Prime Minister Netanyahu can continue spouting the slogan that Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the Jewish People until the cows come home, but the shock grenades and water cannons employed by Israeli police against Muslim protesters on Saturday night tell a different story. But let us start from the beginning.
Nothing is “eternal” except the Eternal One. Jews have held sovereign control over Jerusalem during interrupted periods totalling no more than a few hundred years throughout our history. There is nothing united about Jerusalem except its municipal services. Drive along the road (Sultan Suleiman) that follows the northern wall of the Old City. The stores only carry signs in Arabic and English.
Rather than uniting Jews, Jerusalem has served to divide us. One need only look at the dismay caused by Netanyahu’s backtracking on the Western Wall agreement to understand how religious issues have served to divide Jew from Jew. How much more so Jew from Muslim.
When Israel’s Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, calls on Jews “women and men, religious and secular, (to) come to the Temple Mount, with great joy…, and children’s laughter, in the hope of building a united Jerusalem, our eternal capital” it is hardly surprising that Muslims feel threatened and believe that their holy shrine Al Aqsa is at risk.
Erecting metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount is, of course, a justifiable reaction to those who smuggled weapons to the site of El Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock only to use them to murder two Israeli Druse policemen. However, such a blatant response only serves to exacerbate the already tense relationship between Muslims and Jews. As is now recognized by some, the same end could have been achieved in a much less ham-fisted manner.
And then there is the tragic, blood thirsty murder of three members of a Jewish family in the settlement of Halamish, who had gathered together on Erev Shabbat to celebrate the birthday of a grandchild. Nothing can justify the actions of their Palestinian assailant, who should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, why did Jews have to establish a settlement on an isolated hilltop in the West Bank surrounded by Palestinian villages?
In his Star of Redemption, which Franz Rosenzweig wrote exactly one hundred years ago, he stated: “The (Jewish) people, in recurrent contrast to all other people on earth, is not allowed full possession of that home (Israel). It is only ‘a stranger and a sojourner’. God tells us: “The land is Mine.”
Living after the Holocaust, we may not share Rosenzweig’s belief that the Jews do not need a country of their own. However, whereas some may have believed that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”, we know otherwise. The challenge for our political leaders is how to reconcile our justifiable yearning for security and peace with the aspirations of Palestinians who only view us as conquerors. Metal detectors may address a symptom, but they avoid dealing with the core issue.