If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand wither…
Jerusalem’s place in the Jewish heart has been established for nearly three thousand years. So stating that modern-day Israel can and should live without part of Jerusalem is not easy. But it’s necessary.
The Palestinians have long demanded that East Jerusalem—in Arabic Al Quds (the Holy)—be their capital. Arguments as to whether Jerusalem should or should not be considered sufficiently holy to Muslims after Mecca and Medina (originally Yathrib) don’t concern me. It’s sufficient that Palestinians cling to Jerusalem, which represents a redline issue to them as does prohibiting a right of Palestinian return to Israelis.
Would dividing Jerusalem be a sacrilege? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says yes. On May 20, Jerusalem Day, Bibi repeated that the city would remain Israel’s undivided capital. But other Israeli voices differ. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak were willing to give East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement. And on Jerusalem Day, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who once demanded a united Jerusalem, stated again that East Jerusalem should go to the Palestinians. Reasons abound.
View Jerusalem from Mount Scopus, and the Old City stands surrounded by a vastly larger metropolis unimaginable to Israel’s kings and sages. Tour the Old City, and you know that the Ottoman Turks built the current walls 500 years ago. Walk the tunnel under the Kotel (Western Wall), and you learn that the Jerusalem of the Second Temple lies 50 to 80 feet beneath you. Visit East Jerusalem, and you see another city entirely—Arab neighborhoods lacking the Jewish side’s good streets, ample lighting and sanitation. Moreover, as The Jerusalem Post reported on May 24, “The National Insurance Institute found that 78 percent of residents and 84 percent of children lived under the poverty line in east Jerusalem in 2010.”
Jewish neighborhoods—far too sophisticated and expansive to be called settlements—continue to grow around East Jerusalem. Tensions also keep growing. Not that the Palestinian Authority has been wise in refusing to engage in new talks until growth stops. The P.A. has let the building continue, making a bilateral solution even more challenging. Which is why Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak call last Wednesday for Israel to take undefined “unilateral actions” to set the borders of a future Palestinian state.
For all the relative calm and quiet in Jerusalem, I’m wary. Every block of Jerusalem limestone set in place on the West Bank and every neglected neighborhood in East Jerusalem serves as a piece of kindling. Aluf Benn, editor-and-chief of Haaretz, told my group from Congregation Sherith Israel at a briefing in Tel Aviv a month ago that a third Intifada (uprising) is not a matter of “if” but “when.” I fear he’s right.
The Psalmist described our agony 2,500 years ago after the destruction of the First Temple. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion.” We possess all of Jerusalem today, but that agony continues.
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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.