Jerusalem, referred to over 600 times in the Bible, has represented the cornerstone of our Jewish identity for more than three millennia since it became the capital of King David’s Israelite monarchy. It remained at the core of our spiritual longings following the second dispersion when for 2,000 years our forefathers faced Jerusalem in their daily prayers, yearning for a return to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, even throughout their exile, Jews retained a significant presence in their Holy City and since the 1840s have constituted the largest group inhabiting the city.
Jerusalem also has major religious significance for Christians and Muslims, both of whom denied freedom of worship to other religions when they ruled over the city. During the Jordanian control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967, in flagrant breach of armistice agreements, Jews were refused all access to holy sites, and synagogues and graveyards were desecrated and destroyed. And the world remained silent.
Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the government of Israel – for the first time – ensured that all faiths could freely worship and maintain their religious institutions. If anything, the Israeli authorities discriminated against Jews, denying them the right to worship on the Temple Mount lest Muslims took offense.
Yet to this day many Palestinians deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in the city and make preposterous allegations that the Jewish holy sites, including the Temple, were Zionist fabrications concocted to justify “the Jewish colonialist enterprise.”
To this end they have been systematically destroying archeological evidence on the Temple Mount.
In addition, we are now faced with a determined campaign in which most of the world, including the Obama administration, is pressuring us to once again divide Jerusalem. Even prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, on the eve of his assassination warned the Knesset that Jerusalem must remain united. And indeed in this day and age the concept of dividing cities is considered retrograde.
We are also painfully aware of the appalling track records of many Islamic states which deny freedom of worship to non-Muslims. The record of the Palestinians in this context is particularly vile, and we should be under no illusions how they would behave if they gained control of the holy sites.
But beyond this there is also the question of security. Every Israeli withdrawal in recent years has led to emboldening the jihadists and intensified aggression and terror. A division of Jerusalem would virtually guarantee that a corrupt or impotent Palestinian Authority or a rabid Hamas would be tempted to launch terror actions against neighboring Jewish areas.
JERUSALEM DAY should therefore not merely be a day of celebration. It should also be a day in which we pledge that, irrespective of the creative solutions devised to provide greater autonomy for Arabs in Jerusalem, the city must never be divided and Israel must remain the custodian to guarantee freedom of worship to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Alas, today, many of us tend to overdramatize the challenges confronting us and display a penchant for self criticism which approaches masochism. Jerusalem Day should be a day when we give thanks to the Almighty for His intervention and pay tribute to those who fought against overwhelming odds to reunite the city and establish our national homeland.
Despite successive wars, facing ongoing terror and still being surrounded by enemies pledged to destroy us, Israel is here to stay. Seven and half million Israeli citizens, three quarters of whom are Jews, have achieved a demographic critical mass and notwithstanding the many doomsday predictions, the Jewish state can never be undone.
And despite an absence of natural resources, we have transformed our country into a veritable economic powerhouse which has achieved miraculous progress in science, technology, industry and agriculture. Tiny Israel has more hi-tech start-ups and companies listed on NASDAQ than any country other than the US. Our arts and cultural development is expanding and we continue producing Nobel Prize winners.
We have undergone a religious revival and today there are more Jews in Israel learning Torah than in any age in Jewish history.
We have successfully absorbed millions of Jews, the majority being Holocaust survivors and refugees finding haven from oppression. They originate from all four corners of the globe ranging from Western olim to Ethiopians. And while the integration process has still a long way to go, no society in the world has succeeded in absorbing such a mass of immigrants and molding them into a nation.
WE SEE the shocking global resurgence of anti-Semitism, mankind’s oldest and perennial hatred, throughout the Western world. Many Diaspora Jews, especially in Europe, have reached the obvious conclusion that there is no future for their children in societies that treat them as pariahs. In contrast, our children live without ever experiencing the pain and humiliation of discrimination or being treated as inferior. For them Jewish identity is natural and requires no justification. The world applies double standards against us. With millions of innocent human beings murdered or denied human rights, we Jews remain the people who dwell alone.
The bitter lesson of our history has been that while we are obliged to forge alliances, ultimately we must rely on our own resources, rather than the goodwill of others. That is why we should continuously celebrate the fact that after 2,000 years of persecution, degradation and exile, the creation of a Jewish state has now empowered us. We must realize that so long as the majority of our people remain determined, our future rests in our own hands Those who wail about our shortcomings and the corruption within our ranks should realize that it is a mark of a a healthy society when it transparently discloses its weaknesses and exacts harsh punishment on leaders who transgress.
We failed to achieve peace with our neighbors because we lack a peace partner. For years we deluded ourselves into believing that providing Arabs with land would achieve peace, only to belatedly realize that the Palestinian goal was neither peace, nor an independent state for themselves. Their primary objective was to deny legitimacy to Jewish sovereignty in the region.
When in years to come, our neighbors ultimately come to the realization that they can never vanquish us, they will follow the example of Egypt and Jordan – and appoint leaders who will peacefully coexist and enjoy prosperity with us.
I often contemplate what our grandparents would have thought during the dark years of the Holocaust had someone predicted to them that the Jewish people would rise like a phoenix from the ashes to resurrect a Jewish homeland which would become the greatest success story of our century. That is the theme that should run through our minds as we celebrate Jerusalem Day. And it should make us smile.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post