Set the Wall Free

Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day yesterday, commemorating the unification of the East and West parts of the city. I think it is mostly associated though with what is referred to in Israel and the Jewish world as the liberation of the Kotel and Temple Mount. In response to my recent post, in which I shared the discord I felt when seeing tables covered with weapons at a military ceremony at the Kotel, a friend commented that it was probably a ceremony for the paratroopers, military “descendants” of those who had liberated it.

This term is often used. I suspect that what my friend meant by “liberated” is that it is no longer in Arab hands, it’s in ours. My thought at the time was “right”; this is what we were raised on here, a concept of ownership. But I think we should ask ourselves what does this ownership mean? And is the Kotel liberated?

Last July, I found myself in Te Urewera, a remote region in the North Island of Aotearoa (otherwise known as New Zealand). Te Urewera is the first land in the world to legally own itself. Yes, you read this correctly, it owns itself. According to Polynesian tradition, Man does not own Land, Man is Land’s caretaker.

In recent history, New Zealand has been reaching settlements with the different indigenous tribes. The Tūhoe, Te Ureweras’ local Māori tribe, negotiated with The Crown and requested their land back. In brief, The Crown refused, and the tribe came back with a new offer. They suggested returning to the land’s original status, it would own itself and the local tribe would be its protector. The Crown accepted. Te Urewera was liberated.

For thousands of years peoples have been trying to control and claim ownership over the Temple Mount, one after the other, righteously liberating it from the previous occupier. In the name of this liberation and ownership, throughout history, thousands if not millions of people have died. But can anyone really own it? What does owning it mean?

By unfurling a flag over it in `67, did we liberate The Kotel? I think that at best the Kotel got a new caretaker; in reality, and in the way it is managed, it has merely become someone else’s prisoner, or a trophy.

Even within the Jewish world there are ongoing battles of ownership. Who can pray? Where? When? In what format? What can they wear? What can they do? All in the name of claiming rights over something no one owns — holiness.

So, what does liberating the Kotel actually mean?  And if the Kotel was liberated, why is it not free?

About the Author
Shikma Zaarur, Ph.D., completed her academic training at MIT and Yale University in Earth sciences. She recently returned to Israel and resides in Jerusalem.
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