Tuesday, June 06, 2006


“If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem …”

Is Israel’s “Jerusalem Day” losing its relevance?

On May 25, a ceremony took place on Ammunition Hill to celebrate “the day of Jerusalem’s unification.” Jerusalem Day is an annual memorial to pay tribute to those who gave their lives to liberate Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Days’ War. But does this day hold the meaning it once did?

“Some 39 years have gone by,” wrote
Israel Harel, “and a pall of gloom now hangs over Jerusalem, and on over parts of the country too. The elation is gone. Not only is the Temple Mount not in our hands, but other parts of the city too are only formally under Israeli control, and, in fact, are no longer ‘in our hands.’ Israel’s capital is divided not only between Jews and Arabs, but between Jews and Jews. The sense that Jewish and Israeli identity would be weakened if Israel fails to retain a grip on its historic parts is diminishing. And the smaller the national and emotional solidarity with the capital, the smaller the desire to fight for its unity” (Haaretz.com, May 25; emphasis ours throughout).

The importance of Jerusalem to the Jews, of course, goes back centuries. Psalm 137 records their mourning over Jerusalem when they were taken captive by Babylon over 2,500 years ago: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

When East Jerusalem was captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, there was a broad consensus among Israelis that their capital should never again be divided. A unified Jerusalem under Jewish control symbolized the fruition of Jewish hopes and dreams since antiquity. “The State of Israel had never before known a more joyous moment than when then military commander Motta Gur’s voice crackled over the airwaves: ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands’” (ibid.).

On July 30, 1980, Israel’s parliament enacted a law that declared Jerusalem the “unified and eternal capital” of the State of Israel.

Five years of Palestinian intifada changed all that. Five years of jihad, and the Jews’ aspirations are shattered; the Arabs’ aspirations intensified.

The Jews’ capitulation was embodied in their election of a leader whose very platform was to divide Jerusalem. Ehud Olmert campaigned on a pledge to give up much of East Jerusalem. In what amounted to his victory speech, he
spoke directly to the Palestinian leaders: “We are ready to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved land of Israel ….”

The Jews’ vanishing solidarity with Jerusalem has already given rise to a government with a plan to give away parts of that city. Has the “desire to fight for its unity” already disappeared?

Olmert’s “plan to divide Jerusalem reflects a sea change in the thinking of most Israelis, who once considered sacrilegious even the idea of abandoning part of the holy city” (abc News,
May 4). Surely there is some rejoicing in the Arab world over this sea change.

If we compare the national morale of the beleaguered State of Israel with the morale of the opposing force in the Middle East—the Islamic movement led by Iran—we get a good indication of what the future holds for Jerusalem. National morale is an indispensable tool of national survival.

Leo Tolstoy pointed out in War and Peace that the force of an army depends upon its size multiplied by “an unknown x.” That “x is the spirit of the army, the greater or lesser desire to fight and to face dangers …. The men who have the greater desire to fight always put themselves, too, in the more advantageous position for fighting.”

The biblical term for that unknown x is “pride of your power,” something that is prophesied to be broken in this end time (Leviticus 26:19).

As the “spirit” of Israel falters, leading to retreat from strategic locality after strategic locality, it is handing the advantage to its enemies. And its enemies, undoubtedly, are hanging on every sign of Israeli weakness they glimpse, just waiting for an opportune moment for their next move. Israel’s willingness to surrender even parts of East Jerusalem will be seized upon by the Arabs as a sign of weakness, just as has been the case with Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and other localities.

Israel is not about to give up its holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. However, under Israel’s
current plan, in the spirit of compromise—or appeasement—the Old City, which contains sites holy to Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews, would become a “special region with special understandings,” though Israel would retain sovereignty over the area.

As Israel inches backward, the Arabs bound forward. Take, once again, the example of Gaza. Because of the withdrawal of troops from the Strip, the Israeli government had to designate 44 formerly safe communities outside the Gaza Strip as “at risk or in danger” because of Palestinian rocket attacks (contrast this to just 22 communities within the Gaza Strip that had previously been classified as such). Israel would face a similar scenario with the handover of parts of Jerusalem—except, in this case, the very heart of Israel would lie within the danger zone.

The idea is for the Arab part of Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state. And this, supposedly, is what will satisfy the Palestinians. “But,” says James Woolsey, a former cia director, “it seems increasingly clear that the Palestinian cause is fueled by hatred and contempt. … Israeli concessions indeed enhance Palestinian hope, but not of a reasonable two-state solution—rather a hope that they will actually be able to destroy Israel. The Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-Hamas axis is quite explicit about a genocidal objective. When they speak of ‘ending Israeli occupation’ they mean of Tel Aviv”—and Jerusalem, we might add (Wall Street Journal,
May 29).

Israel is a nation whose strength has been sapped and replaced with a spirit of defeat. Who could put it better than Prime Minister Olmert himself, who said during
a speech in New York in June last year: “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.” What joy that must have been to the ears of those enemies.

If a people are tired of fighting—if they don’t think what they once held most precious is even worth fighting for—what are the chances of them holding on to that possession? How can such a people even survive?

Any such nation would be in a very dangerous position. But take a nation which is the enemy of perhaps the most determined, even fanatical, peoples on Earth, and the chances of survival become even slimmer. “Now, after the victory in the Gaza Strip, we will transfer the struggle to the West Bank and later to Jerusalem,” Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Zahar, declared last year. “Neither the liberation of the Gaza Strip, nor the liberation of the West Bank or even Jerusalem will suffice us. Hamas will pursue the armed struggle until the liberation of all our lands. We don’t recognize the State of Israel or its right to hold on to one inch of Palestine. Palestine is an Islamic land belonging to all the Muslims” (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 17, 2005).

Yes, as some may argue, Israel’s military is no laughing matter, not to mention its unspoken nuclear capability. But as time goes on and Israel’s enemies become more convinced of Israel’s lack of willingness to use that mighty power, it almost becomes a moot point.

Israel’s ability to drive fear—or even respect—into its enemies is questionable at best. Iran, leading the charge against Israel, has no qualms about dismissing Israeli threats. When asked to comment on Israel’s call for economic sanctions against Iran several days ago, the
Iranian foreign minister retorted, “What country is that? There is no such country.”

Such a view from an enemy should be shocking enough. But the sad reality is that Israel itself, increasingly, is losing sight of its own identity. “The heart is growing distant and detached from that which Jerusalem symbolizes,” wrote
Israel Harel. “The heart’s inclination is followed by (non) action. … Isolation and sacrifice will be needed to retain sovereignty over the most symbolically and historically important parts of the capital.”

Does Israel have what it will take?

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