--kept repeating that she would give him an incident number and he could go file a complaint at the police station.


May 18, 2021

Last night, there was violence on my street. Fireworks and a pipe bomb were launched at homes across the way. The pipe bomb landed in a friend's balcony, shattering a glass door. Fortunately, nobody was injured. I am writing this in the passive, disembodied voice even though it is nearly certain that the people throwing the bombs were young Palestinian men from our neighborhood or one of the nearby neighborhoods that became part of Israel after the 1967 war.

The discussion of the attack as it unfolded on our neighborhood Whatsapp group last night capsulized for me the dangers of reporting on or writing about this situation, about the tension between how much to talk about actions and how much to talk about the contexts in which they take place, about the things that vary in the eye of the beholder and the things that don't change, no matter how many times you rub your eyes and wish they would disappear.

There are a range of political views in the neighborhood, and many of us on the left side of the spectrum are activists, attracted to Abu Tor because of its supposedly mixed (actually side-by-side) Jewish and Arab populations.

The discussion started with a simple "What was that noise?" at about 22:50. My upstairs neighbor, who has a panoramic view, said she had seen fireworks thrown and called the police.

Someone from the building next door wrote that the neighborhood had turned into "the Wild West" with "gangs roaming around threatening residents" and called for a police presence.

Someone who apparently doesn't live on our street and was annoyed by the inflammatory language answered, "Where exactly are there gangs threatening residents? Is this hypothetical?"

Another neighbor  explained that someone had thrown a bottle at her teenager. She agreed with the call for the police but used a much calmer tone.

I wrote in and said that unfortunately, this was no exaggeration. There was a group--gang or not--that was firing explosives at the buildings at that very moment.

The discussion went on, with some folks advocating for a police presence, others saying to give more time for the grassroots efforts that have begun to try to calm the tensions, and still others making the related point that more police could actually trigger more violence.

This feels like every discussion I have had about Gaza in the last few days: The Palestinian attack on a civilian target, the generalizing and dehumanization from Israelis, the debate about semantics, and the fear that an armed Israeli response will only make things worse.


May 21, 2021

From a well-reported article on my neighborhood, “As ethnic tensions have raged across the city and the country in recent weeks, deep-seated divisions in Abu Tor have bubbled up through the cracks of that fragile stasis. Yet even before the city’s seamline neighborhoods descended into the maw of rage-fueled vandalism and mob violence, a brewing battle over how to achieve coexistence in Abu Tor underlined the complexity of two peoples attempting to share a neighborhood in a city where thing are rarely simple.”

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