For the past two weeks, newspapers and magazines have been filled with stories of rising “tensions” in Israel’s capital. But the Jerusalemite Matti Friedman reports that last week was a thoroughly normal one. Jacksonville, Florida, he notes, had far more homicides this year than Jerusalem, although the two cities are roughly the same size. And for those seeking bloodshed and religious hatred: Aleppo and Baghdad are a day’s drive away. He writes:
Jerusalem is always said to be on the brink of catastrophe. . . . But what is truly interesting about Jerusalem is not the proximity of the brink, but the way the city’s residents often refuse to play their part in the script by stepping off. . . .
I’ve been in Jerusalem for nearly two decades and am still trying to figure it out. What I have figured out, though, is that understanding means seeing it not as a symbol but as an actual city, and taking its people seriously as real people. . . . This week, I went to one of the big supermarkets [near my house], on ha-Oman Street, where much of the city does its grocery shopping. This is an Israeli area, but of the 50-odd workers I counted among the aisles of produce and cereal, at least two-thirds were Palestinian. One cashier, a Jewish woman in a modest hair covering (navy blue, tied at the nape of the neck), was serving three Muslim women in modest hair coverings (grey, pink, and black, respectively, clasped under the chin). At a SuperPharm nearby, the scene was similar—an Arab female pharmacist serving a Jewish woman with a prescription, a Jewish cashier and two Arab guys stocking the shelves. . . .
It was once easy to tell people apart by their clothes, but the rise of global brands has meant that people, especially young people, tend to dress the same—the same skinny jeans, the same soccer haircuts. The old visual lines have been blurred, like the old geographic lines: ten years ago, it would have been remarkable to see Palestinian customers or salespeople in a Jewish part of town, but today what’s remarkable is how unremarkable it’s become.
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