With all the talk of renewed diplomacy in the Middle East involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, you can bet that one of the most emotionally charged issues will be the status of Jerusalem.
That’s why I looked forward to attending a recent multimedia presentation at the Museum of Tolerance titled “Jerusalem United: Fifty Years of Freedom, Three Thousand Years of Jewish History.” The presenter was Ambassador Dore Gold, a longtime senior Israeli diplomat, author and strategist, who now is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Gold made a compelling case for the deep, uninterrupted, 3,000-year Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Using artifacts from biblical times, ancient scrolls, recent archaeological discoveries, legal documents from international bodies and other pieces of evidence that appeared on a large screen, Gold was like a trial attorney making his closing argument to a jury.
And like a good attorney, he didn’t skip the emotional part.
When I say emotional, I mean the sense of outrage Gold feels toward anyone who denies a Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Gold didn’t go through the list of deniers, but we know the list is long. For example, in an August 2012 Jerusalem Post piece under the headline “Abbas Denies the Jewish Connection to Jerusalem,” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas went as far as questioning the very existence of the Jewish Holy Temple, an affront to any historian, archeologist or biblical scholar. He also said recently that Jews have no right to desecrate the holy sites in Jerusalem with their “dirty feet.”
International bodies like UNESCO have had no problem passing resolutions denying a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Even United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which President Barack Obama refused to veto, characterized the Western Wall as “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Gold is acutely aware of this pervasive movement to negate Jewish history and strike at the core of Jewish identity. Maybe that’s why he’s so obsessed with evidence. Discussing international efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, he showed legal documents that he says makes Israel “the most legitimate state in the U.N.,” because it is “the only state whose legality was recognized even before it was founded by both the League of Nations and the United Nations.”
Gold also reminded us that attacks on Jewish legitimacy and identity are hardly new. “Let me tell you one last historical truth,” he said near the end of his presentation. “The Romans understood that to wage war and defeat their enemies, they needed to attack their identity, not just their physical bodies. After crushing the last Jewish rebellion against them, they renamed Jerusalem ‘Aelia Capitolina,’ and Judea was given a new name: ‘Syria-Palestine.’ They wanted to erase the memory of Jewish self-rule forever.”
Preserving and disseminating the truth of this memory is consuming Gold at the moment. Over lunch the next day, he spoke of the urgency of taking his “Jerusalem United” show on the road. “With all the talk of diplomacy right now, Jerusalem will be right in the middle of the discussions,” he told me. “It’s critical that the truth about the 3,000-year Jewish connection comes out loud and clear.”
I couldn’t agree more, but I hope he will accentuate an additional truth that is essential and often overlooked. It’s a truth that deals not with the time frame of 3,000 years but with the time frame of 19 years, between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan was in control of the holy sites of Jerusalem.
The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is not just good for the Jews, it’s good for the whole world.
Here’s what Gold himself wrote in his 2007 book, “The Fight for Jerusalem”:
“After seizing East Jerusalem in 1948, Jordan’s Arab Legion completely evicted the Jewish population from the Old City. The Jewish Quarter was set aflame, its homes were looted, and dozens of synagogues were destroyed or vandalized. Tombstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were converted into latrines.
“For the following nineteen years, Jews were prevented from praying at their holy sites, including the Western Wall. The Jordanians also barred Christian institutions from buying land and otherwise restricted the rights of Jerusalem’s Christian population, which dropped by over 50 percent during the period of Jordanian rule.”
Now compare those 19 years to what followed: “Upon capturing the Old City in 1967, Israel decided on a new approach to governing the city — it adopted a law protecting the holy sites of all religions and guaranteeing their free access to all worshippers.”
In other words, the Jewish connection to Jerusalem is not just good for the Jews, it’s good for the whole world. Maybe that’s how Gold should rest his case.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.