Today’s deluge of poisonous anti-Israel diatribe has set a new record, I’m sure. Such passion and so much resolve when it comes to the question of Jews and Jerusalem–it’s been categorized as an impending crisis, a threat to the status quo, and justifiable violence because the US has finally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It actually reminds me of what I recently read in The Wandering Jew Has Arrived by journalist Albert Londres—an objective observation by a non-Jew who traveled to Palestine during the maniacal years of Arab violence towards Jews. The violence was fanned by Hadj Amin el-Husseini who was appointed mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 by the British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel. The idea was to convince the Arabs that the British were impartial, so having a Jew appoint an Arab, albeit a dangerous fanatic who would spew “Death to the Jews,” would allow them to contain the violence. But it didn’t work out as they had envisioned. Husseini had dreamed of restoring the Caliphate and expelling all Jews out of the country. He incited his followers and spread a rumor that Jews were about to rebuild their Temple on the very site that Muslims had built the Mosque of Omar. This led to the massacre of Jews in Jerusalem as well as many other acts of terror directed towards the Jewish population, and the catalyst for riots in Hebron, Jaffa and Safed. Arab dockworkers staged a large-scale strike in Jaffa, trying to bring the entire country to a halt, and Husseini exacted pressure on the British to restrain Jewish immigration to Palestine. He also developed a great fondness and enthusiasm for Nazis, and a special relationship with Hitler.
So now, many decades later, Jews are threatened with another wave of terror, but what’s different is that Palestinian violence has spread beyond Israel’s borders, and they are holding the rest of the world to ransom. They feel they have every right to turn to violence, specifically after the UN Security Council Resolution that declared that Israel had no legal validity in Jerusalem, and it could not make any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines either. This was such a biased resolution, so preposterous and an insult to every Jew–secular or religious–who understood the value of Jerusalem for all Jews, even after they were expelled from their country. It was a decision that President Obama fully supported, even encouraged.
This development continues to receive unprecedented media coverage, but for all the wrong reasons. Let’s see, the fight is over a city that was built by Jews, for Jews first and foremost, and has continued to serve as the spiritual center of the Jewish people for 3000 years. Jerusalem was conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times; it also became central to the story of Jesus, and Muhammad—as such, all three religions have a shared history in Jerusalem, and the city is a mosaic of elements of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim beliefs. However, a kumbaya atmosphere or balance would not be an accurate depiction either. During the 10th century Muslims had massacred Christians in Jerusalem, and the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 successfully claimed Jerusalem as their own. The Islamic reconquest of Jerusalem also created an incongruous atmosphere that loomed over anyone perceived as an infidel, this included kidnappings of Jews and Christians. In 1130, the Fatimid caliph also ordered the destruction of churches and synagogues. This tug-of-war spanned many centuries; the Jews were tossed to the sidelines most of the time and lived at the behest of Muslims who took full control of every single structure around the Western Wall. Jews needed permission to pray at the Wall, while other Jewish holy sites were off limits. Despite these hardships, Jerusalem remained at the center of Jewish hearts. How could that not be the case when we have so much text that is devoted to the Jews’ attachment to Jerusalem?
Although Muslims had an advantage, so many different Islamic dynasties controlled the area, yet none of them declared Jerusalem as their capital. Eventually, its importance as the third holiest Islamic city had diminished somewhat–political ambitions and aspirations shifted in another direction. These days, during prayer Muslims turn towards Mecca, where the Kaaba is located. But why not turn towards Jerusalem during one of their many daily prayers?
Palestinian Arabs reignited Islamic interest in Jerusalem and started to focus on Jerusalem as their capital after the 1967 Six-Day-War. That infamous shift was spearheaded by Arafat, leader of the P.L.O., when he adopted a new narrative, as well as the name “Palestine” for his future independent state.
Before their national consciousness took root, Palestinian Arabs had always regarded themselves as part of Greater Syria, and their precise stance towards Palestine was documented during the 1919 First Congress of Muslim-Christians Association that had met in Jerusalem in order to choose their representatives for a Paris Peace Conference. They stated that they did not differ from Syria in terms of their national or religious, linguistic, natural economic and geographical bonds. They also claimed that Palestine was a Zionist invention. When Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control in 1948, Jerusalem remained neglected for almost 20 years; Jews were prevented from praying at the Western Wall and could not live in the Jewish Quarter, yet just like in prior occupations, not one single Arab leader regarded Jerusalem as their capital.
The animus directed towards Israel by the progressive press, especially after the US’s declaration pertaining to Jerusalem has been an entertaining farce. They would have you believe that Israel is a reincarnation of the Third Reich, that it’s about to prevent Muslims from continuing to reside and work in Jerusalem or pray in their holy sites. That same press would have you believe that there is no democracy in Israel either, no free press, and that Arabs are not integrated into Israeli society. These journalists come from developed countries where their history is a source of pride; they enjoy national serenity, albeit a few “dark spots” in their past, which people tend to forget, or purposely ignore. This is true especially with regard to their country’s treatment of Jews, or other minorities, or majorities as would be the case with Australia and its treatment of Aboriginals, or America and its treatment of Native Americans. And there are so many of these injustices all over the world that have become accepted as fact—never seriously contested because some countries are more deserving than others. There’s a pecking order in every aspect of life, isn’t there? The difference between all other people forcefully removed from their countries or colonized by others has been that Jews were able to continuously evolve into complex societies, as well as regain control of their destiny by returning and reclaiming what was rightfully theirs.
Anyone who wishes to hear Hebrew may fly to Israel and witness a lively, thriving language that dates back thousands of years. But if you want to hear a spoken Native American language, you would probably have to attend one of those summertime reenactments of the French-Indian War.
How many countries still occupy foreign territories? Plenty, and, strangely, England pops to mind–owning many different territories(about 14, I think) as part of the British Empire, and where Queen Elizabeth is still regarded as their head of state. If everything had always gone according to plan, following the 1937 Peel Commission, Israel would have been divided into three parts: Jewish, Arab, and British–where Jews would retain independence in the Galilee and Jezreel Valley; Arabs would get the remainder of the territory, which would later be incorporated into Transjordan, and the British would have retained control over Jerusalem, Nazareth and the area leading up to the port of Haifa.
Then you have J Steet—an organization comprised of people who generally fall into the category of pitiful Jews–the ones escaping their Jewish origins and enjoying support for finding the enemy within. They say that “they represent the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” That can’t be true because they don’t represent me, and I’m all of the above. Still, their proclamations leave me scratching my head. A recent example would be a statement made on November 7, 2017, by Zoe Goldblum, head of the National Student Board of J Street U at Stanford: Goldblum warned against applying the label of “anti-Semite” to all those who oppose the existence of the State of Israel. They have also voiced their concerns over the recent changes pertaining to Jerusalem; they believe that Palestinians should have East Jerusalem as their capital, and until this happens Israel should not be able to claim any part of Jerusalem as its capital. But these individuals remind me of what I have learned about converso Jews in Spain during the 14th century; they were busy echoing the populist sentiment against Jews, calling for segregation and always using the Bible and other teachings to prove that Jews had a distinctive identity, grotesque qualities, and no place in society. Today’s anti-Zionist Jews present a surreal image of Israel as a colonialist nation but ignore the politics, policies, and terror directed at Jews. Their stance has never improved the situation in the Middle East or erased anti-Semitism from the world. However, they have strengthened and emboldened the prejudice of others and the preposterous, fantastical claims of Palestinians.
Those who critique Israel fault anyone who relies on biblical claims to the land, but ignore other proof of the Jews’ experience and connection to their historical homeland. The absence of Jews from the region is a deliberate attempt to distort history. Strangely, they become less judgmental when supporting Palestinians who believe that their claim to Jerusalem is spelled out in the Quran. What they refer to as evidence is a passage that describes the Night Journey and ascension of Muhammad, where he mounted Buraq–his horse–and it flew him to the farthest mosque where he met with Abraham and Moses etc . . . Of course that place just happened to be in Jerusalem, and the mosque is where Al-Aqsa sits today, even though early Islamic text doesn’t identify it as that particular mosque or even the city of Jerusalem. You will also find a reference to Bayt al-Maqdis, The Temple, in early Arab text, but that does not sit very well with the rest of their omissions.
Seriously, Holy Scriptures aside, why is every other morsel of evidence of our existence in the region relegated to poppycock. Why is it so damn difficult to acknowledge the fact that Jews were there first, but due to occupation that lasted a mighty long time–from 638 CE until 1917—Jews were forced to live a low-key, restrained existence, though they had always maintained a presence in the region? There is enough evidence to corroborate the establishment of Jewish communities throughout the Holy Land, which gives Jews just as much credence as any other group that wants to call Israel home. Instead, these activists prefer to stick with a ridiculous narrative—that Israel was a Zionist invention, and Jerusalem was never a Jewish capital. In Tehilim we have an important passage: “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” What about the centuries of pining to return to Zion spelled out in other texts, religious as well as secular–the essence and importance of Judaism captured in philosophical works dating back hundreds of years, and the works of new Jewish and non-Jewish writers (Elisheva Bichovsky) who had made Palestine their new home. Their work also serves as an invaluable perspective on Jewish life in the early twentieth century.
And finally, we have Pope Francis who said he could no longer hold his tongue as a result of recent developments. Francis called for “all to honor United Nations resolutions on the city, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.” He wants us to respect the rights of all people . . .” He expects us to honor the UN’s anti-Israel bigoted resolutions. He’s a funny guy! He made a heartfelt appeal to respect the status quo in Jerusalem, but the UN has already interfered with that status quo and declared Israeli presence in Jewish holy sites a flagrant violation under international law. So here’s what I propose: we are all aware of the Vatican’s long-standing, despicable history towards Jews, although there were some popes and Catholic officials who condemned a blood libel here and there–it was nothing more than fleeting support, and after the mid-1800s we find that the Vatican preferred to exercise indifference towards these fabrications, and never stopped the Catholic press from continuing to spread lies about Jews. Does Cardinal Rambolla of Rome ring a bell? Or how about Agust Cardinal Hlond who said: “It is a fact that Jews are waging a war against the Catholic Church . . . It is a fact that they have a corruptive influence on morals . . . “ This goes on and on, but it’s nothing new. In light of the Vatican’s shocking history regarding Jews, I have an idea: how about allowing Jews to claim the Vatican as their own? Or at least allow us to split it with you–it doesn’t even have to be a 50-50 split, but since Jesus was a Jew, why not mull it over with your Council of Cardinal Advisers and see if you can agree to split ownership of the Vatican. Jews will take the east side and the Catholics can keep the western part.
The Pope could have acknowledged Jerusalem as a Jewish city that is host to other religions too, newer religions that evolved after Judaism, but nonetheless a place where Israel welcomes everyone to practice their own beliefs freely. He should stop enabling the liars and prolonging the discord; his word could have a significant impact on many people, but the Vatican takes its usual anti-Jewish stance yet again. I have to ask one last question of the Pope: the kippa that you wear on your head, who gave you the inspiration for that fashion statement?
Supporting this decision about Jerusalem does not turn one into a Trump supporter, but it does help restore some equilibrium. After what has felt like an onslaught from key leaders, and so many nincompoop followers, I find solace in reading the works of some of our greatest writers. Their words send shivers down my spine, and coupled with music one can’t help but feel their haunting pain, bereavement, and longing for Zion and always the hope of return.
Yehudah Halevi was born in Spain and lived about 900 years ago, his poetry is a testament to his love for Zion. There are many works to choose from but one of my favorites has been “Zion, Do you Wonder?” Here are a few stanzas:
“Zion! Do you wonder how and where your captives
Are now, and if they think of you, the far-flocked
From north and south, east, west, and all directions,
Near and far, they send their greetings
As I send mine, captured by my longings . . .”