Sunday 20 May 2012

Keeping Jerusalem Unified

Today, Sunday 20th May, we celebrate 45 years since Jerusalem was reunified in the Six Day War according to the Hebrew calendar.  These have been 45 eventful but happy years, which have seen the holy city of Jerusalem quickly regain its central place in Israeli and Jewish life.  After 2,000 years of exile from the Land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, and a further 19 years of being denied access to the holiest sites in Judaism, Jews around the world celebrated when the IDF paratroopers finally reached the Kotel and Motta Gur announced the famous words, "The Temple Mount is in our hands".  That moment is being savoured and celebrated today on Jerusalem Day.

The important place that Jerusalem occupies for Israelis and for Jewish people all around the world has strengthened over the past 45 years.  Once again, we have had the merit and the joy to be able to visit the holiest site in Judaism.  It is impossible to consider a possibility that Jerusalem would not remain unified in the future, and that Jews could be denied access to visit the holy sites in the way that we were forced to experience in the past.  This is almost certainly one of the reasons why discussions on the final status of Jerusalem in the peace talks with the Palestinians are so fraught.  It seems as though the Palestinians understand the strength of feeling that we have for Jerusalem, and continue to demand it for themselves.  This may enable them to extract major compromises in return for giving up on Jerusalem in the final agreement.

There can be no escape from the centrality of Jerusalem in Judaism.  Even those who wish to prevent Jews from having access to Jerusalem would struggle to the deny strong links that Jews and Judaism have to this holy city.  The holy nature of the city was arguably only established during the time of David and Solomon when the temple was built.  It is no mere coincidence, however, that the temple was built in this city and on Mount Moriah.  This is the site of the dream of Jacob's ladder, the site of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac and possibly even the site from which the which the world was created.  Whether or not one believes in these biblical links, it is simple to refer to Jewish texts that have been written and passed down over thousands of years, and which bear testimony to the close links that Jews have to the city.

Over the past 45 years, the city of Jerusalem has developed and grown in a way that makes it unrecognisable from the city that was reunified 45 years ago.  The Kotel (the Western Wall), the only remnant of the remains of the temple, was quickly transformed into an area that could be host to the many millions of visitors that wish to visit the heart of Judaism.  It is believed in Judaism that the divine presence emanates from Jerusalem.  In order, however, for the divine presence to be felt, it is required that there will be those to receive and bask in its glory.  The Kotel has truly fulfilled that purpose.  It plays host to state and military ceremonies of great importance and significance.  It also hosts all manner of religious worship, celebration and heartbreak.  The Kotel plaza is often filled with tens of thousands of people as they cram themselves in to take part in the merit that our generation enjoys to have free access to this place.  The surrounding parts of the Old City, and stretching out well beyond into the new city and further, have seen a renewal and redevelopment that has transformed the face of Jerusalem, without changing its character.  The modern Chords Bridge at the entrance to the city, numerous luxury hotels and the sight of the Jerusalem light rail show the face of a contemporary city keeping up with the times, while allowing residents and visitors to get close to its historical roots.

Over the years, conquerors of Jerusalem have denied access to other religions as a punishment, and as a sign of their supremacy over the city.  It is, after all, a city that is holy to all three monotheistic religions.  Contrary to this trend, it is interesting that Israel decided to allow all religions access to their holy sites in the city.  Rather than weaken Israel's grip on the city, I feel that it has served to strengthen Israel's position in Jerusalem.  I believe that most Israelis are proud that this is the case, as much as they are determined to ensure that Israel's rule over the city continues well into the future.

The truth is that it is difficult to try to predict what the future holds for the holy city.  There seems to be no real reason for the Palestinians to wish to rule over the city.  While it is a city that is holy to Muslims, it ranks only third in its holiness to the cities of Mecca and Medina.  Muslims have access to, and complete control over all Muslim holy sites in the city through the Waqf.  This stretches even to having control over the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa mosque, despite this also being the site of the holy Jewish temple.  I imagine that the only benefit that can be gained from ruling over Jerusalem, or parts of the city, is that it may give them the right to deny access by others to these areas.  We can never risk this situation coming to fruition.

Despite the fact that a great deal of thought has been given to the possibility of creating Jerusalem into something of an international city that is owned by everyone, but nobody in particular, there is no real precedent for a successful implementation of such a model.  This gives rise to a great deal of scepticism, and suspicion as to what the true intentions of the Palestinians may be with regard to Jerusalem.

For now, the united city of Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and the centre of the Jewish world.  It also plays host to Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths that may wish to visit, live and study in the city.  There seems little wrong with this model, and no individual is denied any rights that he may wish to have.

It is my hope and prayer that Jerusalem will continue to play its role as a central part of so many faiths, and that all faiths will continue to have free access to all corners of this ancient and fascinating city.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill.
                                                                (Psalm 137)


Niel Herson said...

thought iw ould share this with you and your readers

Anthony Reich said...

Thanks Niel. Interesting clip.