June 09, 2011

Jerusalem

I lived in Jerusalem, through the transition from divided city from which Jews were excluded, to the reunited city of 1967 when once again we could walk on those historical stones and touch the ancient walls. I have never experienced euphoria like that which vivified my soul, my mind, and my senses.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations passed a resolution number 181. Amongst its provision for the partition of British Mandate Territories was the stipulation that Jerusalem would be an open city. Amongst other administrative stipulations were included these:

"The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations. The Trusteeship Council shall be designated to discharge the responsibilities of the Administering Authority on behalf of the United Nations. The Administering Authority in discharging its administrative obligations shall pursue the following special objectives:

To protect and to preserve the unique spiritual and religious interests located in the city of the three great monotheistic faiths throughout the world, Christian, Jewish and Moslem; to this end to ensure that order and peace, and especially religious peace, reign in Jerusalem;

The City of Jerusalem shall be demilitarized; neutrality shall be declared and preserved, and no para-military formations, exercises or activities shall be permitted within its borders.

All persons within the City shall be entitled to equal protection of the laws. Existing rights in respect of Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall not be denied or impaired.

Free access to the Holy Places and religious buildings or sites and the free exercise of worship shall be secured in conformity with existing rights and subject to the requirements of public order and decorum."

Ben-Gurion, on behalf of the Jewish Palestinians, accepted the resolution. The Arab world rejected it. The response of the British was to declare that they would abandon their Mandate responsibility and pull out of the country on May 14, 1948. Britain was supposed to have been neutral in the conflict. During their withdrawal, the British refused to hand over territory or authority to any successor. But in fact military personnel on the ground arranged that the Arab Legion (under the control of British officers) should gain strategic positions around Jerusalem before the actual withdrawal. With Israel's declaration of Independence, on the 15th of May, five Arab armies invaded, and so began the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which ended not in peace, not in agreed boundaries but only in ceasefire lines.

Jerusalem was surrounded. The Jews in the Old City, who had always been a majority since the middle of the nineteenth century, were besieged. They fought valiantly and lost men and women in the battle. Neither the UN nor the British came to their aid. They capitulated and were forced out by the Arab Legion. Only the heroic Burma Relief road was able to save the New City for the Jewish state; but neither the UN, nor the USA, nor Britain was prepared to accept it as the capital of Israel. The Arab conquest of the Old City, unopposed by the rest of the world was the green light for the complete destruction of the Jewish Quarter, the demolition of its ancient synagogues, the desecration of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and the order to shoot any Jew who ventured over the "no man's land" that separated the Arab from the Jewish side of the city. The Legion on one side and the Haganah on the other.

We don't know how any settlement over Jerusalem will be finalized, if at all. Israel has made several offers under Barak and Olmert that give concessions to Muslim rights of access and control. I am a dove but not a suicidal dove. When I look around at the reality on the ground in the Middle East today, I believe it would be madness to make concessions that endanger Israeli security. The one thing history has taught us is not to trust anyone's good word. Certainly not that of the UN, which was mandated and promised to control the flow of arms into southern Lebanon to Hezbollah, after each ceasefire and simply gave up.

So here I was a few weeks ago on Jerusalem Day thinking about Jerusalem, of course. And I have no sympathy for memorial days. We have enough special days in our religion and Jerusalem is remembered at least three times a day. Then I saw the mutilated, castrated body of a 13-year-old Syrian tortured to death by his own government. This was not an isolated case, though it did stand out as a particularly inhuman example of what tyrants get up to. I thought, "How can any sane person want to make peace with people like that?" And this was not the work of crazed individuals, like those sad women who kill their own children. This was not the work of a Hezbollah, Hamas, or Ahmadinejad’s cruel Basij militias, but of a respected Arab state, once the very symbol of Islamic culture and civilization.

In principle I have always believed in trading land for peace. I would trade Jerusalem for peace. That's what our rabbis did two thousand years ago. But never ever, ever would I trust a peace with men like those in power in the Middle East today. Normally spring leads to summer. I am delighted Egypt has opened its border with Gaza, though it now does not appear to be as magnanimous as I would have liked. (And I notice the deluded flotilla fanatics don't seem to be trying to run the Egyptian blockade. Wonder why not?) But I'm waiting to see what happens. No one would be happier than me if a new generation of peacemakers arose this summer which did not believe its own propaganda looking forward to the eventual destruction of Israel. And if these new Arabs would seek a genuine reconciliation, then I would hold a special day and bless the Almighty's Name.

I dislike the language and attitudes of many spokesmen I hear from Israel's right and I have little in common or sympathy with them. They are stumbling forward towards disaster, ignoring the great threat of the future for the small one of the present. But on this I agree. To force a cobbled settlement with people who expect others to fight their battles is to store up tragedy for short-term political gain. If the UN does proclaim a Palestinian state, we will be in no different a position than before: surrounded by enemies, rejected by the world, supported ambivalently by the USA, and in the end responsible for our own protection and survival.

Jerusalem Day was a happy day for me because Jews could walk its streets. But genuine peace seems to me to be as far away as the Messiah. Cultures and civilizations grow, wax and wane, and grow again in different cycles. Until the cycles coincide they simply go their own ways.

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