Today is Jerusalem day. I am in the far north, in the closest city in the world to the North Pole. By total coincidence, I have been invited to speak about Jerusalem. My heart is in the East with the Israelis for whom the return to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall symbolizes the fulfillment of thousands of years of prayers and longing, and my heart is with those who lost loved ones in the battle for Jerusalem. But my heart is also with those Palestinian East Jerusalemites and Israeli activists standing with them in solidarity. Etched with horror in my memory are the events of last year’s Jerusalem Day. Even as the Israeli police were forcing us to demonstrate outside of Sheikh Jarakh because they claimed that we were causing a provocation, they allowed hundreds of Israelis to dance ecstatically with their flags in the heart of the neighborhood, singing triumphantly in front of Palestinians furiously grinding their teeth and defiantly raising their own flags.
From so far away I am waiting for this year’s updates. In recent months the police have ceased denying us the right to demonstrate inside Sheikh Jarakh. Does this mean that there is even less reason to hope that the police will prevent Israelis from creating provocations because everything is now permitted to all? Or, is there a chance that the police will seek a reasonable balance between freedom of expression, and respecting the feelings of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and their freedom of expression? Could that happen on this day that “belongs” to the radical right?
On panels and in lectures I describe the emotional connection throughout the generations between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. I also describe the violations of Palestinian human rights that were committed in the name of our desire that Jerusalem remain the “Eternal undivided capitol of the Jewish people.” I speak of the home demolitions, the exploitation of building and zoning laws to prevent Palestinians from building legally, the expulsions and the “silent transfer.” I describe the rings of neighborhoods around Jerusalem and the enclaves within and between Palestinian neighborhoods. I also talk about the Israeli-Palestinian solidarity that has been forged, and the opinion polls in recent years that indicate a willingness to relinquish some of more far flung Palestinian neighborhoods. There is little willingness to speak about anything other than full Israeli sovereignty in the Old City and Holy Basin. I recall my wife’s stories about the first visit to the Western Wall after the Six Day War on Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), and my friend Salim Shawamreh who became a refugee for the second time because Palestinian homes were demolished to create the Western Wall plaza. With bittersweet irony I remember that not so many years ago Rabbis For Human Rights and “Oz V’Shalom-Netivot Shalom” organized along with Palestinians an “Alternative Jerusalem Day Festival” that celebrated a shared vision of Jerusalem belonging to all of her residents. Such a celebration would not be possible today. Now, only demonstrations. I speak about Palestinian claims that the two Temples never stood in Jerusalem, and the digging by the Waqf to renovate underneath El-Aqsa, allegedly destroying priceless archeological artifacts. I mention the excavations sponsored by “El’ad” in Silwan, which also destroy or ignore anything not related to the Jewish connection to that place. I lament the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians feel the need to strengthen their claims in this Land by denying the roots of the other people in that very same Land. I told audiences that I have no right to demand for myself what I am not prepared to give to others, and I demand that those who support the Palestinians in a one-sided way operate according to the same principle. Any rights they claim for the Palestinians they must also be willing to grant me and my people. People should not be “pro-Israeli” or “pro-Palestinian,” but rather “pro human being.” We are all created in God’s Image.
On Tuesday I participated in a seminar in which several people described important and wonderful initiatives I had been unaware of, even though it turns out some RHR members are involved. Religious leaders are coming together to promulgate codes and understandings to preserve and guarantee access to holy sites of all religions, including the holy places of Jerusalem.
Towards the end of the seminar, I was asked what more I might want from religious leaders, given that they were already working on such important initiatives. I raised two requests:
The Western Wall, the El-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Sepulcher answer powerful and legitimate religious and national needs. For we Jews, Jerusalem symbolizes our Covenant with God, our return to history, our national aspirations for self determination, and the end of thousands of years of oppression as a wandering, stateless people.
On Jerusalem Day my heart is in the East, but I pray that in some small measure we will manage to forget Jerusalem and her stones for the sake of Jerusalem and those who live within her.Then will we merit to bring together “Yerushalayim Shel Malah” and “Yerushalayim Shel Matah,” Earthly Jerusalem and Heavenly Jerusalem representing our highest ideals and aspirations.
“Ken Y’hi Ratzon, May it be God’s Will.
Postscript: Video and reports on Jerusalem Day demonstrations and confrontations.