"We Want Our Jerusalem Back." A Letter from Jerusalem City Councilman Hanan Rubin

During this difficult time in Jerusalem, we found solace in the words of our friend Jerusalem City Councilman Hanan Rubin:

Hanan Rubin Jerusalem City Councilman

November 5, 2014

Subject: We want our Jerusalem back.

To this day, I find myself rattled at the sound of sirens. Then I count them off. Three sirens tell me everything I need to know. A quick glance at the news websites, the requisite call from Mom or my wife, the endless stream of Whatsapp messages – and then we’re back to normal, supposedly.

Inevitably, memories of the Second Intifada come to mind. They were never truly gone anyway; every Jerusalemite, myself included, carries them in his or her heart. Riding the bus, walking through city center or the market – our eyes still instinctively seek out the man with the oversized backpack, or the one wearing an overcoat in the midst of summer. Everything reminds us that which we could never forget: the feeling of sheer terror, the youth we lost, the “routine” we’ve managed to impossibly get used to, this abnormality that became quite normal.

Not only did we lose our dearest: friends, acquaintances, relatives. We also lost ourselves in the fright and insecurity. There was no one who didn’t know someone, who knew someone, who joined the terrible circle of grief.

Jerusalem, home to some of the bloodiest attacks of the time, was scarred, more so than any other city in Israel. From the ashes of mental and financial duress, and through tenacity and hard work, we’ve been able to slowly rebuild that which was shattered. Piece by piece, step by step, ten years hence, we were on our feet again.

Today, Jerusalem is vibrant and attractive, drawing thousands of newcomers to its top-notch higher education institutions. Two weeks ago, the academic year was inaugurated, and over 40,000 new students took their first classes. The cultural sphere is blooming, with a variety of events taking place around the city on any given day. Hundreds of thousands of tourists, especially people in their teens and 20s, flood the city every year.

Mahane Yehuda Market has become the number one site for culinary experience in Israel. The Jewish Quarter and the rest of the Old City, the regenerated Jaffa and Mamila Streets, all of these are a perfect example of the trademark Jerusalem blend – progress and modernity living alongside history and heritage. Leena features the very best hummus in the country. The 15,000-seat Jerusalem Arena, a world-class multipurpose stadium inaugurated just a couple of months ago, and the Formula One Race and Road Show, held just last month, are evidence that Jerusalem is now a player on the international sports scene.

Yet it is the very same Jerusalem that’s been on the news these past few months. Civilians run over on purpose, rock throwing, arson, Molotov cocktails, and other instances of physical and verbal confrontations between Jews and Arabs have been plaguing the city on a daily basis.

This escalation has also seeped into the public discourse, on social networks and on the city streets. Recent events have threatened to tear apart the delicate fabric of relations between East and West Jerusalem, and locals are struggling to maintain a sense of security.

As public representatives, we have called for peace and quiet to return wherever we went. We tried to alert the authorities and the public to the growing threat and to the fear we now experience under this sordid reality. We called for the government to step in and give additional authority to the police. We demanded stronger enforcement, alongside real efforts to promote genuine dialogue among leaders and ordinary people.

We cried out for sanity to return to Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem has an entirely different problem. The Government of Israel is quite comfortable with looking at Jerusalem as a symbol, a nearly metaphysical object. Our politicians can announce constructions and demolitions and tag along on tours or ceremonies. But they stop short of recognizing our Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of our daily lives, where we live, work, raise children and go out.

Yes, Jerusalem is and will remain at the center of the national, even international attention; that which begins in Jerusalem does not stay confined within city limits for long. But if the entire world, Israel included, knows how to use our city for political purposes when it wants to, then it had better also know how to help it run its life. Statements about construction or demolition cannot suffice in developing our city; we need educational programs to teach our youth about how to grow up in a mixed city, significant improvements in infrastructure, stronger law enforcement and support for moderate, meaningful dialogue. This time, we don’t want to go at it alone.

The scars of the Second Intifada have barely healed, and we refuse to go back to those dark days. We want to be the last generation to have the word Intifada in its vocabulary, the last generation to experience hatred and violence on such a scale. We want a different reality, and we want our city to be treated as a real place, with all its complexities.

We want our Jerusalem back.

-Hanan Rubin
Jerusalem City Councilman