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Middle East Monica Dispatch

A New Year, A Fresh Start?
January 5, 2000

Map! The balloons fell all around the dance floor, while glittering confetti sparkled. I was overcome with a powerful feeling of hope, and Kevin, his girlfriend Tamar and I all hugged tightly. "Whoo-hoooo! Yay!" we all exclaimed.
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Monica lookin' pretty

We were all dressed up and dancing to the pounding rhythm in a Tel Aviv theater (converted into a dance floor), and I LOVE to dance. We had spent the earlier part of the evening on Sheinkin Street, near Kevin's apartment, where all the hip cool happening young people hang out. Now we were celebrating New Year's Eve here: thousands of other locals and visitors were doing the same thing.

My original plan was to spend New Year's Eve on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (but instead I went dancing). Many hundreds of Christians had gathered there, in the hopes of witnessing the Second Coming. Many thousands of extra police, border police, and volunteers had also been deployed for the weekend all throughout the country, just in case any emergencies cropped up.

It was Shabbat(which is the religious day of rest for Jews), but the Foreign Ministry explained that, since this situation is pikuah nefesh (preservation of human life), all of these people working on Shabbat were not considered a problem in the observant Jewish tradition.

The Jerusalem Post's "Millennium Special Edition" displayed a photo of people praying, eyes closed and hands raised, on Har Megiddo (Mount Megiddo). The word Armageddon comes from that mountain's name, and in the last book of the Bible, the last war between good and evil is supposed to take place here. Some people believed Armageddon would happen right when the clock struck midnight and the new year, January 1, 2000 CE rang in. (That would be 23 Tevet 5760 in the Jewish calendar and 24 Ramadan 1420 in the Muslim calendar.)
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Ringing in the New Year

The term "religious fanaticism" is used sometimes to explain the extreme actions people take for their beliefs, like people camping out on Har Megiddo or on the Mount of Olives. I can think of countless examples of that term being used in the media: can you? Here in Jerusalem at Y2K, the term "religious fervor" could be used to describe the many thousands who descended here for the new year. BUT, I encourage you to be very careful in using words like "religious fanatic," "martyr complex," "cult," and "religious extremism."

Words like these are descriptive and carry connotations with them, but they also try to explain a complex subject--religion--in a very pithy way. Such words can sometimes be used to deny other individuals their basic humanity, by turning them into a category and not people with real thoughts, hopes, and beliefs.

Jerusalem is such a holy place to three different religions, and I hope you will try, along with me, to understand why such a place makes some people so emotional. On Jerusalem Day, Israelis all wear white shirts to commemorate what is now known as either the reunification (to Israelis) or the capture (to Palestinians) of Jerusalem, which happened 33 years ago. While the city's history goes back 3,000 years, Jerusalem's recent status has been that of:

- administrative capital of British-mandated Palestine after World War I

- a city divided between Israel and Jordan after the 1948 War of Independence/Al-Naqba

- a city under Israeli control, from the Six Day War of 1967 up until this point (check our Timeline)
Interested in learning more about the different calendars used by different religions?
Tarek's Hijri/Gregorian/Julian Converter

The Jewish Center for Public Affairs does research on human and women's rights, and the peace process, from a Jewish perspective.
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Find out where ordinary Palestinians and Israelis stand on the Jerusalem question.
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information

Israel considers Jerusalem its capital and keeps the Knesset here, but many other nations do not recognize Jerusalem as a capital, for diplomatic reasons, and instead maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.

The status of Jerusalem remains a sticky point in the peace process: it has been controlled over the millennia by many different peoples. Just this century, the Israelis, Jordanians, and the British on behalf of Palestine have controlled it.

Right now, people who live in Bethlehem, a mere 10 minutes away by car, have to go through a checkpoint to get to Jerusalem. When I took that route, I was shocked by the way the border guards treated the Palestinians with me in the sherut, or shared taxi. The border police called one passenger "habibi," or darling, but I don't think they meant it affectionately. They kept asking him for his papers and poking him in the shoulder.

Maybe I was projecting, but listen to this quote from Jamil Zraiqat, a Jordanian youth who participated in Seeds of Peace. Addressing a group of Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the opening of the SOP Center for Coexistence here, he outlined his hopes for a future Jerusalem:
Vocabulary Box

observant - faithfully following a law, custom or duty
pithy - short and concise
extremism - going beyond the normal or accepted limits
mandated - authorized to govern or control a territory (e.g. Palestine)
spontaneous - unplanned, something done on impulse

"I'd drive towards Jerusalem, crossing the Jordan River... without having to get a visa, without being searched, without even having to show my passport, just going there, just being spontaneous and deciding to go there... I look towards the day when I as a Jordanian, but first as a Muslim and as an Arab, can say that Jerusalem also belongs to me."

Jerusalem's status as sacred ground inspires many different emotions, including those that came to the surface on New Year's Eve and that continue to be a part of the conflict here.

Look in my upcoming dispatches for opinions from more youth about "The Jerusalem Question," and chat with residents of Jerusalem on January 13 in our chat room. In the meantime, Y2K came and went okay here. No major glitches or scares. How was it for you?


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Religions of the World, Unite!
Abeja - 'Twas the Holiday of Holidays!
Kavitha - Homeless in Your Own House
Monica - Christmas Eve in Bethlehem 1999
Team - Exercise Your Right and Write

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