Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” email@example.com
I hate disappointing the worrywarts, but today, Jerusalem Day, 2011, 44-years after its reunification, Jerusalem is a remarkably functional city, a surprisingly peaceful city, a delightfully magical city. The city I experience daily is not the city described in the headlines. It does not feel like it is in eclipse, nor does it feel like a powder keg. I absorbed New York’s fear of crime in the 1970s, Boston’s racial tension in the 1980s, and Montreal’s linguistic complexity in the 1990s much more intensely. While jogging through the Old City daily, I feel lucky to live in such a livable city.
Jerusalem invites time-traveling in profound ways while doing mundane tasks. Every day, crossing the footbridge over the Cinemateque looking toward Mount Zion, I observe a panorama of peace reinforced by a symphony of silence, with the Tower of David crowned by its Israeli flag and Muslim crescent, church spires and minarets, the new city’s modern construction to my left and the older houses abutting the Old City to my right. The sweeping Old City walls dominate front and center.
These days, I confess, I think more about recent history than the walls’ ancient history, built by Suleiman the Magnificent 500 years ago but evoking Abraham binding Isaac, King David designating King Solomon, thousands of years earlier. Mahmoud Abbas’s rewriting of the history of 1947, which passed the New York Times’ editorial muster, Barack Obama’s obsession with the 1967 lines, have me wishing Jerusalem’s stones could talk, confirming what really happened when Zionists founded Israel in 1947-1948, when Israelis liberated Jerusalem in 1967, and during the difficult intervening years.
My daily plunge into this past begins with Jerusalem’s 19 years of rupture, as I traverse what was the barbed-wire-and-mine-strewn No-Man’s Land. To my right, the Cinemateque looms, a center of Israel’s edgy, often critical, vibrant democratic culture, contradicting false cries of McCarthyism. To my left, the red-roofed houses of Yemin Moshe unfold, beside Moses Montefiore’s 1857 windmill. I think about the poor people who lived in this, the first neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s walls, during the State’s first years. And I wince imagining their terror when, periodically, Jordanian snipers would shoot. The Jordanian army always reassured the UN that a soldier had gone crazy – again and again.