Published in The Jewish Press, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, National Liberty Journal
June 1967: As an 8-year-old Israeli girl, I remember crossing into the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time, standing with thousands of other Israelis weeping and praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site of the Jews, which days earlier had been captured by Israeli paratroopers during the Six-Day War. I remember touching the massive stones in wondrous awe and weeping with the realization that at last we had come back home to the cradle of our nation’s history and the City of David.
Yet now, Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, with the support of Arab and western governments, have begun a war to re-divide the city, claiming that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state. According to the Oslo Agreement, negotiations over the final and permanent status of Jerusalem, as well as the status of the territories, settlements and refugees, should conclude by May 1999. The tremendous significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, as well as the physical presence of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, make the notion that Jerusalem can be re-divided totally absurd, not any less absurd than the idea of dividing Washington, London or Paris. Israel can offer the Arabs full and equal rights in Jerusalem, but not full rights over Jerusalem.
A Jewish city
The Arab world and the western media frequently refer to East Jerusalem as “Arab East Jerusalem,” but there is nothing exclusive or primarily “Arab” about it. Historically, neither East Jerusalem nor any other part of Jerusalem has ever been a capital of an Arab or Muslim state. King David made Jerusalem his capital in 1000 BCE. It was the capital of ancient Israel for 12 centuries, and this year, Jerusalem celebrates 3003 years of being the spiritual center of the Jewish people. Over a period of thousands of years, different nations have conquered Jerusalem, but none has made Jerusalem its capital. Instead, Jerusalem lost its importance during Arab and Muslim rule. Despite this, there was always a continued Jewish presence in the city, and Jews abroad aspired to return to it.
In 1947, the Arabs rejected a U.N. partition plan calling for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states in the area west of the Jordan river. When Israel declared statehood, six Arab countries, including Jordan, attacked. During the War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanians crossed the Jordan River and seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City, with its ancient Jewish community. The Jordanians never made East Jerusalem their capital or the capital of a new Arab state.
Everywhere the Jordanians went, they destroyed what they could of the Jewish presence. In East Jerusalem, the Jewish quarter was almost completely leveled. Thousands of Jews were expelled from their homes, synagogues destroyed and Jewish cemeteries desecrated. From 1948 to 1967, Jerusalem was divided into an Israeli sector in West Jerusalem and a Jordanian sector in East Jerusalem. The Israeli sector became the capital of Israel. For 19 years, Jews were forbidden to live in East Jerusalem and visit their holiest places, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the City of David. In 1967, the Jordanians once again attacked Israel, but this time they lost the war. The Israeli army re-entered East Jerusalem and the Jewish community in the Old City was rebuilt. And, a unified Jerusalem was proclaimed as the capital of Israel.
Now, 31 years later, Jerusalem within 42 square miles of the city is overwhelmingly Jewish. Seventy percent of its population is Jewish and 30 percent is Muslim, with nearly equal numbers of Jews and Muslims living in East Jerusalem.
However, since 1967 most western governments, including the U.S., have refused to recognize East Jerusalem as part of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Even more absurd is the fact that they refuse to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Their foreign embassies have been located in Tel Aviv on the grounds that the “final status of Jerusalem remains to be negotiated.” This is apparently with the hope that Jerusalem will be internationalized or re-divided because of its unique importance to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
It is only under democratic Jewish rule that Jerusalem has become open to all faiths, with the holy sites of all religions protected equally. Since 1967, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs has been responsible for the city’s holy places and religious communities. The administration, protection and care of the holy sites are in the hands of their respective religious authorities. Penalties of up to seven years in prison may be imposed for desecration of these places. The rites and observances of all faiths are publicly celebrated.
To take Jerusalem away from Israel and put it under a U.N.-type administration as an international city would violate the historic right of the Jewish people to their one and only capital. Such an international administration would almost certainly reflect the anti-Israel bias in the U.N., as evidenced by hundreds of anti-Israel resolutions over the years. Currently, Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are taking action to stake a claim of sovereignty in Jerusalem. In violation of the Oslo Agreement, the Palestinian Authority is active in Jerusalem in areas including education, health, religious affairs and land purchases. Numerous Palestinian Authority offices such as the Orient House, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Education Ministry are illegally operating in the city. Palestinian security agents enforce Arafat’s orders and conduct illegal detentions, intelligence gathering and criminal investigations in Jerusalem. All of this is in direct violation of the Oslo Agreement, which requires that the Palestinian Authority have no jurisdiction in Jerusalem.
Giving Arafat and the Palestinian Authority control over the holy places of Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem would endanger freedom of religion for all in the city. Since December 1995, when the Palestinian Authority, pursuant to the Oslo Agreement, took over Bethlehem, a city holy to Christians, the Christian population has been subjected to relentless persecution. Palestinian security forces have harassed, intimidated and jailed Christians. Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, monasteries have had their phone lines cut, and break-ins and vandalism have taken place at convents. The Church of the Nativity and other sites of central importance to Christians have come under Palestinian Authority control, forcing the leaders of various Christian communities to become subservient to Arafat. Arafat has even appropriated a Greek Orthodox monastery for use as his private residence in Bethlehem. As a result, large numbers of Christians have fled Bethlehem. Today Christians constitute only about 20 percent of the city’s population.
For thousands of years, Jews have longed for Jerusalem. As part of any peace agreement with the Arabs, Israel can and will guarantee free access to Jerusalem for all Muslims and Christians wishing to visit their holy sites in the city. But Israel cannot and should not accept any change in Jerusalem’s status as an open city for all under Israeli sovereignty.
Published in the The Jewish Press and The National Liberty Journal