As strange as this may sound to an outsider, there is no day out the year that I despise more than Jerusalem Day. I live in Jerusalem, my children were born there and to me, it is the city closest to my heart. Still, tell me "Jerusalem Day" three times and I might just start hyperventilating. This is because Jerusalem Day is when the government of Israel, followed by hundreds of thousands of Israelis celebrate the "reunification of Jerusalem". To Palestinians, this is retranslated into "the day the rest of Jerusalem fell". Jerusalem Day marks the day in June 1967 when Israel occupied the eastern sector of the city along with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It is the day when Jerusalem was "returned to them" and it is marked with celebrations from the morning until after sunset.
Sometime in the late afternoon, Jerusalem Day reaches my doorstep. Tens and thousands of young, overzealous young Israelis march through the streets of the Old City on their way to the Western Wall in what they call the "Flag Dance". As my neighborhood is en route to this Wall (not to be confused with the "other" wall designed especially for the Palestinians), the neighborhood’s entrance is cordoned off by Israeli police and border guards and shop owners are ordered to close shop in order to "keep the peace." Again, this is translated into trying to keep the friction between these hostile Israelis and Palestinians at a minimum by keeping the Palestinians indoors.
Let me just say one thing. Palestinians are used to seeing armed and often belligerent Israelis walk the streets of their neighborhoods’ and quarters in Jerusalem’s Old City. In addition to the suffocating presence of Israeli military personnel throughout the alleys and gateways of the Old City, Palestinians are constantly plagued with the menacing company of Jewish settlers, who roam the streets night and day. However, on Jerusalem Day, instead of 10 or 20 Israeli police or settlers, Palestinians are drowned in a sea of thousands. And these are not left-wing Israelis who come to Jerusalem to protest Israel’s occupation of the city or to defend the rights of Palestinians who have been evicted from their homes by extremist settlers. No, these are swarms of Israeli youths mostly who have come to claim the city as their own, banging on Palestinian shop doors as they dance and shout through the streets, knocking over kiosks and hanging Israeli flags provocatively on bolted Palestinian doors.
It is unsettling, to say the least. After the initial mistake of trying to make my way home in the late afternoon hours one year on Jerusalem Day, I have since decided it is not worth it and now stay home while they stampede through my quarter. But as bad as it is for me, I can only imagine the stinging pain those who were exiled from their homes in Jerusalem –” both from the western sector in 1948 and since 1967 as a result of Israel’s ongoing cleansing of the city from its Palestinian inhabitants must feel each year. As Israelis celebrate the "reunification" of Jerusalem, Palestinians from the city experience a reopening of a wound that has yet to heal 62 years later. These Palestinians, who were made refugees in 1948 and in 1967 and those who have experienced expulsions, home evictions and ID confiscations, will not be rejoicing today, nor will their plight be part of the many speeches in honor of Jerusalem. Neither will those who now live on the street or in tents set up for them by strangers because Israeli settlers evicted them from their homes. The fact that 74 percent of Palestinian children in Jerusalem live in poverty will not be an issue nor will the fact that the quality of education between east and west is morbidly lopsided. No, these are issues that taint the image of a unified Jerusalem for Israel’s government and the majority of its people. Anyway, the plight of Palestinians is hardly a concern for many Israelis, especially those in the higher echelons of government. Dismissing their presence is obviously a much more fruitful policy.
On this day, I propose that the Palestinians designate their own Jerusalem Day. On this day, those whose villages were destroyed, whose homes were demolished or taken over and whose land now houses illegal Jewish settlements, should be given a voice. The world should hear the other side of the story of Jerusalem, the story of Lifta, of Malha and of Ein Karem. It should hear of the people of Jerusalem who were forced into a life of refuge and of exile or those who, if they peer out of their window into west Jerusalem, can see their stone house in Katamon, now inhabited by European Jews. Our Jerusalem Day should be about Ma’man Allah Cemetery, a Muslim cemetery in the city that has been desecrated, built on and leveled to ironically make room for a Museum of Tolerance. It should be about the Moroccan Quarter, which was completely destroyed in 1948 to make room for the Jewish Quarter inside the city walls. It should be about the Palestinians who struggle everyday to stay in the city and not fall within the cracks of Israel’s racist policies against the Palestinians that allow them to be kicked out of their own homes and their own city.
Just how significant Jerusalem is to Palestinians can only fully be understood by Palestinians themselves. It goes beyond words and lies in a coveted and cherished place in every Palestinian heart. Every day is Jerusalem Day for us, every day a reminder that our loss of Jerusalem only makes our resolve to regain it that much stronger.