I apologize for starting off with this dry medical definition. Bear with me:
Jerusalem syndrome is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or otherpsychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination but has affected Jews, Christians and Muslims of many different backgrounds.
The best known, although not the most prevalent, manifestation of Jerusalem syndrome is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem (Wikipedia).
Being a bystander, you get the best of both worlds. You can stand by and watch the show, and you also don’t have to get your hands dirty. Watching the events unfolding in Jerusalem these past few weeks, I’ve observed how radicals set torch to the fragile status-quo in the holy city. How time and again the Israeli government has looked the other way while extremists in its midst continued to add fuel to the fire that is now threatening to spread from Jerusalem to the entire country. In many cases, it has fanned the flames itself.
Time to get my hands dirty.
I lived in Jerusalem for the vast majority of my life, until several years ago, so trust me when I say with conviction that it is truly a special city. No where else will you find such a contradiction between new and old, east and west, secular and religious, purity and sin. All exist together, living side by side, creating a unique human kaleidoscope. But it is this very same uniqueness that also makes it a hotbed for radicalism.
I suppose being the spiritual center of three religions will do that to a city. In Jerusalem’s old city you’ll find groups of European Christians lugging huge wooden crosses down via Dolorosa, Israeli Jews with side curls and huge hats nod and bob like crazy while praying in front of the Wailing Wall, and finally, if you can get inside, equally fervent Muslims murmur from the Quran in studious groups beside the spectacular Dome of the Rock.
As a child who grew up in the western environs of Jerusalem, I’ll never forget how every Friday evening, as the sun set and the Jewish Sabbath began, a blanket of tranquility descended on the city, seemingly uniting all parts of the city under one common cause. As cars disappeared from the streets, and families set out to the synagogue for evening prayer, Jerusalem made sense.
Now I know that this was a mistake. Jerusalem was never one. As Israelis, and definitely as Jerusalemites, we may have been brainwashed to believe that we “unified” the city in the Six-Day war, but the truth is that there have always been two Jerusalem’s existing side by side. The Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are not part of the Israeli nation, despite all the hypocritical claims to the contrary. Israeli rightists are quick to stand on the barricade and demand Jerusalem stay unified in any future agreement, but are not so quick to guarantee the Arab residents, a vast majority of them being tax-paying Israeli citizens, receive the same treatment all Israeli citizens receive.
These same rightists are also quick to make a stand on Temple Mount, entering the compound despite the fragile situation, and putting their lives, and those of the policemen guaranteeing their safety, at risk. It is a matter of sovereignty they claim. We cannot afford to retreat facing aggression, they state. But to get respect, you need to give respect. To rule as sovereign, you need to show responsibility. And in the case of East Jerusalem – Israel has shed that responsibility . Walking through these neighborhoods (not a particularly good idea at present), the state of neglect is striking, and the animosity palpable. Is there really any wonder that violence has finally erupted?
The horrific kidnapping and murder of the Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the war in Gaza definitely didn’t help. To top it all, the irresponsible behavior of the Israeli government has helped inflame the situation further with questionable annexations and controversial declarations. Was it really necessary for the Minister of Construction, Uri Ariel, to announce he was considering moving to live in Silwan (a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem, situated southeast of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem)? Did the Israeli MK’s have to visit the Temple Mount at this precise moment in time? Adding injury to insult, the Knesset is pushing forward legislation this week that will apply Israeli law to the West Bank, in essence a de facto annexation.
Radicalism seems to have infected the halls of government in Jerusalem, as Netanyahu follows the tone set by Feiglin and Regev. Instead of lowering the volume, Netanyahu and his ministers continue to throw wild accusations at Abu Mazen as the main instigator. Only a few weeks ago, Abu Mazen was commended for the control he showed during the war in Gaza, and was also seen as the solution to the entire situation, as ideas involving Abu Mazen’s people taking control in Gaza began to float in the air. Don’t get me wrong, Abu Mazen is far from being a saint, and some of his latest decisions are hardly conducive to a peaceful outcome. But to place the entire blame on him is the easy way out and totally ignores the current policies that have brought us to the footstep of a third Intifada.
In the week Israel remembers the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, one can only dream that Israel once again sees a leader with the nerve to stand up against radicalism and the ability to make cool-headed and tough decisions.