Jerusalem Day Belong to All Israelis, not just “Settlers”

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-22-12

The lecturer at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem this Sunday looked like your typical, distinguished, Tel Avivi secular scientist, with an impressive position and a delicious enthusiasm for his “lovely” chemical results.  Further perpetuating the stick-figure impression of him as another far-left, Israel-bashing, Europe-worshipping, Ha’aretz-reading, Chardonnay-sipping post-Zionist, post-patriot, was his personal trajectory, from a secular kibbutz in the Galilee to three years as a post-doc in Geneva to a named chair at the Weizmann Institute. Meanwhile, across town, thousands of white-shirted, tzizit-wearing, big-kippa-clad “settler types” were assembling for their mass march to the Old City. Clearly, in the stereotypes that drive so much public conversation about Israel – inside and outside the country – the National Religious crowd would celebrate Jerusalem Day zealously, and the secular scientist would ignore it or wince if it were mentioned.

Yet Professor Reshef Tenne, the Drake Family Professor of Nanotechnology, began his lecture on “Inorganic Nanotubes and Fullerene-like Nanoparticles” by saluting “Yom Yerushalayim,” Jerusalem Day. He spoke movingly about having been a young soldier who fought in the Old City, helping to liberate the Kotel, the Western Wall. He remembered his many friends who died during the battle. It was “holy work,” he proclaimed, emphasizing the importance of a united Jerusalem being accessible to all Jews, given its centrality to the Jewish soul as the Jewish people’s capital.

Meanwhile, news coverage suggested that the way to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem 45-years-ago is to shout anti-Arab slogans and sing songs ending in “ay-yi-yi-yi” incessantly. Photos in Ha’aretzYediot Achranot, and this newspaper all left the impression that Jerusalem Day was only for fanatics, and only for men.  But you don’t have to be rightwing or religious to love Jerusalem or rejoice in Israel’s 1967 victory – and religious rightwingers are not necessarily fanatic fundamentalists.  The secular left should not sacrifice joint custody of this important moment, and let the religious right monopolize the celebrations.

That was the power of Naomi Shemer’s Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. She debuted that song during the tense days of May, 1967, when Gamel Abdul Nasser had united Egypt, Jordan and Syria under his military command, and was threatening to destroy the Jewish State. The PLO’s founder Ahmad al-Shuqayri anticipated Israel’s “complete destruction” predicting “practically no Jewish survivors.”

With reserve soldiers digging out graves in public parks, anticipating up to 10,000 deaths, Israelis felt embattled and alone. Impatience with the plodding civilian leadership had Israelis speculating that when a waiter asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol whether he wanted tea or coffee, Eshkol answered, tentatively, “half of both.”

Shemer’s Jerusalem anthem captured the longing for a united city, the bitterness in the ongoing division, and the romantic Zionist hopes the old-new city stirred. After the lightning quick, sweeping victory, the song captured the war’s miraculous, redemptive nature. As secular Israelis sang it, they heard the historic, nationalist affirmation in her lyrics; as religious Israelis sang it, they heard the religious resonances — but all were singing the same song with the same melody, united in patriotic love for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Day has become Six Day War Awareness Day – and therein lies the tension. Increasingly, the Left considers the 1967 War as the War Israel Won in Six Days but Lost Since. This narrative, which blames Israeli settlements for perpetuating Middle East tensions, misses the many ways the Six Day War gains still protect Israel’s existence.

The territories remain an important bargaining chip, an essential safety zone, and an historic part of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, that could, in peace, be shared by all those who love this land. Takeoffs and landings are safe at Ben Gurion airport because terrorists cannot fire rockets from the West Bank at commercial jets. Moreover, fighting about settlements and the territories shifts much of the debate from Israel’s existence to Israel’s boundaries. I support territorial compromise – but only with those who accept Israel’s right to live.

The 1967 victory also started weaning Egypt from its destructive desire to destroy the Jewish State, ended Syria’s bombardment up north, and liberated Jerusalem – whose Jewish holy sites the Jordanians systematically desecrated.

“Israel made a big mistake in succeeding in 1967,” George Will quips. “This was when the Left decided it liked victims; it still does.”

Even in today’s Israel of harsh headlines, petty politicians, and polarized positions, we should remember the power of the Zionist center, and the widespread idealism that still characterizes Israel, making the Start-up Nation what we at the Engaging Israel Project at the Shalom Hartman Institute call a Values Nation too. The Zionist center is broad and deep; narrowing it out or thinning it out distorts reality.

Jerusalem Day, like Jerusalem, Israel’s history, the blue-and-white flag, Hatikvah, the Zionist idea, should never be the private property of one political or religious faction. These are treasured national assets, held in trust from one generation to the next, part of our common heritage. Americans learned this lesson when both Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008 ran upbeat patriotic campaigns as liberals who respected faith, flag, and family. That is what constructive, romantic, liberal nationalism is all about – using the sense of community, safety and idealism that comes from a functioning, idealistic, democratic nation state to stretch the individual and fulfill communal ideals. That is part of the Zionist message. That is part of Israel’s mission. And that is part of the reason why, I and so many others from across the religious and political spectrum, joined Professor Tenne, his heroic now-graying comrades, and their families, in celebrating Jerusalem Day, for Jerusalemites, for Israelis, for Jews, for genuine peace lovers, as a grand moment not an Israeli miscalculation.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

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Jogging Memories of 1947 and 1967 on Jerusalem Day

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-31-11

I hate disappointing the worrywarts, but today, Jerusalem Day, 2011, 44-years after its reunification, Jerusalem is a remarkably functional city, a surprisingly peaceful city, a delightfully magical city. The city I experience daily is not the city described in the headlines. It does not feel like it is in eclipse, nor does it feel like a powder keg. I absorbed New York’s fear of crime in the 1970s, Boston’s racial tension in the 1980s, and Montreal’s linguistic complexity in the 1990s much more intensely. While jogging through the Old City daily, I feel lucky to live in such a livable city.

Jerusalem invites time-traveling in profound ways while doing mundane tasks. Every day, crossing the footbridge over the Cinemateque looking toward Mount Zion, I observe a panorama of peace reinforced by a symphony of silence, with the Tower of David crowned by its Israeli flag and Muslim crescent, church spires and minarets, the new city’s modern construction to my left and the older houses abutting the Old City to my right. The sweeping Old City walls dominate front and center.

These days, I confess, I think more about recent history than the walls’ ancient history, built by Suleiman the Magnificent 500 years ago but evoking Abraham binding Isaac, King David designating King Solomon, thousands of years earlier. Mahmoud Abbas’s rewriting of the history of 1947, which passed the New York Times’ editorial muster, Barack Obama’s obsession with the 1967 lines, have me wishing Jerusalem’s stones could talk, confirming what really happened when Zionists founded Israel in 1947-1948, when Israelis liberated Jerusalem in 1967, and during the difficult intervening years.

My daily plunge into this past begins with Jerusalem’s 19 years of rupture, as I traverse what was the barbed-wire-and-mine-strewn No-Man’s Land. To my right, the Cinemateque looms, a center of Israel’s edgy, often critical, vibrant democratic culture, contradicting false cries of McCarthyism. To my left, the red-roofed houses of Yemin Moshe unfold, beside Moses Montefiore’s 1857 windmill. I think about the poor people who lived in this, the first neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s walls, during the State’s first years. And I wince imagining their terror when, periodically, Jordanian snipers would shoot. The Jordanian army always reassured the UN that a soldier had gone crazy – again and again.

Scampering up Mount Zion, holy to us and our Christian brethren, I wonder what the fifty soldiers following Captain Eli Kedar thought while hustling along this alley on June 7, 1967. Did they remember the failure to free the besieged Jewish Quarter from this alley in 1948? Did they know the last Jew to leave the Jewish Quarter, headed to Jordanian prison for nine months, was a 15-year-old, Eli Kedar? Did they appreciate their commanders’ genius in mostly attacking from behind, via Lions Gate? Did they know Israel began the war two days earlier with only 71 troops in Jerusalem? Were they aware that, even while the Jordanians shelled Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minster Levi Eshkol offered peace to Jordan’s King Hussein, making the war one of self-defense and any resulting territorial gains not an illegal occupation? Did they sense they were about to correct the historic mistake of the city’s division, returning the Holy Temple’s remnants to Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years? Did they appreciate their army’s sensitivity in deploying archaeologists to try preserving holy sites? Probably, most simply thought about going home – which 759 Israelis after six days never did.

Entering the Jewish quarter I again ponder the nineteen years preceding the Six Day War when Israel – living under Barack Obama’s 1967 borders – were banned from the Old City, although the UN never validated Jordanian control. Those, ahem, illegal occupiers trashed Jerusalem’s synagogues. Contrast that bitter past to the redemptive sights and sounds of kids playing and praying, the burger bars adjoining archaeological museums, the glorious dome of the Hurva synagogue, which means ruins: bombarded by Jordan in 1948; rebuilt and rededicated last year.

Crossing the Jewish Quarter, then the Arab market, seamlessly, safely, I exit through Jaffa Gate. Sixty-four years ago, on December 2, 1947, just days after the UN proposed partitioning Palestine on November 29, Arabs shouting “Death to the Jews!” looted the Jewish commercial center across the way, at the entrance to today’s David Village. This was the Palestinian response to the compromise the Jews accepted. Mahmoud Abbas’s recent New York Times column lied, claiming the Zionists rejected compromise, then “expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state,” when the Arab rejectionists chose violence – and continue to reject a Jewish state.
I also recall the first British census of Jerusalem in 1931, which noted population growth since 1922 by 20,107 Jews and 21,282 Arabs. If only both sides acknowledged that history flows, populations move, borders shift, we could compromise.

As I finish by sprinting along the newly-restored century-old train tracks, I toast the city’s dynamism. The 800,000 residents now include 268,000 Arabs. During these 44 years, as their population has grown by 200,000, many Arabs have appreciated Israeli rights and services. The number of Arab Jerusalemites granted Israeli citizenship quadrupled from 2006 to 2010.

In Six Days of War, Michael Oren quotes Arik Akhmon one of the first Israelis in 1967 to enter the Western Wall plaza, as bullets whizzed by. Although not religious, Akhmon recalled, “I don’t think there was a man who wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion. Something special had happened.”

Jerusalem is a real city which cannot “overwhelm” residents daily – life intrudes. But every day I note something “special” about the place, its history or mystery, its sights or smells, its old memories or new achievements. Today, Yom Yerushalayim, let’s honor its secret ingredient, the people it attracts, connected to Jerusalem’s lush past, enlivening the city during its complex yet compelling present, and shaping a safe, spiritually-rich, yet charmingly commonplace future keeping the city magical and livable.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com