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(This blog post was originally drafted in response to the piece “Next year in occupied East Jerusalem!”, which appeared in the Jewish Journal (Los Angeles) in March 2010. The draft was on a USB memory stick that disappeared at the time and has just reappeared. While it’s no longer a timely response, I think it’s still an appropriate one. I’m posting it with only minor edits.)
A few reactions to this passionate summation of our historic attachment to Jerusalem, and the apparently unstoppable need to build in East Jerusalem at this particular juncture in history:
Yes, it would have been nice if we could have had it all, right now. We made do without having sovereignty over Jerusalem for almost 2,000 years, however. Maybe
we could do without it for a little longer; say, until the Messiah arrives?
Zionism defied the rabbinic ban on attempting to restore the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland. It did this for sound reasons and at a critical moment in history (if only more had realised just how critical!). That mission and objective has now been achieved. Do we really need to go on tempting fate, pushing the envelope, for the sake of territory that can be considered part of Jerusalem only by a huge stretch of the imagination? It may be appropriate to be passionate about the Old City and the Kotel; less so for the sake of some obscure Palestinian villages that happened to be swept up in the 1967-era greater Jerusalem metropolitan region that supplanted the human-scale city of Jerusalem.
Does this further the historic mission of a minimal Zionism; to provide a home for a homeless people? If not, then maybe it should be considered negotiable, Holy City or not.
I have a huge question mark around why – more than 40 years following the liberation of Jerusalem – we are still trying to digest chunks of the reunited city. That we bit off more than we could chew is apparent, and perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that, if we haven’t digested it by now, perhaps we never will. Right now Israel resembles nothing so much as a python trying to digest an entire sheep. Unfortunately the villagers have happened upon the bloated python and, armed with sticks and stones, are forcing it to regurgitate its prey.
Israel believed it could do a far better job of managing the holy sites than its Jordanian predecessor, but is this in fact the case? Just looking purely at the Jewish holy sites, the Temple Mount was put forever out of bounds by an act of national self-abasement within days of the 6-Day War, when Dayan handed over the keys for the entire Noble Enclosure (rather than just the individual mosques) to the Muslim Waqf. As a result, Jews can now visit the Temple Mount only as individual tourists, and the Waqf has been allowed to Islamicize the entire site, including any archaeological evidence from the 1st and 2nd/3rd Temple periods that may have survived. There is no way to turn back the clock on this one, barring a process that would ignite the entire Muslim world.
When it comes to the Kotel and other Jewish holy sites, Israel’s record is no better. Instead of being open to all Jews, irrespective of how they practice their Judaism, the Kotel and other sites have steadily been transformed into what are effectively Haredi synagogues (and very shabby ones at that). Only the customs and rituals of this most extreme form of Judaism are respected or even tolerated, while expressions of other forms of Judaism are disallowed, or routinely lead to harassment, violence and even arrest.
Quite frankly, I believe I would have better, more equitable access to the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem under a (Gentile) internationalised city than I enjoy under Israel’s regime!
Although still a youngster, I recall that, in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, Israel’s demands for adjustments to the armistice lines on geo-political, defensive and other rational grounds were clearly articulated and met with a sympathetic hearing from the international community. (The adjustments mooted included the Latrun salient, anchoring Israel’s wasp waist along the hills of Gilboa, annexation of the Old City, etc.) That has all now been swept away. Under the influence of the Greater-Israelites, Israel’s maximal demands have been presented as her “red lines”, while at the same time these red lines are somehow negotiable. Instead of rational border adjustments for defensive purposes, such concessions will now have to be wasted on incorporating the “settlement blocs” into Israel proper, an exercise that will do nothing to strengthen Israel’s geopolitical situation or facilitate defensive borders. The logic of defensible borders has been replaced with so much pseudo-Halachic drivel around the imperative to retain all of Judea and Samaria.
Legitimate demands for strategic adjustments have been submerged beneath irrational considerations, and all of them are now likely to be swept aside and rejected out of hand as simple greed.
Once again, Israel has held out for everything, and may well (deservedly) end up with nothing.
For all our supposed attachment to Jerusalem, Israel has quite simply made an unholy mess of integrating the nominally reunited city, and succeeded in putting her claim to Jerusalem as a whole (not just East Jerusalem) up for grabs.