Jerusalem Day 2018 couldn’t have come at a better moment. A day earlier Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest and a day later the USA will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This election promise by US president Trump is more than appreciated. In the city large banners appear with texts like “Trump make Israel great”. A few days earlier Trump fulfilled another campaign promise by declaring the Iran nuclear dead.
This more or less coincided with a successful Israeli air strike at Iranian targets in Syria. All this comes just a few weeks after the start in Jerusalem of the highly prestigious cycle tour ‘Giro d’Italia’. So there is more than enough reason to celebrate.
The ocean of Israeli and Jerusalem flags is impressive. Some 60.000 march through Jaffa Street and it seems everyone seems to have one. Coming from a country where waving the national flag is considered by some as fascist, here, just like in the USA, people are proud of their flag and they want the world to know it. The speakers support them with the winning Eurovision song: “I’m not your toy! You stupid boy”, followed by a religious song. Ah, yes, this is my beloved Israel, the 70 years old country of many contrasts.
Various religious groups organized this day, but most chanting, shouting, singing and dancing youngsters are there to have a great time. I must say it is contagious, being surrounded by all these shiny happy people. In essence we all share that some love: the love for Jerusalem. I have been here several times and that feeling only gets bigger and deeper. Some purists say that you have to keep your distance as a photographer: Don’t get too involved. Well, we both totally disagree with that. Just like any other we walk around with enormous Israeli flags.
An old orthodox Jew seems to read all this in my eyes. Amidst the noise we chat about Jerusalem. After a while he points at my flag, the stickers on my shirt and at my eyes. “You see, this it. You can only love and understand Jerusalem when it is deep inside your heart. And I can see that’s the case with you.” Even though he sees things from a deeply religious viewpoint, I can only say he is right. In fact, he made me even more aware of it.
After this conversation I can feel the high energy levels in the street even more. This explosion of positive energy lifts me up. There is so much to see and hear. Even though I don’t understand Hebrew I can feel that passion for this once divided city.
That division between East and West Jerusalem came to an end on the 7th of June 1967, after the bloody Six Day War, when Israel occupied the Old City. It ended the occupation by the Jordanians. As Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared that same day: “We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel”. In May 1968 the Israeli government proclaimed a new holiday: Jerusalem Day.
Not everyone is as excited about Jerusalem Day as we are here on Jaffa Street. This became clear a day earlier. A group of some 200 left wing demonstrators walked the streets of Jerusalem. Shouting slogans against everything the people on Jaffa Street stand for. As they did not agree with Prime Minister Nethanyahu, he was ordered to resign; they hated president Trump; they were in favor of the Iran deal and against Israeli military actions. In fact, for some of them this whole Jerusalem Day was a racist endeavor. Even though the demonstration was illegal, they got armed protection for their safety. They were free to shout whatever they wanted: A perfect example of a vital democracy in the heart of this beautiful, undivided capital of Israel.