TCB, Taking Care of Business in Bully Land

Let’s imagine Jerusalem as a total institution, controlled and constrained as a mental hospital. Such institutions, delineated by strict borders, socialize their inmates into specific roles. Because Jerusalem is a city of hills, a metaphor for understanding the social relationships inside the borders might be the children’s jingle common in England and America from as far back as the 1850’s: ” I’m the King of the Castle and you’re the dirty rascal.”


Since June 1967 when Israel conquered or liberated East Jerusalem from the Jordanians, we Jewish Israelis have become the victors. We are King of the Castle. Our prime ministers and mayors assume this role gives us Jewish Israelis the right to live wherever we want, even though the city had clearly-defined neighborhoods before we took over.

“Mine, mine, mine,” sing the conquerors as they march into Arab neighborhoods, couches, tables and armed security guards at the rear, for which the Israeli taxpayer foots the bill. “Ours, ours ours,” goes the refrain as we take over a house in the Muslim Quarter, a few more in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Ras al Amud. We Israeli Jews can live wherever we want, because we own the city. It is ours. We have texts to prove it. Screw the dirty rascals who live here and everyone else who gets in our way.

We behave this way under the guise of a “united city.” This nomenclature, used by the king of the castle, insults all those who live in Jerusalem. Those who defile language assume we are passive inmate-citizens, having no eyes and no brains. Such misuse of language and its accompanying behavior is called “bullying.” Jerusalem is the capital of Bully Land.

In English “bully” refers to the common tough guy met worldwide on playgrounds, in high school lunchrooms and often enough in boardrooms and governments. In Israeli Hebrew, bully (or buli) is also the slang for penis, derived from bulbul, also slang. A bully, or bully-bully, as used frequently by new admiring parents of boys, is a cute little penis.

Bully Land is the place where groups of men fight for male dominance. This became clear to me when I stood at French Square near the Prime Minister’s house in West Jerusalem years ago with ten other middle-aged and older women dressed in black. We held small black signs shaped like a hamsa, the hand of Fatima, that read “End the Occupation!” A few cars beeped their horns in support, but all the male drivers who bothered to slow down to share their political stance expressed their rage in sexual terms: “Go f—k the enemy!” one screamed. “You screw Arabs,” growled one. “You should screw Arabs,” yelled another. “Go f-k yourself,” a man cried, as his 4-wheel drive limped towards Ramban Blvd.

Our signs obviously touched a sensitive spot on these drivers’ anatomy. Beneath their anger, I sensed fear. These men, who others might call hot heads, actually seemed to think with their bullys. Was it we women—dowdy, menopausal and dressed in a-sexual black—who aroused their fear? I think not. Their reaction was so exaggerated that I could only assume it was the Palestinian men, whose liberation we sought, along with their Palestinian wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, who aroused their fear.

Maybe their illogic went like this: Any woman against the Occupation must prefer having sex with a Palestinian Arab rather than me (an Israeli Jew.) This is the fear of an insecure man and possibly the fear of all conquerors who live in constant terror that the conquered sex organ will become more alluring to the conquerors’ women than that of the conquerors. The “power” of the bully is really an expression of his fear of powerlessness, otherwise called impotence.(A similar dynamic existed among blacks and whites in America, as described by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice.) Israeli women in black, the illogic continues, undermine my violent and forceful occupation.

Forty-seven years of occupation and the only things growing in Jerusalem these days are hatred, fear, violence and revenge. Jerusalem is not a nurturing place. It is neither open, united, nor shared. It resembles a closed mental institution more than a democratic, pluralistic, tolerant mixed city. For almost fifty years Israeli Jews have failed Jerusalem. All we are good at is bullying. Bullying leads to unending cycles of repression, rebellion, hatred, violence and revenge.

What is a sane person to do in the presence of this festival of hatred, blood, power and fear?

I suggest inviting a former mayor from Vancouver or San Francisco or some other multi-cultural city built on hills, to come serve as Mayor of Jerusalem for six years. Let this person bring the experience needed to teach Jerusalemites the art of listening and respect, the art of sharing and compromise.

Let one long multi-cultural debka encircle the walls of the Old City.

After this mayor leaves, another such former mayor will come for another six years. This will go on for sixty years until the hatreds subside,  blood pressures fall,  knives return to their proper places in kitchens, and stones will be used for building. Experience has shown that on our own, we Israeli Jews cannot build up Jerusalem as a city of pluralism and peace.

We need help from the goyim. There is no shame in admitting this.

In addition to male insecurity, another serious block to rebuilding a sane city is the fact that in Jerusalem, the hills are alive, not with music, but with conflicting stories. Hill and people are locked in symbiotic knots. Rather than stories embellishing, enlivening or imbuing each other with deeper meanings, we get stuck in our own narratives. They hold us like straight jackets, making Jerusalem feel even more like a closed institution.

I would hope that one of the ten visiting mayors would build The Museum of Narratives, in which each version of each community’s story will be enshrined in a pavilion of the Museum. In this way, citizens and visitors will be able to walk through the conflicts, reading the various narratives of each hill. The stories, finally, will be separated from the rocky hills; each story will command the respect it deserves. Differences will be explored inside the Museum of Narratives with words, rather than outside with sticks and stones.

All municipal council meetings in the rebuilt Jerusalem will begin with the singing of the refrain from that glorious song made famous in 1967, not by Naomi Shemer, but by Aretha Franklin, who spelled out her dream as clear as gold:


Find out what it means to me


Take Care. . . TCB



About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
This entry was posted in Jerusalem, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to TCB, Taking Care of Business in Bully Land

  1. Shoshana London Sappir says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your anger and putting mine in words. I like you am sick and tired of being governed and represented by people who make me nothing but ashamed and horrified. We sure do need help from the outside.


  2. Good for you for having two proposals: 1) mayors from other cities on hills to do 6-year stints to heal/integrate the city of Jerusalem, and, 2) The Museum of Narratives
    Thank you for your clarity and creativity.


  3. carol Novis says:

    Well said, Judy…


  4. Joan Leegant says:

    Judy, such a powerful post. Thank you for your clarity and passion. Missing you even more.


  5. Allan Kohrman says:

    Thank you, Judy.


  6. Bill says:

    Whew! Haaaretz needs you to freshen up their editorial page. Have at it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s