Saturday, April 11, 2015

Holy Fire in Jerusalem, April 11, 2015

Today is the ceremony of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem (Holy Saturday in the calendar of the Orthodox churches). See for a link to some photos.

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Israeli journalist in Tsur Baher

Israelis, including Israelis who live in west Jerusalem, rarely venture into the neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Eliezer Yaari has just written a book on Yaari's encounters with the Palestinians who live in Tsur Baher, an area of the city that was annexed to Israel after the 1967 war. This story is from Ha'aretz, April 10, 2015

A link to Yaari's website about the book can be found here: The Book (English). In Hebrew: The Book (Hebrew).

Doctor's orders led this journalist to discover his Palestinian neighbors

After heart surgery, doctors told journalist Eliezer Yaari he needed to walk. His feet led him to a nearby Palestinian village – a microcosm of political developments in Jerusalem – and a new book with some frank observations.

Eliezer Yaari, on the backdrop of Tsur Baher. Photo by Emil Salman
By Nir Hasson | Apr. 10, 2015 | 4:10 AM


The hill that divides the cemetery of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel from the Palestinian village of Tsur Baher is visible from the home of journalist Eliezer Yaari, in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. It’s a broad, open expanse that until 1967 was the site of a large Jordanian army base and until 15 years ago still contained a minefield, the last remaining one in the vicinity. These days it’s an olive grove, in the heart of which is an impressive – and disturbing – sculpture entitled “Olive Columns” (by Ran Morin, 1991): three olive trees planted atop huge 15-meter-high columns.

'Olive Columns' by Ran Morin (1991). 
Impressive and disturbing. Photo by Emil Salman
The national watershed runs across the hill, as does the unofficial boundary between East and West Jerusalem – on the right, if you’re facing north, Arnona and Ramat Rachel; on the left, Tsur Baher and Umm Touba. Almost 50 years have passed since Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem, and it’s been 15 years since the mines were cleared, but the border remains clear and sharp. Few Israelis cross it.

In the past two years, however, Yaari crossed and recrossed the (in)visible boundary time and again. He struck up conversations with residents of Tsur Baher and photographed them. The result is a book, “Beyond the Mountains of Darkness,” probably the first book written in our time by an Israeli Jew about a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. (It will be available in English as an eBook later this month; in the meantime, a teaser can be seen at

“Beyond the Mountains” ends with the wave of the violence that rocked Jerusalem last summer, following the kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian teen, which made the feeling of a boundary splitting the city even more acute.

Next to the olive trees are large blocks of concrete with which the Israeli security forces blocked the road to nearby villages, as a collective punishment meted out to Palestinians involved in the violence. A police van still occasionally blocks the road.

Yaari provides fascinating documentation of the complexity of Palestinian life in Jerusalem: On the one hand, efforts to achieve social and economic integration in Israeli society; on the other, tenacious adherence to a Palestinian and Islamic identity, and to waging the struggle against the occupation. Above all, though, the book offers a picture of an intimate, unforgettable acquaintanceship between neighbors on the two sides of the border in Jerusalem.

“‘Beyond the mountains of darkness’ is a phrase aimed at the readers,” Yaari says, in an interview with Haaretz. “It’s not really beyond the hills of darkness. The people there have ears, eyes and a political viewpoint, and we don’t know them.”

Yaari, a former air force fighter pilot, was a correspondent, editor and anchorman and Channel 1 news, and afterward director general of the New Israel Fund. He left the NIF, which works to advance democracy and equality in Israel, in 2010, just before it became the focus of a demonization campaign by right-wing politicians.

Two years ago, not long after his doctors told him he needed heart surgery, his second grandchild was born. That occurred the day after a heavy snowstorm hit Jerusalem. For a moment, he writes, he felt as though he was in the Russia of his grandfather, his blood carrying memories of frigid winter scenes. He was born in the East, he notes, in Jerusalem on the edge of the desert, but on that winter’s day, he felt momentarily disconnected from this land. Then a voice sliced through the imagined snowy silence – the call of the muezzin, “Allah hu akbar,” “God is most great” – and he was instantly catapulted back to Jerusalem, to the village across from his home, whose sounds he heard but whose residents he didn’t know.

Like many residents of West Jerusalem, Yaari admits, he is ignorant when it comes to East Jerusalem and its inhabitants. “The line exists, make no mistake about it,” he says. “Formally, though, Jerusalem has been one unit for the past 50 years. I am ashamed that I don’t know the language and that I didn’t act earlier. I say this with embarrassment.”

Following his operation, he obeyed his doctors’ orders and started to take walks. At one point, not far from his house, “I came to a descent, and to avoid having to exert myself by climbing back up afterward, I kept walking toward Tsur Baher,” he recalls.

The first person he met, by the olive trees, was a shepherd named Sallah Abu Kaff, who told him that herding sheep was just a hobby and that he was actually truck driver by profession. That conceptual duality, between livelihood and the everyday, on the one hand, and preconceived “Orientalist” images, on the other, would return.