On Wednesday, May 28, over 10,000 Israeli youth, hailing predominately from settlements in the West Bank, marched in the annual Jerusalem Day parade commemorating the Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war and its wartime spoils. Although to scores of these jubilant youth, Jerusalem is still in need of conquering.
Thousands of youngsters wore “Kahane was right” stickers, a reference to Rabbi Meir Kahane, and some donned t-shirts printed with his face. Kahane is a deceased controversial Rabbi who was leader of the “Kach” political movement, which was deemed a terrorist organization by the Israeli government for inciting a series of attacks against Palestinians during the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a figurehead of the “Jewish Underground,” a West Bank-based band of hooligans who organized clandestine assaults on Arabs and left-wing Israelis. Their heirs today are the hill-top youth, the renegade settlers, perhaps a few hundred at most, who have carried out a wave of “price tag” attacks over the past few years, including targeting Israeli soldiers in 2012.
“Because Kahane said if someone wants to kill you, than you can kill him,” said a youth wearing a Kahane sticker and caped in an Israeli flag who asked that I not to publish his name. He explained that Kahane’s brand of violent Jewish nationalism speaks to young people today because they see current leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as soft on those who have committed acts against the state. This new generation of Kahane followers rejects the formation of a Palestinian state, rejects any division of Jerusalem and decries the Shalit prisoner exchange. And, at least in theory for most, they embrace using force to accomplish the goal of living in an exclusively Jewish society.
“Because of the war, the Six Days War,” said a teen that was interrupted by a spirited friend, “Because of my grandpa, he kicked them [Palestinians] out.” A third youth flexed his muscle exclaiming, “So now Jerusalem is for the Jewish!” and the then whole group chanted “Jewish! Jewish! Jewish!”
“Because Jerusalem is the place of the third temple and all of the history started here,” said another teenage follower of Kahane who was selling shirts with an image of the Dome of the Rock with Hebrew script that called for its demolition. “This is the Dome of the Rock and we don’t want it here. So the shirt says, it should bother you that its over there,” he said pointing in the direction of the Muslim holy site.
A second design pictured the construction of the third temple in place of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, including a construction crane.
Jerusalem is a borderland for Israeli and Palestinian, secular and religious. Reveling in the city’s capture, or “conquest” as most of the youth describe it, contradicts a central concept of international law, which says territory can’t be gained through war—even defensive war. What’s left is a homage to military might, which is exactly why thousands of Israeli youth paraders say Jerusalem Day is special for them. Given this adoration for a national success accomplished beyond accepted law, perhaps this explains why Rabbi Kahane has been adopted as the leader of this movement.
“We fought for it and the whole concept of war is if you win something its yours and we fought in the Six Days War and we won Jerusalem so that’s why I believe it’s ours,” said another teen in an American Eagle shirt.
“I think it’s really exciting to be in Jerusalem for Yom Yerushalyim because we’ve been learning the past few weeks about what happened in 1967 and about how Jerusalem was so miraculously conquered,” said a South African teen on a high school year abroad in Israel. Sitting with a peer also from South Africa she continued, “it doesn’t mention Jerusalem in the Qu’ran once.” Her friend agreed, “Jerusalem is holy for all Jews—not just for religious Jews.” The fact their ability to holiday in Jerusalem’s comes at an expense for Palestinians, “this is a touchy subject. It is a point of anguish but I think at the end of the day Jerusalem is a special place for Jews.”
Others at the Jerusalem Day march eschewed Kahanism. “These people are fanatics,” said Hod an Israeli high school student who had an Arabic exam the next day.” Hod was working as a guide for the march because of the bottom line, “I get paid.” To him Jerusalem Day is an expression of racism, “most of these people here hate Arabs, you know that?” Nearby two secular-appearing teens selling water by the Jaffa Gate said they enjoy the parade because praying at the Western Wall, located in the eastern portion of the city, has great importance to them. Neither believed an end to the conflict with Palestinians was possible, but neither had anything against Palestinians. Still, perhaps the most famous Jerusalem Day attendee was tourist and pop icon Justin Timberlake who is in the region for a Tel Aviv concert. On Jerusalem Day he went to the Western Wall. After his visit, JT posted a selfie on Instagram.
On a typical day this area is a vibrant economic center for Arab-Palestinian life, yet on Jerusalem Day police barricaded off main roads to the locals. Three hundred and fifty thousand Palestinian Jerusalemites are not Israeli citizens, but rather “temporary residents” of the city. They do not vote in national elections, only local, but do pay taxes. Even though after 1967 Israel took down the famed Mandelbaum Gate, which amongst religious Jews was tantamount to taking down the Berlin wall because it allowed them to pray at the Western Wall, Palestinians do have checkpoints in their Jerusalem neighborhoods. Qalandia, the main checkpoint to the West Bank is actually inside of Jerusalem, trapping thousands of Jerusalem ID holders behind the separation wall. In the neighborhood of Shuafat that boasts both an upscale corridor and a refugee camp, a newer checkpoint traps 20,000 Palestinian-Jerusalemites behind the wall.
In the afternoon as the paraders arrived from West Jerusalem, eight Palestinians had already been arrested for disturbances and sound grenades were fired to push back residents. In the bay above the Damascus Gate, the last rally point before the Israeli youth entered the Old City for the final leg of the march, police ushered out Palestinian observers, leaving behind a swarm of journalists and tourists. “You’re only letting Jews in!” yelled a Palestinian-American woman in gym clothing who said she was trying to reach her house. Police escorted her away from the barricade, with her U.S. passport in hand.
Although Jerusalem only officially became part of Israel through annexation legislation in 1981, the city is memorialized as becoming Israeli through the 1967 military feat. In the first decades of statehood Israel did not have the global standing of a top army, nor was it considered part of the western world. When my mother visited in the 1970s, the country was still shedding its reputation as a backwater where young Zionists needed to bring a roll of toilet paper along for the trip. The war changed all that by nearly doubling Israeli controlled territory in just six days. The paraders called this a “miracle.” And to a certain extent, 1967–not 1948–was cast as the redemption of the Jewish people. They were liberated as the “new Jews,” just as the Western Wall was liberated, set against the anti-Semitic caricature of the past. To them, 1948 was the war of survival, 1967 was the war that made them Israelis.