No, I am not writing about whether the Palestinian Arabs should have their own sovereign slice of Jerusalem. That is an extremely complicated matter, not least because increasingly the Arabs of the holy city and its close environs want to stay with Israeli rule, paying high taxes, enjoying liberties to which even their brothers and sisters enjoying whatever there is to enjoy during the Arab Spring season will not and cannot imagine and—most of all, I suppose—living, more or less, in a highly developed social welfare state. There is reliable polling that confirms this fact.
In any case, this happens not to be an urgent matter—whatever Dame Ashton says. There will be no peace agreement for many seasons to come and, frankly, I can’t imagine a reasonable one to which the Palestinians would agree. One more point: The frontiers of 1967—really the armistice lines of 1949—are dead, finished, kaput. Barack Obama’s nostalgia for them is frankly inexplicable. And a second point: There will be no repatriation of Palestinian “refugees” because by the time the Palestinian authorities come around to their senses there will be not one true refugee still alive. A third point: People who now live in the same cartographical Palestine where their old homes were located—but, let’s say, ten miles to the east—are not refugees. In fact, until their Arab rulers started the Six Day War, these “refugees” were all living under sovereignty of their own: In Gaza under the Egyptians, in the West Bank under the Jordanians. And virtually the same in Lebanon and Syria—both of them remnants of the Ottoman empire, more or less, fragments of historic Palestine.
Anyway, sorry. The people who want a division of Jerusalem and who are, I fear, about to get it are the ultra-orthodox Jews of the city. Right now, the almost complete takeover is in one small but horrible area of the municipality called the Mea Shearim, the hundred gates. It is the second Jewish neighborhood to have been built in the late 19th century beyond the Old City walls, and it was settled by pious folk who’ve only become from one generation to the next more pious, more dogmatic, more lawless. They wouldn’t rise up against the Turks or the British. But against the Jewish police, why not? Doing so is, in fact, a blessing.
You guessed it. The issue is the sight of women. Zealots don’t want to see them, unless they are their wives. So they have built walls down the middle of the streets of Mea Shearim separating the sexes and protecting their own eyes from temptress ladies. But, believe me, these shapeless persons are nothing to look at. Still, their men want to protect them … or, my true guess is, to demean them. Once they succeed in this quarter of Jerusalem they will go on to conquer other sections of the city, many of which are already dominated by these schismatic and fanatical Jews.
The area of the hundred gates is ideologically dominated by the Neturei Karta, the self-styled “guardians of the city.” They are extreme anti-Zionists, do not pay taxes or fill out census forms or cooperate in any way with Israeli authorities. If my memory is correct, they use United Nations stamps instead of the philately of the government postal services. You can see them at Palestinian protest rallies in their all-black gear, denouncing Israel for having been created by men and women, and not, as the Bible promised, by the Messiah. They dutifully attend Dr. Ahmadinejad’s jamborees. But they are not alone in their hatred of the Jewish State or the Zionist movement. They partner with other milder psychopaths, also led by rabbis. They do no useful work and are supported by groups and grouplets of their own in America and Europe.
How many of these Jews are there? Only God knows, I suppose. After all, He receives their prayers and counts them.
Do not think that the divided streets aimed at separating the sexes is without a follow-up strategy. It is to deny in these enclaves of the city the authority of the State of Israel itself. They then will claim that the liberated sectors constitute a corpus separandum, like the Vatican vis-à-vis Rome. This may be portentous. On the other hand, these sanctimonious men are not exactly known for their secure hold on reality.
Actually, they have already achieved small triumphs all over Jerusalem. In some areas, where the ultra-orthodox live among the secular and the modern orthodox, the fanatics intimidate their neighbors into refraining from playing music, any music, on the Sabbath. And just imagine if the recording happens to be Verdi’s Requiem. As it happens, these particular Jews don’t allow themselves the pleasures of a female voice.
And if you’ve been to Jerusalem recently, you couldn’t have helped noticing that billboards around town are without women, as well.
How do these zealots impose their will? They go into the streets and make mayhem. The cops come and touch them up a bit. Then the self-styled victims start shouting “Nazis, Nazis.” What the police really should do is put a bunch of them in the cooler. Only then they will stop. But maybe only for a short while.
Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.