On our final day in Jerusalem, my family and I finally visited the City of David (Ir David), which I had been wanting to go to for a very long time. I was excited and slightly apprehensive as the organization that runs the City of David, Elad, has a very political agenda and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable giving them my money.
Elad is an organisation whose stated mission is to “Judaize East Jerusalem” and has been behind the controversial eviction of Palestinian families within the City of David, which is in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. In recent months, a Palestinian community center in Silwan has been slated for demolition to make room for a parking lot and tourist center near the City of David. This Palestinian community center was the only one of its kind in this neighbourhood. Elad has also backed the settlements in Silwan.
Ir David itself is a fascinating archaeological site with ancient structures that are believed to originate from the time of King David. My family and I wandered through, absorbing the ancient sites and enjoying the stunning views.
I was struck by how close Silwan was to the Old City. Having been to Jerusalem numerous times and having stayed in the Old City and entered the Kotel (Western Wall) from the gate near Ir David, I couldn’t believe that it had never registered that Silwan was so close. I also noted a curious sight: when we were nearing the exit of Ir David, I noticed two residential homes inside the archaeological park and I was drawn to them, remembering the issue surrounding the Sumarin family who Elad was trying to evict under Israel’s absentee property laws about a month earlier.
I stood above the two houses and noticed a few settler children playing in the front yard of their home. There was about four or five of them riding a bicycle and I was watching them for about a minute when I thought I heard some Arabic being spoken. I looked at the house next door and strained my ears a little and yes, it was Arabic, with some Palestinian children sitting on the steps of their home. A settler family and a Palestinian family living side-by-side.
That in itself wasn’t so curious, what was more interesting was the fact that the children did not interact at all. In fact, the settler children riding their bicycles in front of their house never crossed an invisible line separating the two properties. Not once. Similarly, the Palestinian women and children stayed on the steps and right in front of their home. I was fascinated and could have sat there for hours watching this bizarre dynamic, but my family wanted to head to the ultra-orthodox neighbourhood of Me’a She’arim.
We caught a taxi that took us to the main street in Me’a She’arim and tumbled out of the car into another world. I’ve read descriptions of Me’a She’arim that say it’s like stepping back into 17th century Poland – an impression my father also voiced. We wandered through the streets for a while, looking at the modesty posters and the crowded homes falling apart. Again, I could have stayed for hours but my parents were a little fed up, so we started heading out.
On the way, we stopped at a small antique shop where my brother and I purchased a tiny antique silver coin purse for my mother. The owner was very excited about the purchase and told me that, although it was about 4pm, we were his first customers because, and I quote, “the extremists living here don’t let tourists groups come in anymore so I don’t get the busloads of tourists that I used to.”
As we walked towards our hotel in East Jerusalem, I was again amazed by how I had never noticed that Me’a She’arim really lies on the border with East Jerusalem and how the Museum on the Seam, which straddles both neighbourhoods, is only three minutes from the Old City. I felt like I had really been walking around with blinders on.