Let’s talk about Jerusalem.
Many have claimed President Trump’s announced intention to recognize Jerusalem, as Israel’s capital is wrong. They claim Jerusalem should be an international city because it is sacred to Muslims and Christians as well as Jews.
It is strange. No one denies Mecca as Islam’s holiest city or that Rome is the center of the Catholic Church. But the fact Jerusalem holds analogous status in the hearts of Jews meets resistance.
One must ask, is it anti-Semitism, political naiveté or something else?
If it is anti-Semitism no explanation will do any good. It is a fact that certain people hate Jews and deny the legitimacy of Jerusalem as the Jewish touchstone on those grounds. I pity them their irrational hatred but will not waste words trying to talk them out of it.
For those unaware, though a review of facts might help. I hope so.
Since the time of King David three thousand years ago, Jews have either lived in or longed for Jerusalem.
In darkest hours of persecution and exile our Sages pined, “Better to live in a hovel on a dung heap in Jerusalem than a palace in the diaspora.”
Today, some call for Jerusalem to be an international city, perhaps under the authority of the United Nations. That is exactly the proposal the UN made on November 29 1947 in a proposal that called for the creation of both an Arab and a Jewish state.
Proponents of the Jewish State rejoiced and embraced the proposal. The Arab world denied the proposal claiming they would not tolerate the existence of any Jewish state. Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League vowed that the ensuing war would be like the Mongolian massacres like the crusades and that the rivers would run with Jewish blood.
In that war an armistice divided Jerusalem leaving Jewish holy sites under Arab control. What did they do?
They made the area of the Western Wall a slum a, they desecrated the sacred Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and they used the tombstones to make latrines for Jordanian soldiers. Most importantly, no Jews were permitted access to the Western Wall of the ancient temple courtyard. For 19 years Jordan prevented any Jew from praying at Judaism’s holiest site.
Then came 1967.
In early June of that year, Egypt and Syria announced an alliance to wipe Israel off the map. They mobilized their troops, ordered UN forces away from the buffer that stood between Egypt and Israel and blockaded the straits of Tiran to ships wishing to bring goods to the Israeli port of Eilat.
In response to these threats Israel launched a preemptive strike against Syria and Egypt. In the midst of the fighting Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol warned Jordan to stay out of the fray. But Jordan ignored the warning and invaded West Jerusalem. In the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting of the war, Israel repulsed Jordan’s invasion and drove her troops across the Jordan River.
Immediately after the war Israel offered peace to the Arab world. The Arab leaders met in a summit at Khartoum in the Sudan and produced at that meeting a declaration known as the “Three No’s.”
- No peace with Israel
- No recognition of Israel
- No negotiation with Israel.
Since 1967, the Holy Sites of Christianity are under Christian control and the holy sites of Islam are under Islamic control. .
The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol by the United States does not change this reality. It also does not change the future possibility—when and if peace comes to the regions—that East Jerusalem will be the capitol of a future Palestinian State.
Israel has proved to the world that it will make sacrifices for peace with Egypt and with Jordan. It will make sacrifices for peace with the Palestinians as well.
There is no doubt that the creation of Israel displaced many Arabs from their homes. Many left at the instruction of their leaders who told them to clear the way for the massacre of the Jews.
But Jews forced many to leave as well.
Jewish tradition demands we take no delight in the suffering of our enemy. One of my favorite Midrashim is one in which the Holy One silence the angels who are rejoicing as the Egyptians drown in the Sea of Reeds. The Bible itself pays sympathy to the tears of the fallen enemy Sisera in the book of Judges. Similarly we should feel the pain of Arab and Palestinian parents who lose their children in wars and skirmishes against Israel.
And I will say that Israel as the country with the power has the responsibility to make sure the doorway to peace through negotiation stays open.
I would love to see a freeze and a rollback of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I would love to see eases on checkpoints and the ability of Palestinians to travel freely in Israel.
But I sit here safe in the USA, and Israel’s population must live with the security risks such decision would entail.
Today, many Israeli descend from refugees of Arab countries who parents and grandparents in 1948 left places like Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen with the clothes on their back. Their offspring are less likely to advocate Israel take the “risks for peace” that eloquent urbane liberals—both within and outside of Israel—advocate.
My blood chilled when I say a YouTube interview with an Arab mother just after her child successfully underwent a life-saving operation by Israeli doctors. Filmed in the hospital where her child had been saved, she said she would be proud to have that same child become a martyr in a subsequent suicide bombing.
Most Palestinians do not share the mother’s view, of course, but many do, and that is central do the problem today. The Palestinian authorities glorify their martyrs, erect monuments to them and hold them up as examples to emulate.
I would love to see peace come to the region. But before that can happen, the Palestinian people and the leaders of both the PLO and Hamas must be willing to recognize and live in peace with the Jewish State of Israel.
Unlikely? Yes, but I will cling to that sliver of hope that Jerusalem, the “Holy City” will finally live up to its name, “the City of Peace.” I cling to the hope that a Palestinian State with its capitol there can live side by side with Israel in mutual harmony and cooperation. To paraphrase Theodor Herzl famous statement: “If both sides will it, it does not have to be just a dream.”