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. 30 May 17 • 2012
Jerusalem Day from page 29
pilgrimage, a rehearsal for the renewal
of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem when the
Temple will be rebuilt. It is the largest event
within the celebration of Jerusalem Day.
Despite my years in Jerusalem, I had
never experienced Rikud Degalim. The
extravaganza and carnival-like event
amazed me, with its throngs of young
women dressed in blue and white, hold-
ing Israeli flags and singing popular reli-
gious songs as they marched. The names
of their schools printed on their shirts
revealed their affiliation with the settle-
ment movement. They read Elad, Efrat,
Bet-El, Atniel, Gush Etzion and more.
Police estimated 25,000 participants.
Soldiers and police were all around,
making sure marchers did not go onto the
sidewalk where Palestinian shopkeepers
watched the parade in front of their stores.
While walking on the sidewalk toward
a shopping area in east Jerusalem, I chat-
ted with several shopkeepers and asked
how they felt. One said he doesn't care
anymore, adding in Hebrew, it is Yom
haApartheid, "Apartheid Day!'
Several days later, I found many film clips
posted online documenting the other
segment of Rikud Degalim, the male one,
which I had not witnessed. (In keeping
with strict observance of Jewish law, a sep-
aration between men and women is kept
throughout the route. Only in the evening
do marchers merge at the Western Wall for
a public prayer and ceremony.)
Jerusalem Day 2011, it should be noted,
marked the first time in the history of
Rikud Degalim that the starting point was
moved from downtown west Jerusalem
into the Palestinian neighborhood of
Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem.
Because of construction on Jaffa Road
and pressure from Am kaAri (the ultra-
nationalist religious organization heading
the annual Rikud Degalim), the munici-
pality gave permission to reroute the
procession to Sheikh Jarrah. The police,
suspecting trouble between the ultra-
nationalist marchers and the Palestinians
and their Israeli supporters, mobilized
nearly 2,000 police for the event.
Around 4:30 p.m., more than
15,000 men left Israeli National Police
Headquarters on Highway One and
headed for the Old City. Several thousands
entered Sheikh Jarrah for a reception
ceremony organized by Jewish settlers of
the Palestinian neighborhood. When the
procession entered Authuman Ben-Afaan,
the main street, Rikud Degalim was
confronted by Jewish and Palestinian pro-
testers — members of the Sheikh Jarrah
The protesters shouted, "Get out of here,
occupiers,""Sheikh Jarrah, don't despair;
we will end the occupation" and "Jews and
Arabs refuse to be enemies!'
The Rikud Degalim participants coun-
tered with "You are traitors;' `Butcher the
Arabs;' "Death to leftists;' "Muhammad is
dead" and "The Jewish nation lives!'
The procession continued to the out-
skirts of Sheikh Jarrah, to the grave of
Shimon HaTzadik, Simon the Pious. Rabbi
Yizhak Zeev Pindrus, senior deputy to the
mayor of Jerusalem and a member of the
ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism,
welcomed the marchers and assured them
the municipality will continue to build in
the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which
he referred to as Shimon HaTzadik.
After the welcoming ceremony, Rikud
Degalim made its way back to Highway
One. A group of several hundred young
men separated itself and approached
the main mosque on Authuman Ben-
Afaan. On its roof were a number of
Palestinians waving Palestinian flags.
Several bystanders were outside the
mosque watching Rikud Degalim pass-
ing by. In the middle of this mayhem,
a member of Rikud Degalim ran into
the mosque with an Israeli flag, but was
stopped by the police.
The other marchers danced closer and
closer to the mosque, obscenely flashing
their fingers and spitting at bystanders
while enthusiastically reciting an incen-
diary, insulting song whose repeating
refrain began with:
"May your village burn down.
Listen well, you Arabs!
We don't want any making-up."
The song continued, describing Islam's
founder Muhammad as "not a prophet,
just another Arab" with "a mustache
full of fleas." The verse then descended
into sexual insults before proclaiming,
"Muhammad is dead, Muhammad is dead!'
The videos of Rikud Degalim at Sheikh
Jarrah and in the Muslim Quarter have
been haunting me. I know that of the
more than 25,000 participants, only a
hundred or so took part in the aggressive
behavior. While there can be no justifica-
tion for that behavior, I wonder if it repre-
sents the current atmosphere among the
Do the Hilltop Youth (known for their
"price-tag" policy of retribution toward
their Palestinian neighbors in the West
Bank) represent more than their relatively
As I am writing this and planning the
next "Middle East Experience: Journey
to Understand the Palestinian-Israeli
Conflict" trip for this Jerusalem Day, these
scenes keep replaying in my head. Will the
White Soldier be on patrol there again?
What will be the course of Rikud Degalim?
How will I participate this year?
Shifra Epstein of Ann Arbor was born in Israel,
served in the Israeli army and graduated
from Hebrew University before earning her
doctorate in anthropology/folklore in the U.S.
She is a folklorist interested in Israeli, Jewish
and Palestinian cultures and society, and an
adjunct assistant professor at Wayne State