Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?

December 13, 2017

In the middle of the euphoria and hysteria that greeted last week’s U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it was a story about stolen apples that caught my eye.

According to Israeli news reports, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) squad commander was suspended after being caught on film stealing apples from a Palestinian fruit stand in Hebron, which had been abandoned in the midst of the “days of rage” violence.

“This behavior is not in line with what is expected from a soldier and commander in the IDF,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “The commander was suspended and will face disciplinary action.”

I know, compared to everything that’s going on, a stolen apple or two is hardly worth a story. I can’t imagine any army in the world making a fuss about stolen fruit. But tiny story or not, the apple saga gives us a context to assess the explosive issue of who should control Jerusalem.

There’s no need to belabor the historical and religious context for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. The Conservative movement, in a statement authored by the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Masorti Israel and Masorti Olami, summarized it succinctly: “In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planning to move the American embassy to a location under uncontested Israeli sovereignty, the U.S. government acknowledges the age-old connection that Israel and the Jewish people maintain with the holy city.”

Let’s also remember that this past June, the U.S. Senate passed a unanimous resolution calling on President Donald Trump to abide by a 1995 law ordering the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That law, called the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, recognized Jerusalem as “the spiritual center of Judaism” and was adopted overwhelmingly by the House (374-37) and the Senate (93-5).

The law cites the right of “each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, to designate its own capital,” and notes the irony that the U.S. “maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except in the case of our democratic friend and strategic ally, the State of Israel.”

But it’s an innocuous mention in the Embassy Act that caught my attention: “From 1948-1967, Jerusalem was a divided city and Israeli citizens of all faiths as well as Jewish citizens of all states were denied access to holy sites in the area controlled by Jordan.”

That, for me, is the crucial link missing from this emotional debate: When East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, religious liberty suffered. When it was under Israeli control, religious liberty flourished. You do the math.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Jews were denied access to their holy sites, under Jordanian control, “All but one of the 35 synagogues within the Old City were destroyed,” according to The Jewish Virtual Library. “The revered Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives was in complete disarray with tens of thousands of tombstones broken into pieces to be used as building materials … Hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of holy books [were] plundered and burned to ashes.”

Jordanian rule was no picnic for Christians and Muslims either. As Dore Gold writes in his book, “The Fight for Jerusalem,” Israeli Muslims “were blocked from visiting the Islamic holy shrines under Jordanian control” while “Israeli Christians did not fare much better; they were permitted to cross over and visit their holy sites once a year, on Christmas.”

All of this was in blatant violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, which gave Israelis of all faiths access to their holy sites, and which the United Nations was empowered to oversee.

When East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, religious liberty suffered. When it was under Israeli control, religious liberty flourished. You do the math.

When did the U.N. finally intervene? In 1964, when Israel had the chutzpah to have a Hanukkah festival of lights display atop Mount Scopus, which it legally controlled. Why the U.N. intervention? Because of “Jordanian sensitivities.” You can’t make this stuff up.

So, forgive me if I have little sympathy for the professional hypocrites at the United Nations who are now portraying the confirmation of Israel’s capital city as another urgent crisis for humanity. They might do well to read an August 2015 report from the Washington Institute showing that the majority of Palestinian Arabs living in Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem would prefer to be citizens of Israel rather than citizens of a Palestinian state.

These Arabs are no fools. They know that since Israel took over East Jerusalem in 1967, it has protected all holy sites and created an open city that has become a global destination.

But none of that seems to matter to the critics of the embassy move. Perhaps the silliest criticism I’ve heard is that the announcement was “ill-timed” because it would hurt the “peace process.” That’s like saying a tap on the wrist would hurt a patient in a coma. What peace process? Everything the experts have tried has failed, including the delusional idea that the capital of Israel is an “open” question. It’s not. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, full stop.

Such a cold dose of reality may, in fact, be just what the comatose peace process needs. What it does not need is the continuation of a failed strategy of appeasing corrupt Palestinian leaders who have refused all Israeli peace offers and who hold us hostage to their threats of violence.

Their latest reaction to Trump’s announcement is more evidence of their chronic refusal to accept a Jewish state under any borders. Nothing in the announcement precludes a two-state solution or the sharing of Jerusalem as a capital for two states. But instead of calling for peace talks, they call for violence. If Palestinian leaders cared for their people as much as they care for their personal bank accounts, we would have had peace a long time ago.

So, I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Jerusalem is the subject of our cover story, with an analysis from our political editor in Israel, Shmuel Rosner. It also won’t surprise you that local reactions in the Jewish community have been diverse, as you’ll see in our coverage.

My own take is that if we’re going to put Jerusalem in the hands of a sovereign nation, let it be a nation that respects the dignity of all religions — not to mention the dignity of an apple cart.

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