Empathy was at the centre of this year’s Mekudeshet, the Jerusalem cultural festival, as the city contemplates the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.
Now in its seventh season, Mekudeshet conveyed a progressive focus through music, food and art that acknowledge the city’s many different realities.
The tone of the festival, which ran from late August until the middle of September, is captured in a two-minute film, “Open Jerusalem”. It features a kaleidoscope of images: Hassidic boys and Palestinian girls, Coptic Orthodox Christians and clubbers, Israeli flags and Palestinian flags, Sufis and drag queens, black and white, gay and straight – all juxtaposed against a stirring soundtrack.
Organisers say the video promotes “a new conversation in the backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War”. With thousands of views online, its success is clear.
“A new voice is coming from Jerusalem that no longer lives by left and right. That came to a dead end,” said Itay Mautner, the festival's artistic director.
“Jerusalem is more complicated – now it is about open and closed. You can be an open-minded Charedi and a closed-minded left wing Jew. Our narratives can co-exist without denying, erasing, negating or denigrating.”
Another feature of this year’s festival was the organised tours across Jerusalem’s many districts. These four-hour trips helped people connect with remarkable inhabitants across the city – right or left-wing, religious or secular, East or West, Palestinian or Israeli – through their work and the extraordinary steps they take to bring about change.
Mekudeshet calls these inhabitants “boundary dissolvers” and the tours to meet them were a great success: a thousand tickets quickly sold out.
The boundary dissolvers interviewed by this newspaper offered a freer, more empathic vision of their city: they believe that in diversity flourishes humanity and in difference thrives commonality.
As Mautner said: “An open community is emerging. Jerusalem does not belong to anybody. We are all guests.”
Voices from Jerusalem’s open community
Riman Barakat, 37
CEO “Experience Palestine”
“Once Israelis get past the identity issue and they see you as a human being, they see you personally, they become your friends and they will go all the way to protect you.
“I never judge a situation unless I have a proper understanding. Whatever trigger I may get from the outside, I ask questions, I try to see the situation from different points of view. Most of all, I emphasise commonality over difference.”
Pnina Pfeuffer, 38
Founder “Charedim for Peace”
“My comfort zone is being uncomfortable. It can be language, age, anything – I like to be around variety and colour. [Empathy is] a personal trait.
“There are definitely enough people who can empathise on both sides and bringing their voices into the discussion can change the attitude of many more.
“The pushback is constant. Not just from my community but from the existing government which works hard at convincing us that there is no solution.”
Netta Hazan, 31
“Our generation have grown up with the idea that ‘they’ want to kill us. Israelis can’t go to the West Bank and most Palestinians don't know Israelis; they can’t come to Israel freely and only know settlers and soldiers in the West Bank…
“[I try] to meet the other side, learn about their life, circumstances and identity; to check their needs from a political, personal and collective point of view, and facilitate them in discussing how best to achieve those needs. What’s most important is to recognise another nationality is here who have the right to exist.”
Edna Pinchover, 63
Principal Hadassah Ein Kerem, Israel’s oldest hospital-based school
[The school staff is] “a microcosm of Israel. They talk, communicate. Every morning, if something has happened to one of us we discuss it. Otherwise we couldn’t function. We familiarise and respect the other. [People should] come back to what you share as human beings. In a hospital, shared pain knows no boundaries or colour or divisions.”
Abeer Natsheh, 34
Founder “My Pink Electronics”
“Being a Palestinian woman is doubly hard. You earn even less. I don't want to have borders or limitations. I want to be a citizen of the world. I want to be a human…
“[My strategy] is strengthening my society through empowering women and raising the awareness of people about their role in ending the conflict, through participation in decision-making through elections and political parties.”
Ziad Ghazala, 43
Volunteer with Magen David Adom ambulance service
“[My work has meant] becoming friends and sharing a mutual understanding with Jewish colleagues…Some people are born to do it, while others who have less empathy can be trained to do it. It's a long road.”