UNESCO’s Every Grain of Sand

Elie Wiesel said:  “[T]hen, too, there are the Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about their suffering, and soon.”

Once again Palestinian methods diminish the justice of their cause.

Terrorism continues. And then yesterday, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) whose motto is “Building peace in the minds of men and women,” affirmed a biased anti-Israel, and antisemitic, statement about Jerusalem.  In particular this statement, which was fashioned by Palestinian and Arab leaders, recognizes the Muslim connection to Jerusalem but is silent about the Jewish attachment to the holy city.  It denies our historical connection to the Temple Mount.

So outrageous was this statement that UNESCO’s director felt compelled to distance herself from the very organization she leads. Irina Bokovo said: “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site…”

The Western Wall is all that remains of the Temple that was once the center of Jewish worship.  This is why it is so holy.  This is why Jews clamor to touch its ancient stones.

In fact during biblical times the greatest holiday was the one we will soon celebrate: Sukkot.  It was not Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.  Jews would pilgrimage to the Temple where they would offer sacrifices.  In fact both the first and second Temples were dedicated on the eight-day holiday of Sukkot.  This is most likely why Hanukkah is eight days long.  The Maccabees recaptured the Temple from the Syrian-Greeks and rededicated the Temple to Jewish worship.  Their dedication ceremony was, like the prior dedication ceremonies, eight days long.  Hanukkah means dedication.

It is therefore not only outrageous but factually inaccurate to deny the Jewish connection to the Temple and its surviving remnant, the Western Wall.  It is a denial of history to remain silent about the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the land of Israel.  Throughout contemporary times there have been many Palestinian attempts to deny this Jewish connection to the land.  Too often the preferred narrative taught in Palestinian, and Arab, circles is that Zionism is a European (and colonial) implant in the Arab Middle East.  Look in vain through many Arab textbooks or airlines’ inflight magazines for a map of the modern State of Israel.

Too often the 3,000-year-old Jewish attachment to Jerusalem, and the land of Israel, is denied.  Archaeological evidence about King David, for example, is ignored or even in some cases discarded.  These efforts should be called by their proper name: antisemitism.  To deny Jewish history is antisemitism.  The goal of these efforts is to portray Zionism and the modern State of Israel as foreign to the Middle East and therefore illegitimate.

The reason why Zionism is so successful is in part because of this historical attachment.  We could not rebuild a nation in any other place but the place that was once our home.  Zionism is about returning home.

Peace can never be achieved by denying the other.  It cannot be gained by turning history into fiction.  Truth cannot be made to conform only to one’s own aspirations.

Again Wiesel. “I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.”  Such were the words he offered when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

Thirty years later why do we still seek to delegitimize the other?

Peace can only be achieved by affirming the dreams and aspirations of the other.  Peace can only be achieved by honestly coming to terms with history.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

So wrote Bob Dylan, the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, a community serving Long Island's North Shore. He began his rabbinical career in 1991 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. He travels every summer to Jerusalem to learn at the Shalom Hartman Institute where he is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Rabbi Moskowitz is married to Rabbi Susie Moskowitz and is the father of Shira and Ari.
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