Next week we will celebrate Jerusalem Unification Day. That takes place on the 28th of Iyar, represented in Hebrew by the letters kof and ches, which form the word koach, strength. That is the power of the day and the G‑d-given strength that it took for Israeli forces to miraculously recapture and unify that ancient holy city.
For us in this modern day of 2014, there is our “inside Jerusalem,” and then the Jerusalem that a good deal of the world would like to have their way with—what I like to refer to as the “outside Jerusalem.” The 1967 liberation of Jerusalem from the Jordanian occupation it had been under since 1948 will always be considered a watershed moment in the modern history of Israel and indeed Jewish communities around the world.
Who could have fathomed even back then, just a mere two decades after the devastation of the Holocaust, that Jews under constant threat in the fledgling land of Israel would be able to fight back in such a fashion and have ancient Jerusalem virtually fall into our communal laps?
At that time, it was an exhilarating moment for me as an elementary-school student. It was the first time—that is during the Six Day War—that our rebbe in yeshiva allowed us to bring radios to class and have them tuned to news stations so that we could listen to the latest updates on the war. I remember some of my classmates sneaking in radios from time to time in order to surreptitiously listen to New York Mets games. Some of them are still hopeless fans of the same hapless Mets. But, some of us thought at the time, if those Mets can do it then certainly the tiny but tenacious state of Israel can do it too.
On the wall of my office I have three large posters that I purchased years ago in a basement on King George Street that sells copies of these historical photos. One is that famous photo of the three young paratroopers staring up at the Western Wall shortly after Israel declared that, after a 19-year absence, the Kotel was once again ours.
The second photo is of the then-Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, standing at the Wall and for the first time blowing a shofar in celebration of the great event of that day.
And the third photo is of three Israeli generals walking side by side for the first time through the gates of the Old City. The three were all young, accomplished military officers at the time. They were Moshe Dayan, Uzi Narkiss, and Yitzchak Rabin. At the time—it was June 1967—they were just doing their jobs. What their individual ideological or religious feelings were at this momentous and historical time was not relevant, and no one seemed to consider that as part of any future equation. They were liberating Jerusalem and that was all that mattered.
The famous words during those illustrious days, as paratroopers chased the remnants of Jordanian forces from the Temple Mount, were “Har HaBayit b’yadenu.” Those were the words uttered by a platoon commander to headquarters, and they mean “the Temple Mount is in our hands.” It was chilling then as it still is very much so today.
The stunning, almost unbelievable, thing about all this is that it was almost 47 years ago. I don’t know if the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” was ever more applicable than it is in this situation.
Just over the last week, I attended two local functions centered on the future, the challenges, and the crisis facing Yerushalayim. Let me add that I’ve extensively toured Jerusalem over all these years. I’ve been to A-Tur, Bet Hanina, Bet Haziza, and Shimon HaTzaddik, also once known as Sheikh Jarra. I’ve walked to the Damascus Gate at midnight on Tishah B’Av with a delegation of likeminded people, accompanied by about 50 soldiers so that everything stayed cool and uncomplicated.
We’ve walked through the Muslim Quarter in the middle of the night with Mati Dan of Ateret Kohanim, an area that is apparently misnamed because Jews had lived there long before the Muslim powers-that-be decided that as a result of a revised history it belonged to them. And we’ve bounded and sometimes slipped down those steep walkways through the Old City down to the Kotel. This area in particular, where over 5,000 Jews reside, in the shadow of Har HaBayit, is where John Kerry was hoping to coax Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw from and expel the people from their homes so that it could be the capital of the new Palestine.
For their part, the semi-serious Palestinian negotiators were demanding and expecting much more from Jerusalem. They consider the Old City, the German Colony, French Hill, Gilo, and Har Homa all part of eastern Jerusalem that they claim as their own, a position that the United States does not disagree with. The uniform and consistent policy is that the Jews must go and that this will somehow bring peace.
The total population, according to Daniel Luria of Ateret Kohanim, is 235,000. The Palestinians and the Americans were also hoping to strike a deal where a good number of the 450,000 people who reside in Judea and Samaria would also be forced out of their homes as part of a pseudo, half-serious, joke of a peace agreement.
The real shocking thing about these numbers is that negotiators like Tzipi Livni and her associates discuss moving people around like they were pieces on a chessboard. To her and Mr. Kerry, it is a matter of moving 10,000 families from here and a few more thousand from there. As Luria said the other night, it simply cannot happen and will not happen.
An additional question is: How do we reconcile, justify, or understand the words of the prime minister about Jerusalem remaining united and the eternal capital city of Israel with the idea of a quiet freeze that does not allow people to build or expand their homes so as to placate critics like Kerry and President Obama?
And then there was the matter of a program here last Sunday about the state of affairs in the world’s largest and oldest cemetery on what is known as Mount of Olives or Har HaZeitim. Jews the world over sacrifice a great deal in the hope of being buried there after 120 years of living life here on earth. It’s a majestic sight, one that evokes great emotion. Jews aspire to be interred there because it is a short distance from the Har HaBayit and sits in the shadow of the Sha’ar HaMashiach, the gates to Jerusalem where our sages have said is the location through which the long-awaited Messiah will someday soon make his appearance.
Israel recaptured Har HaZeitim with the rest of the Old City in 1967. But here it is, 47 years later, and there is uncertainty and hesitation about asserting Jewish sovereignty over the area. Okay, so we are hesitant and wishy-washy about dealing with residents of Judea and Samaria. In a crazy way, one can rationalize that the living can fend for themselves somehow and in some way. But what about some respect for the dead? Some of those buried there died 3,000 years ago and perhaps even further back in history than that.
So amongst the things that I learned at the Har HaZeitim conference last week was that the local Arabs who live in east Jerusalem, on the perimeter of the cemetery, utilize the burial ground as a playground, amongst other things. During the Jordanian occupation, they used headstones from graves as paving stones for walkways and roads. A hotel—once the Intercontinental Hotel—was built and still exists on top of graves in the cemetery.
Menachem and Abe Lubinsky, two brothers who reside in Brooklyn, have taken the preservation of these hallowed burial grounds as a project of their own. Yes, their parents and extended family members are there, as are family members of friends both here and in Israel. They report that amongst other things there is a high school on a distant edge of the mountain. When the young men are let out for recess a couple of times a day, their favorite pastime is throwing stones at people visiting gravesites or attending funerals on the mount. The activity is ignored by school administrators, and the rock-throwing continues with varying degrees of intensity day after day. People have been injured and sent to hospitals as a result of the teenage, adult-condoned, stoning.
One of the suggestions on the table is to close the school exit that leads the boys directly into the cemetery. There are exits on the other side of the building that would dissuade the activity to some extent. But so far implementing the idea has been continuously delayed by the Jerusalem Municipality that funds the school.
Today Jerusalem is being pulled in multiple directions. The pope is visiting next week and will for the most part ignore the deep Jewish history and attachment to the city. The Palestinians continue harassing Jews who visit Har HaBayit as well as insist that the Jewish effort to “Judaize” the city is unrelenting. And the case of 13-year-old Menachem Binyamin Zivotovsky is scheduled to be heard by the United States Supreme Court in the next few months.
Zivotovsky was born at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem to American parents. They would like his passport to say that he was born in Jerusalem, Israel. There is a law on the books in the U.S. passed by Congress—“The U.S. Policy With Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel,” stating that U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem may request their birthplace to be listed as Israel. The U.S. State Department, however, which issues passports, will not allow for the listing to read “Jerusalem, Israel,” as that would be a political determination of the status of Jerusalem and whether or not at the end of the day the city belongs to Israel.
So next week we celebrate the capture and liberation of Jerusalem almost a half-century ago. On the one hand, it is ours and will no doubt be so forever. On the other hand, the struggle and indeed the battles for Jerusalem continue in so many ways. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.