Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Jerusalem: where I go to understand Apartheid

In my household, Wednesday is Shuk day. The 'Shuk', as it's commonly known, is a marketplace similar to your local (non-Israeli) summertime 'farmers' market'. However, there is a difference between a modern Israeli big-city shuk and your own local summer farmers' market. 

First, the vendors of a shuk do not typically sell their merchandise from the back of a truck. Second, shuk vendors don't work only during the summer months; they work year-round at the same location. Third, the shuk vendor doesn't work from a temporary work environment, as most vendors do in a typical farmers' market environment.

The modern ,big-city Israeli shuk is housed within or under a permanent structure where vendors work side-by-side in permanent rectangular cubicles that vary in size from an average of 8/12 feet by 15/20 feet. Of course, some such 'cubicles' are smaller, others larger. Also, in a big-city Israeli shuk, there are literally hundreds of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, olives, cheese, wines, baked goods, nuts, religious items, clothing, kitchen utensils etc.

For our family shuk days, we travel into Jerusalem, Israel's biggest city. The trip, door (home) to door (the shuk), takes about 45 -50 minutes each way. The cost for each one-way trip is (for retired folk) app $1.70 USD per person (cost in dollars depends upon exchange rate). The trip requires one to switch mid-way from a bus to a light rail train. But the use of a free transfer means we pay that app $1.70 USD only when we begin the trip.

Often, we take 'the long way'. This means we get off early in Jerusalem and walk through Jerusalem's downtown to the shuk. This allows us to shop (or window-shop) a variety of retail stores--or, at our discretion, to stop for lunch on our way to the shuk. 

We eat only kosher food. But in Jerusalem, that's not a problem. Wherever we walk in Jerusalem, the restaurants all appear to be strictly kosher. 

It is this stroll through Jerusalem's downtown on our way to the shuk that brings me face-to-face with what I call the reality of Apartheid. But what I see in Jerusalem is not the Apartheid you're thinking of; when I see Arabs walking freely in the Jewish Jerusalem, I wonder at how many Jews walk as freely in the Arab city of Ramallah. 

That's where the thought of Apartheid hits me--with Ramallah. 

When a visitor to Jerusalem sees Arabs and Jews together on the city's streets, he (the visitor) sees two different peoples supposedly at war with each other walking peacefully in public--and shopping peacefully together. This Apartheid-free experience means that  Arabs--the minority population--truly walk freely in the Jews' Jerusalem. In the eight years I've been here, I've seen no nasty anti-Arab scenes on these Jerusalem streets. I've seen no Arab in Jerusalem get spat upon, verbally abused or punched by a member of the majority population (the Jews). 

I've seen no hint of the so-called Apartheid the world accuses us of embracing.

Arabs who walk on the sidewalks of Jerusalem practically cheek-by-jowl with Jews are often easily identifiable as Arab. They don't try hide being Arab--or attempt to look 'Jewish'. Quite to the contrary, many Arab women on these Jewish sidewalks seem to delight being dressed up in either (in my uninformed opinion) a form of dress close to traditional Arab women's wear. This means the woman's face and hands are uncovered, with everything else covered by a street-length toga-like often-belted dress, or light full-length coat that looks to me like an American raincoat, but isn't. Younger Arab women dress handsomely in a more modern dress format with hair fully covered with a large, sometimes elaborate  scarf/head-wrap, combined with modern ladies pants (sometimes tight) and athletic shoes.

Younger Arab men typically dress as many secular Israeli men do for downtown Jerusalem--very informally. This means jeans, t-shirts, athletic shoes. Older Arab men often appear in Jerusalem more 'formally' dressed, with a white-collar shirt, dress pants and dress shoes. 

The point of this experience in Jerusalem is that it's so 'normal'. There is not one hint of Apartheid.

Because it's not there. Arabs can shop like this, so freely and peacefully, precisely because there is no Apartheid (institutionalized state-mandated discrimination against the minority population) in Israel. One shopping tour in downtown Jerusalem proves it. 

This experience of freedom reminds me of Apartheid because it makes me wonder what it's like for a Jew to walk in the Muslim Ramallah.  

I think of Ramallah because both the Jewish Jerusalem and the Muslim Ramallah have something in common. Both cities are considered to be 'capital cities'. Both Jews and Muslims see Jerusalem as cosmopolitan, and many Muslims see Ramallah as cosmopolitan. When you spend time in either city, you can see why people speak this way: there's  music, art, museums, entertainment, culture and restaurants--and an active nightlife.
 Now, while Ramallah is said to be a cosmopolitan city, I can't confirm that because Jews are discouraged from going there. It's simply too dangerous. Arabs, on the other hand, have no such concerns regarding Jerusalem.

Some Jews do live in Ramallah. But the number is extremely small, perhaps less than 40. From what I gather from reading about them (here), they like Ramallah. It is, they say, a pleasant place. I have no reason to doubt them.

But these Jewish residents of Ramallah are careful. They travel cautiously (ibid). They watch who they say things to (ibid). They don't flaunt their Jewishness--and they don't do anything that would identify them as Jews (ibid).

This is one of the main differences between the open, free Jerusalem and the Apartheid Ramallah. While Arabs in Jerusalem seem to enjoy dressing up in traditional garb in Jerusalem--helping one easily to identify them as Arab--Jews in Ramallah don't dress in any way to suggest they are 'Jewish'. 

The 'Apartheid' angle here is that an Arab is completely free to self-identify as Arab in Jerusalem. But a Jew wouldn't dare show 'Jewish' in Ramallah.

The second 'Apartheid' element is that you will see hundreds, if not thousands, of Arabs in Jerusalem's downtown between 8 am and 8 pm almost every workday. In a very real sense, in Jerusalem, Arabs are visible everywhere in downtown Jerusalem. 

It's not that way for Jews in Ramallah. Pleasant as the city might be, it is, basically, Jew-free, just as you'd expect to see in an Apartheid environment. This means that, during those same hours (8am - 8pm) in Ramallah, you will be hard-pressed to identify even one Jew. 

Whenever I walk through Jerusalem on my way to the shuk, I think about Apartheid because the freedom of Jerusalem makes me think of the relatively Jew-free Ramallah. As I walk, I can see the faces of Arabs mixing freely and peacefully with Jews in the Jewish Jerusalem all the while knowing that Jews cannot do the same in Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem--or in any other city in the Palestinian Authority.

That's what bothers me when I walk in Jerusalem--the anti-Jew Apartheid of the Arab as s/he walks happily in the Jewish Jerusalem, unmolested and free.

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