Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The decline of Jerusalem

Editor's Note: This one sat in the Draft bin for some time as well. I forget when I actually wrote it, but it's safe to say it was at least a week ago. Again, don't know if that changes anything....

Interesting article on the Beeb today regarding the plight of Jerusalem. I guess I never really thought about it, but Jerusalem is a mess, it's getting worse, and there is no solution on the horizon.

The problems are several: A massive influx of Chabad/Lubavitch/Hasidic/Haredi ultra-orthodox Jews, an exodus of secular Jews, the Intifada and its aftermath, and the wall all play a part in the decline of the ancient and holy city.

The Haredim, who represent (in my opinion) the worst kind of intolerant, fanatical, ignorant, and vindictive humans on the planet, right up there with any toothless fundamentalist Muslim cleric you care to name, are probably the biggest part of the problem. When they move in, things typically don't go too well for everyone else in the neighborhood.

The Haredim move in large groups, partially because they have a ton of kids, and partially because their lifestyle only works if they are surrounded by their own ilk. That, and they generate such ill will, and stand out so egregiously, they become targets on their own.

So, a group of Haredi families decide a certain neighborhood is to their liking. They come traipsing in, buy properties for far more than they are worth, thus quickly setting up shop, and then start enforcing their will on anyone who hasn't moved out when the moving was good. They are intolerant of women not pretty much burqa'd up (floor length dresses, long sleeves, high collars, and wigs), intolerant of anyone doing anything other than praying on Saturday, intolerant of anyone not keeping the strictest of kosher, and on and on. And they're mean about it too. Harassment, physical confrontation, sneaky stuff, violence, it's all fair game to them. If you're not one of them, you are the enemy. Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Euro, it doesn't matter.

I hate these guys. They are extremists, and I have no patience for extremists of any stripe. They are the Jews that most of humanity dislikes, and I can see why.

Given the choice of living amongst these intolerant jerks or bailing, secular Jews (the Jews who built Israel and won all its wars, by the way) are bailing. And with their exit, there goes most of the municipal tax base – Haredi men don't work, they study Torah, which is a lovely ideal, but if you're going to have 12 kids, get a frickin' job.

As the productive secular Jews leave, the Palestinians also stay away. The Palestinian middle class moved deep into the West Bank years ago. With the Intifada raging a few years ago, they stopped coming to Jerusalem, preferring to do their shopping and living in Ramallah, or along the river, or somewhere the bullets were not flying. Now, the Israelis have built the wall, and coming and going is tougher than it used to be, so the middle class stays where it is, does its shopping where it is, and spends less time and money in Jerusalem.

All of which is to say Jerusalem has become a crap place to live and work. We haven't even mentioned the unending construction of the light rail, which has caused traffic chaos in the city which probably invented traffic chaos.

At some point, the thrill of living and working in the epicenter of religion for about three quarters of the world, one of the most ancient, historical spots on Earth, probably wears off. Then, you're left with asshole neighbors, a shrinking tax base, a lot of dirt and intolerance, and not many good reasons to put up with it.

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