A Jerusalem neighborhood’s line in the sky
The view from Jerusalem’s hilltop Abu Tor neighborhood is pretty good.
Too good, some might say.
From my apartment terrace, I can glimpse the major tourist sites: Old City walls, the golden Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount, the King David Hotel and Mt. Zion, believed to be the location of the Last Supper.
But when clashes erupt between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators, I can also watch tear-gas clouds rise from the Arab village of Silwan below. And every morning, the sun rises over a massive concrete wall, part of Israel’s West Bank security barrier.
Abu Tor is often heralded as one of Jerusalem’s few mixed neighborhoods, where Israelis and Palestinians live together. In reality, however, there’s not much mingling. Living here often reveals more about the divisions of Jerusalem than its unity.
Lately it’s been a battle for the skyline. Blue-and-white Israeli flags are popping up on the rooftops of Jewish homes. Palestinians dominate the evening landscape with their green-lit mosque minarets.
And then there’s the mysterious high-wire that hangs outside my office window. It’s a thin metal wire attached to two 30-foot-high posts on opposite sides of the street, with a little red ribbon tied in the middle.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep putting it up. Palestinian kids keep tearing it down.
The other day, a brown maintenance truck drove up, and two Orthodox workers, with black hats and side locks, sweated for nearly an hour reattaching the wire with long poles. The next morning, it was lying across the road. The workers returned the same day and put it up again.
It’s become a kind of neighborhood barometer. Every morning I glance out the window to see who’s ahead.
The war of the wire started about a year ago, neighborhood kids say. They cut it down because the wire ensnares their kites, and this is peak season for kite-flying in wind-swept Abu Tor.
The odd thing is that few in the neighborhood seem to know exactly what this wire is for. Theories abound.
Palestinians assume it’s some sort of secret border to separate the neighborhood or warn Jews against crossing into the “wrong” area. “Palestinian terrorists are on this side,” joked one Palestinian, “and the good Jews stay over there.”
Nonsense, said a Jewish Israeli, who said the red ribbon must be a marker for tour groups so they don’t get lost.
A German aid official who lives upstairs heard that the wire — one of a few strung around the neighborhood — demarcates some kind of “blessed zone” during Jewish holidays. Because our building is outside the zone, he added, “if you want to be blessed, you’ll have to cross the street.”
A secular Jewish neighbor said he thought the wire had some religious significance, but he wasn’t sure what it was and grumbled, “The whole thing is nonsense.”
A little investigation revealed that everyone was a little bit right, but mostly wrong. The wires are part of eruv, a boundary marker that delineates an area where Jews may carry things during the Sabbath. According to religious laws, Jews may not carry anything in public — whether a baby or house keys — unless the area has been closed off by eruv markers.
In recent years, ultra-Orthodox religious groups in Jerusalem have been putting them up throughout the city. That’s angered many secular Jews, like my landlord, who think the eruvs will draw Orthodox families into secular neighborhoods and possibly hurt property values. One Jewish college professor was arrested for dismantling an eruv near his home. I’ve started eyeing my landlord a little more closely, wondering if I’ll catch him with wire cutters.
His concern is economic: He’s been trying to sell the building. With Abu Tor’s sweeping views, I assumed this place would get snapped up. It’s like beachfront property in Southern California or having a view of Central Park in New York.
But as a real estate broker explained, Abu Tor is a tough sell. Prices are among the steepest in the city. Few Palestinians have that kind of cash, and Jewish Israelis who can afford multimillion-dollar homes don’t always feel comfortable living in a mixed community where neighbors fight over a wire.
Turns out this amazing view, which I feel so lucky to have, isn’t one everyone wants to see.