Tel Aviv Diary: A Tale of Two Cities

Revellers take part in a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 3. Baz Ratner/reuters

This past Friday, 200,000 gay and straight Israelis marched through the streets of Tel Aviv to mark the start of gay pride week. The parade ended in a giant party along the Tel Aviv beach line, with tens of thousands celebrating the event.

On Sunday, 10,000 individuals (mostly identified with the national religious movement in Israel) paraded through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem in honor of Jerusalem Day, with Israeli flags waved proudly to underscore that Israeli sovereignty rules over that part of the city. The march ended at the Western Wall, where speeches and a prayer service followed.

Both events demonstrate the gulf that separates the mostly secular Tel Aviv (though there is a growing religious community in our city) and the largely religious Jerusalem (with its small secular Jewish and much larger Arab minorities).

Jerusalem Day was established to celebrate Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. Forty-nine years ago, this victory was seen as miraculous, transforming Israel from a small country constantly under threat into a significant regional power.

More important to many, the Six-Day War resulted in Israel capturing the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, which had been divided since Israel's War of Independence (including the Old City, the location of Judaism's most sacred site, the Western Wall).

In 1967, Israelis from all parts of the country came to visit the eastern sector of the city and say a prayer at the Western Wall, marking the first time in nearly 2,000 years that the entire city of Jerusalem was once again under Jewish sovereignty.

In subsequent years, Jerusalem Day has been celebrated as a national holiday. However, on Sunday, if you lived in Tel Aviv, the only way you would know it was a holiday was by listening to news broadcasts, all of which presented segments on Jerusalem 49 years ago and today, while also covering the controversy over the march through the Muslim Quarter, a march that, despite concerns, took place without any violence.

Just two days earlier, the city of Tel Aviv nearly came to a standstill as the annual gay pride parade was in progress. Beyond those marching, tens of thousands stood on the side of the road to cheer on marchers. Tel Avivians, whether straight or gay, take pride in their reputation of being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.

To many in Tel Aviv, the capture of East Jerusalem 49 years ago is a distant historic event. While reunifying Jerusalem allowed Israelis access to those parts of the city that had long been closed to them, the reunification of the holy city also brought with it a problem that seems almost insoluble today.

For 49 years, Israelis have fought one another rhetorically and politically about what to do with the territory captured in 1967—including parts of Jerusalem and even parts of what is known as "the Holy Basin" (the Temple Mount and the surrounding areas).

With the exception of the far left and the far right, almost everyone agrees that finding a solution is extremely difficult. Though many disagree about why reaching a solution is so problematic, with some thinking the Palestinians' refusal to compromise is to blame and others believing the fault lies with our government, few think the path to a resolution is clear or straightforward.

Those on the extremes, however, who live in a fantasyland, have it easy. Right-wing zealots contend we must exercise permanent sovereignty over millions of Palestinians—without giving them full rights—and that we can exert that same sovereignty over the Temple Mount without going to war with the Muslim world. At the same time, left-wing militants believe that all we have to do is agree to withdraw from the areas captured in 1967 and peace will break out. Meanwhile, the majority of the rest of us live in that complicated place that seems to offer no good solutions.

In the years immediately after the Six-Day War, the face of Jerusalem changed rapidly, with several new neighborhoods being built. While construction has never stopped in Jerusalem, it's Tel Aviv that has been undergoing a physical transformation these last few years, with cranes filling the sky as skyscrapers go up wherever zoning regulations permit.

Few Tel Avivians ever travel the 45-minute ride to Jerusalem. I remember hearing a line a few years ago that has stuck with me: Jerusalem is a city that expends every effort fighting over its history and defending its reputation, while Tel Aviv is a city consumed with the comfort of its residents and ensuring its bright future.

The events of the past few days have proved the extent to which that statement still rings true.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.