United Jerusalem at 50
The following is a commentary from Richard Wilkins, Secretary of our shul. Mr. Wilkins has had many editorial comments published in local, national and international newspapers including The Wall Street Journal.
From late May into June 1967, deep anxiety enveloped Jewish communities worldwide. The UN observer force in the Sinai had been withdrawn; Egyptian forces had moved massively to Israel's border, and blocked vital Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. Syrian artillery blanketed the Golan Heights, overlooking the Galilee. Jordan had lately been lured into their military alliance. Arab media were ablaze with bloodcurdling threats to "drive the Jews into the Sea". With Israel's signal victory in the Six Day War (June 5-10), that gloom turned to gladness. Most exhilarating, was returned Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem and its sacred sites. "The Temple Mount is in our hands" was a cry heard round the world.
Despite 1949 Armistice guarantees, the Old City had been hermetically sealed to all Israelis, Jews and Arabs. It was hardly accessible even to foreign Christian pilgrims. Under Jordanian occupation, eastern Jerusalem had been a forlorn frontier outpost. Its Jews had either been murdered or expelled, its many synagogues destroyed, and the historic Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery massively desecrated. Blocked eastward by barbed wire, western Jerusalem had been but tenuously connected to the rest of Israel, accessible only via a narrow corridor.
Newly united Jerusalem then began a period of spectacular growth. Now, a half-century later, it is a flourishing metropolis, with a highly diverse population, a place both sacred and secular, modern and ancient, filled with treasures of the past and technology of the future, and, as security concerns permit, open to all, closed to none. The holy sites of the three Abrahamitic religions have been enhanced and protected.
Since King David made it his capital, 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem has been absolutely central to the Jewish imagination. Half a millennium later, after the destruction of Solomon's Temple, exiled Judeans in Babylon, vowed "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning ... if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy" (Ps. 137:5-6). After Roman destruction of the Second Temple, and Jewish worldwide dispersion, another half millennium later, such sentiment has permeated Jewish prayer and practice. Breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding bemoans the Temples' destruction. There is a midsummer period of intense mourning around the date of those disasters. At the year's most solemn moments, "Next Year in Jerusalem" is the watchword.
The arguments for the Jews' rightful return to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem are so compelling that their enemies must resort to denial of historical reality. They must decry as fraudulent, artifacts regularly unearthed, confirming the Jews' three millennia presence. Sacred sites must be renamed, so as to hide their provenance. It is even claimed that their Temples never even existed. Such lies should be as offensive to Christians, as to Jews, since it erases their sacred history as well. Recent UNESCO and UN Human Rights Council ahistorical resolutions, denying the Jews any rights anywhere in Jerusalem, are beneath contempt, and represent a deep blot on an international community unwilling to vehemently denounce such absurdities.
Under the Ottomans, Jews enjoyed few rights, with their access to sacred sites severely restricted.They could not go beyond the seventh step into the burial site of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs. They were not allowed to sound the rams' horn at the Western Wall. Little better could be expected of the Palestinians, who have explicitly declared that no Jew would be permitted to live in their state. The Jews have returned to their land, never again to leave. They will never again let their holiest sites fall captive to the malignant whims of others.
Why, then, would the international community even consider Jerusalem's re-division? That recalls King Solomon's similar dilemma. Two women had recently given birth. One baby was stillborn; both women claimed the live child. Solomon's solution: divide the baby. Her horrified reaction revealed the real mother. So, too, Jerusalem's present claimants. The Jewish-Jerusalem bond is intensely familial; Palestinian counterclaims are essentially reactive to that profound, enduring relationship.
West and east Jerusalem can no longer easily be cleaved. Arabs now also live in the west, Jews in the east. Divided cities are inherently subject to endless strife, municipal dysfunction, and decay. The status quo does not disadvantage Jerusalem Arabs. They can opt for Israeli citizenship, and many do, especially whenever the prospect of re-division looms. A Palestinian state could locate its capital nearby.
"He who watches over the fig tree should eat its fruit" (Prov. 27:8). The city that others have neglected, the Jews have longed for, hoped for, and, now, for 50 years, lovingly cared for. Zionism, without Zion, would remain tragically unfulfilled. That must not happen. As the united capital of the State of Israel, Jerusalem may now finally fully embody its name, City of Peace, one beckoning to the entire world, and a bejeweled beacon to all humanity.