The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have approved of the seeds of peace now sprouting in Jerusalem.
Are you surprised by that sentence? It’s natural that you would be. Most of the news and opinion we hear concerning Jerusalem are choruses of hysterical voices amplified by media eager for violence (“if it bleeds it leads”).
The truth is very different on the ground. First, the facts: Jerusalem is a city of 860,000. There were 27 murders in the city in 2017. The city of Columbus, Ohio, by comparison, is about the same size, and had four times as many homicides.
The disconnect between image and reality in Jerusalem is the subject of a heartfelt blogpost by Michal Shilor and co-authors in the Times of Israel. They write:
“At Friday prayers following Trump’s declarations, journalists swarmed the Old City’s Damascus Gate … reporters outnumbered protesters, and the day ended with little evidence of the apocalypse so many seemed to expect. Jews, similarly, were not cheering in the streets, waving Israeli flags in the faces of Arabs.”
Even if the media and some world leaders don’t get it, large numbers of tourists do. Tourism is booming in Israel, up 24 percent in 2017 from the year before. Nearly 80 percent of all visitors to Israel spend time in Jerusalem.
Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be one of Jerusalem’s visitors next week, and I hope he gets to see at least some of the grass-roots groups that bring the city’s residents together across ethnic and religious divides. Mr. Shilor and her co-authors are members of one such group, the Jerusalem Model, which describes itself as a network of Israeli and Palestinian social entrepreneurs working to build a more resilient, active civil society in Jerusalem.
Another creative grass-roots activity is 0202 – Points of View From Jerusalem. (02 is Jerusalem’s area code.) 0202 is a Facebook-based program that runs counter to the echo chamber tendency of print and social media - “silos” in which readers are only exposed to ideas and opinions identical to their own. The small number of paid staff and volunteers of 0202 come from different segments of Jerusalem society; secular and religious, Arabs, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Articles and social media postings are selected and translated, word-for-word, enabling the other groups to see how each perceives common events, and what subjects are important to one group that may be completely unknown to the others.
They have recently begun translating selections into English, as well.
The program is learning as it goes. When it became clear that Arab residents of east Jerusalem felt pressured by their community to conform to a party line in their postings, 0202 began to translate the comments sections as well, where writers felt freer to speak their minds in a more nuanced way.
It is difficult, and often painful to read the unfiltered communications of the “other,” but listening is the first step toward understanding. 0202 can even boast of making a practical difference: repeated postings of complaints about inadequate trash collection in east Jerusalem resulted in an increased sanitation budget for the affected neighborhoods.
When people from disparate “tribes” within a city work together to listen to one another’s points of view, there one finds the beginning of mutual understanding, and a basis for peace.
Dr. King would have approved.