A rebuttal to Mr. Rothberg

Events from 64 years ago many times do seem irrelevant when discussing present events. Other times, to brush under the rug past events leaves the discussion without a basis. Shaiya Rothberg in “It’s time for Jews to wake up and face Israel’s human rights violations” thinks people who blame the “Palestinians” have their heads in the sand. And I ask Mr. Rothberg ” do you remember the siege?”

No, not the siege of Gaza nor the siege of Beirut, but the siege of Jerusalem that started in 1947. The siege lasted almost two years and at its height Jordanian and Egyptian artillery pounded Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods (discriminatory) in a vast effort to kill men, women and children indiscriminately. From the hills where Gilo now stands and from Nebi Musa north of Ramot , Arab armies rained a barrage of terror against the civilian population.

Why is the siege of Jerusalem over 64 years ago so important? It is important because when the 6 Day War was over the siege of Jerusalem was still a fresh and painful memory (thanks to several Jordanian reminders when they fired artillery at hospital in Ein Kerem). The army and the government fore with decided to annex all the hills overlooking the city and to settle the areas with Jews so as to insure a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Discriminatory? Yes, but also affirmative action in the face of past Arab aggression and ages of discrimination against Jews. And yes, that is also Zionism.

So Israel annexed areas, some of them purchased by Jews before 1948 (Har Homa, Nof Zion and Gilo) others had been in the demilitarized zones between Jordan and Israel (Ramat Shlomo, Ramot or Givat HaMatos) and still others expropriated from Arab owners. It was done with the express purpose of preventing Jerusalem from being divided again and it was done because there was no reason to trust the Jordanians or anyone else except ourselves (sounds familiar?). In 1967 the fear that hills surrounding Jerusalem would be used to fire artillery aimed at Jewish neighborhoods seemed very real.

Unfortunately the plan only partly succeeded. Arab Jerusalem didn’t have a wall to prevent Arab migration into the city, city inspectors were too afraid or too busy to enforce regulations in Arab neighborhoods, the political echelon preferred photo ops and trips to New York with donors over formulating a consistent policy regarding the Arab neighborhoods. Today Arab Jerusalem is a mess and despite improvements will remain a mess a long time.

So the conversation , in my opinion, isn’t human rights but Israel does have a real responsibility to improve infrastructure and enforce Israeli law. Fully. There is no way to build adequate roads if some one has built on right of ways and there will be no parks if a house was built where the park was intended. I should know some of it, for each time a project for a road in East Jerusalem needs an economic evaluation we heartily approve it. Economic benefits aside, the roads are just a necessity and a basic decency.

Lately, we have heard of a new “document” by the Presbyterian Church “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide”. The document is for sale and so I haven’t read it, but my understanding is that issues are similar to those Mr. Rothberg raise and the gist is that Zionism is inherently wrong for being discriminatorily in favor of the Jewish People and at the expense of the Arabs. To this , I plead guilty. The history of discrimination against the Jewish People is a black stain on Christian and Moslem societies and there is no way the Jewish People can reestablish themselves in their own country without Affirmative Action. The Jewish People demand justice and we will decide what we need and not leave it to the “nations”. Meanwhile we have established a country where not only Jews can thrive, but even the Arabs are better off than in surrounding countries. Hopefully we can achieve full equality with our Arab citizens, but there must also be a measure a patience: Israel is still being threatened and the Arabs themselves must desire to be equal in both rights and responsibilities.

I notice that Mr. Rothberg teaches at a Conservative Yeshiva. I wonder, does he push the Presbyterian ideology there too? All the Jewish People are lacking are Jewish Presbyterians? I would hope not. Time to be not only aware of our shortcomings but also proud of our achievements. There is no need to whitewash either and certainly it is possible to present both sides.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.