Tonight begins Yom Yerushalayim — Jerusalem Day — which marks the reunification of Jerusalem. This year is special because we are celebrating 40 years. There will be concerts and parades, fireworks and ceremonies. Parts of the city are lit with special decorative lights. This is OUR celebration, and ours alone.
I devote my message exclusively to Jerusalem .
Three thousand years we go back with regard to Jerusalem. That’s when King David conquered the ancient city and made it his capital for a united Judean/Israelite kingdom. David’s son, Solomon, built the First Temple on an elevated place above the city called Mount Moriah (which has considerable sanctity in Jewish tradition for other reasons).
The Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE, and the Jews were exiled to Babylon. They returned in 548 BCE and constructed the Second Temple on the same site: it was ultimately enlarged and expanded, most notably during Herod’s time just at the beginning of the Common Era.
Jerusalem fell in 70 CE; the Romans sacked the Temple . Thus began two millennia of Jewish disaspora. But there was always a Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Never, with all of the many occupations that transpired over 1900 years, did any other people ever make Jerusalem their capital. While the Temple was destroyed, the Mount it had stood on and sections of its supporting wall to the west and south remained.
In the late 7th Century, during the Umayyad (an early Muslim) caliphate, the Dome of the Rock was constructed on the Mount, with the Al-Aksa Mosque following in the beginning of the 8th Century. These edifices, too, were rebuilt over time.
In the early 16th Century, the Turkish Ottomans gained control of Jerusalem, and Suleiman the Magnificent constructed the walls that surround what is today called "The Old City" — which encompasses the Temple Mount, and the Kotel or Western Wall (a section of its retaining wall).
By the mid 1800s, Jews had again become the majority of Jerusalem. At first they lived within the walls of the Old City. In 1861, they established the first neighborhood outside of the walls: Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Other neighborhoods followed.
Following WWI, the British controlled Jerusalem . When they received the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, Jerusalem was included. In 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recommending that Palestine be divided between the Jews and the Arabs, with Jerusalem to be internationalized as a "corpus seperatum" — a separate entity. It must be emphasized that this was only a recommendation, because General Assembly resolutions have no legal status in international law. In any event, the Arabs rejected this recommendation.
When Israel declared independence in 1948, the Arab League promptly attacked. By the time the war ended in 1949, and armistice lines were established, Israel controlled western Jerusalem (the newer part of the city) and Jordan controlled eastern Jerusalem (the Old City and other neighborhoods), which was rendered totally Judenrein. According to the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Jordan, Jews were supposed to be allowed access to their holy sites in eastern Jerusalem. Jordan reneged completely; Jews could not even reach the Kotel. The Jordanians ransacked 57 synagogues, destroying 12 completely and turning others to various uses including as stables for animals. They also ransacked the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, using tombstones to build latrines. It is this time period that turned eastern Jerusalem — the very heart of Jewish heritage — into a seemingly "Arab" area.
On January 23, 1950, Israel resolved that Jerusalem was the Capital.
In the course of the Six Day War of 1967 , a defensive war, Israel took eastern Jerusalem from Jordan. Jerusalem was reunited after 19 years — the only time in its entire 3,000 year history that it had been divided. Almost immediately, the Islamic Wakf (trust) was given day-to-day religious control of the Temple Mount. (At that point the Wakf was Jordanian controlled; during the Oslo years it came under Palestinian control; now the Jordanians are seeking to control it again.) Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem were offered citizenship, but most declined. They do have residency cards which provide them with Israeli perks such as health care, and franchisement within the city.
In July 1980, under Prime Minister Menachem Begin , the Knesset passed Basic Law: Jerusalem — Capital of Israel: "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel."
Israel has taken enormous pains to safeguard within Jerusalem the holy sites of all religions. Over the years a number of new neighborhoods have been established — French Hill, Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, etc. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City has been rebuilt — with a plaza in front of the Kotel; and in recent years old Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem are again being acquired by Jews.
Almost universally, the world has refused to recognize our annexation of eastern Jerusalem. To whom then would it belong? In terms of international law — never mind ancient heritage — our case is exceedingly strong. The Jordanians, who acquired the area in a war of aggression, have no claim. The Palestinian Arabs never had it. (It should be noted, they live in large numbers in the city, where the Jerusalem residency cards are highly coveted, and they do a considerable amount of illegal building to gain a further foothold.) The issue of it being an international city is entirely moot — though people continue to drag up this option. (It was Ben Gurion who pointed out that when Jerusalem was under siege, the international community paid no notice, leaving it to Jews to attend to the matter.)
The simple, unpalatable truth is that Jewish rights are diminished by the international community and we are treated differently from the way the world treats other nations. Only in the case of Israel is a nation’s right to select her own capital denied. Embassies are in Tel Aviv. The US Consulate in Jerusalem issues US documents such as passports for US citizens resident here that say, "Issued in Jerusalem." Period. Not "Jerusalem, Israel."
Yet another simple truth — largely unacknowledged — is that the world benefits by Israeli control of Jerusalem, because it is only under our control that holy sites of all religions will be protected. Not only has Jordan a record of total disregard of Jewish religious rights. The Palestinians have demonstrated a similar disregard. Outside Shechem they failed to protect Joseph’s Tomb, as they were committed to do under Oslo, so that it was desecrated. In Bethlehem, Palestinians desecrated the Church of the Nativity. From a purely religious perspective, Palestinian Arab control of eastern Jerusalem would be a disaster.
JEWISH ATTACHMENT TO JERUSALEM
Jerusalem is absolutely central to Judaism. "If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning…"
Yom Kippur and the Pesach seder both end with "Next Year in Jerusalem." A Jewish man, when marrying, crushes a glass under his foot to commemorate the destruction of the Temples. All over the world, Jews face Jerusalem when praying. In Jerusalem, Jews face the Temple Mount. In the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times. ("Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.")
MUSLIM ATTACHMENT TO JERUSALEM
Muslim attachment to Jerusalem is a dubious ,
sometimes affair, and often suggests the need for dominance over another group rather than intrinsic devotion. There is nothing in the historical record to suggest that Mohammad ever set foot in the city, although Islamic legend has it that his night flight to heaven originated there. Nor is Jerusalem mentioned in the Koran even once. Over a period of time, there were Muslim rulers who had control of the area that included Jerusalem who never, ever set foot in Jerusalem. In fact, there was such neglect of Jerusalem after the Umayyad dynasty ended that the Dome of the Rock collapsed.
According to Eli Hertz, in Myths and Facts , the Umayyads constructed the edifices on the Temple Mount because of a power struggle within Islam. They were afraid that their rivals would block their entry into Mecca and so established an alternative holy site.
Jerusalem is referred to as the third holiest site in Islam. Muslims pray with their backs to Jerusalem, facing Mecca. In Jerusalem they pray with their backs to the Temple Mount.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT (Hebrew: Har Habayit)
In point of fact this is Judaism’s holiest site. Not only was it the location of the Temples, the Rock that the current Muslim Dome of the Rock covers is believed to be the Foundation Stone that sat inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The Mount and surrounding area is awash in a wealth of archeological evidence of the ancient Jewish presence. (If you’ve never been here, come and see for yourself: It’s astounding.)
But the Jewish importance of the Mount is obscured today. In an enormously ill-conceived gesture of good will, Moshe Dayan turned day-to-day control of the Mount over to the Muslim Wakf right after Israel gained control of the area. What has happened in recent years is that the Muslims conduct themselves as if this site is totally theirs. From a Jewish religious perspective there are restrictions on going on to the Mount, because care must be taken not to step where the Holy of Holies was. But Jews do go up on the Mount, do want to go up. Yet Muslim regulations constrain them. We need Muslim permission to get to our own holiest site. What is more — incredibly — Jews are not permitted to pray on the Mount. Jewish visitors are watched, and escorted off if their mouths are seen to move silently. Can this be? It is.
What is more, the Muslims have taken liberties with the Mount, and did massive excavations at an area called Solomon’s Stables, in order to construct a new, huge underground mosque. In the process, they destroyed buried archeological ruins and artifacts, dumping them in a garbage heap. They were rescued by an archeologist with private funding. But the antiquities department of Israel was all too silent while this was going on — even though rules forbid the sort of digging that was being done. As if the antiquities department too thinks the area has been relinquished to the Muslims. Can this be? It is. Shame.
In recent years we are seeing what Dore Gold refers to as "Temple Denial." It started with Arafat, who told an astonished Clinton that there had never been Temples on the Mount. The whole thing, you see, was strictly Muslim. This theme has been picked up by many others, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
And, lastly, we are seeing a deliberate attempt to politicize the Mount, as radical Muslims use it as a way to inflame the people — telling them that we are deliberately about to destroy Al Aksa and that riots are necessary to protest. We saw something of this when Sharon went up on the Mount in 2000 and this was used as a pretext to start the Second Intifada. And we saw it again recently when Israeli construction outside the Mount to replace a bridge to the Mount led to cries that we were going to cause the whole thing to collapse.
PALESTINIAN CLAIMS/JEWISH RIGHTS
It is repeated over and over: A Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital. A mantra. A demand. What they ostensibly claim is that they want eastern Jerusalem — that Jerusalem can be the capital of two states at the same time. This would happen if we (G-d forbid) returned to the ’49 armistice lines as demanded. But this is patently ridiculous for a host of reasons, not least of which that Jerusalem must not be divided again, ever.
However, when you examine their demands more closely — including the fact that they say JERUSALEM as the capital of a Palestinian state — it becomes quite clear that they intend to take the whole city.
It is not theirs, IT IS OURS . We must believe in our right to Jerusalem, and treasure her, and stand up to the world in all forums and defend that right forcefully.
I write this from Jerusalem, the most beautiful of cities. I am blessed. I live here.