Monday, June 24, 2013

Not Nice People

Mishmarot Street, in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, is maybe one of the most important streets in Israel. I went for a walk there on Shabbat, and stood right on the edge of the neighborhood.

Musrara (sometimes called Morasha) is right in the middle of Jerusalem, between the Old City, Meah She’arim and the Municipal center. Today it’s importance lies – among other reasons – in how increasing gentrification and the influx of immigrants have changed the neighborhood dynamics. There’s amazing street art and beautiful architecture, alongside neglected areas and rundown buildings. Every stage of architecture, from the last 130 years, is there. And there’s some fascinating cultural buildings and installations.

But what made Musrara’s name was what happened in the 1960s and 70s there.

With the massive housing shortage after the establishment of the State, thousands of new olim (immigrants) were moved into Musrara, which was right on the border with Jordanian-held Jerusalem. They were subject to daily attacks from Jordanian snipers, the neighborhood was rundown and many streets were basically open sewers.

On Mishmarot Street, also an open sewer through the 1970s, a group of second-generation Mizrachi Jews founded the Israeli Black Panthers. They were a protest group against all the injustice and discrimination by the Government, the lack of respect, the alienation and more. There were demonstrations, riots, and significant community organizing.

After meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir, she famously called them, “not nice people.”

The events in Musrara, and the exposure of discrimination and alienation in Israeli society among more vulnerable Israelis, were critical, I think, in helping us get to where we are today.

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