Jerusalem — the heart of the Jews and Israel
NEW YORK — We all have our lines in the sand. One of mine is the insidious historical revisionism — akin to Holocaust denial — that seeks to undermine and negate Jewish claims to and rights in Jerusalem.
This campaign is part and parcel of a broader international campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel whenever and wherever possible.
In yet another step in the attempted political and spiritual dejudaization, for lack of a better term, of Jerusalem, Al-Mutawakel Taha, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information, writes in a recent study that the Western Wall “was never part of the so-called Temple Mount,” but rather “is in fact the western wall of Al-Aksa Mosque.” Jews, Taha contends in the study posted in Arabic on the Ministry’s Website, have no claim on the Western Wall, which he unilaterally seeks to convert into “a Muslim wall and an integral part of the Aksa Mosque.”
In Taha’s fallacious rewriting of history, the Jewish religious attachment to the Western Wall only dates back to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Never mind the overwhelming archaeological evidence that the Western Wall is indeed a retaining wall of the Second Temple, and that the Al-Aksa Mosque was built atop the Temple’s ruins. Never mind that according to Christian sources, Jews have regularly come to the Temple Mount to mourn the Temple’s destruction and have prayed at the Western Wall since at least the third century of the Common Era.
Never mind that, as Karen Armstrong wrote in Time Magazine in 2001, “In the 16th century, Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent permitted the Jews to make the Western Wall their official holy place and had his court architect Sinan build an oratory for them there.”
Never mind that less than one hundred years later, according to a contemporaneous account by a Jerusalem Jew, “The City of God contained more of our people than at any time since the Jews were banished from their country. Many Jews came daily to live in the City, apart from those coming to pray at the Western Wall.”
Never mind that in his 1837 book, “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land,” American explorer John Lloyd Stephens described how “the chief rabbi of Jerusalem . . . accompanied by a Gibraltar Jew who spoke English” took him to “what they call a part of the wall of Solomon’s temple. I saw that day, as other travelers may still see every Friday in the year, all the Jews in Jerusalem clothed in their best raiment, winding through the narrow streets of their quarter; and under this hallowed wall, with the sacred volume in their hands, singing in the language in which they were written the Songs of Solomon and the Psalms of David.”
Just so that we all sing from the same hymnal, the Western Wall is not the only vestige of the Temple. In September 2008, archaeologists announced the excavation of remnants of the Southern Wall on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. And Robinson’s Arch, located near the Western Wall and where non-Orthodox Jewish groups are allowed to pray, is another very concrete Temple relic.
But the Jewish people’s attachment to Jerusalem far transcends its archaeological dimension. During an 1891 visit to Palestine, the Zionist thinker and theoretician Ahad Ha-Am wrote to his family: “I am now in Jerusalem. I cannot express to you, even in a small way, my emotions at being here. Every step, every stone speaks to me of our history. Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives. Only when one is here does one realize how foolish it is of our opponents, the Arabs, to think that we will ever give up on Jerusalem. It is the heart of the Land of Israel, the heart of the Jew.”
Ethereal visions of Jerusalem have permeated the Jewish consciousness throughout almost two millennia of exile and persecution. “City of kings,” wrote the 12th century Spanish Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi, “My heart longs for you from the far-off west. . . . If I could fly to you on wings of eagles, I would soak your soil with my tears.”
As a long-time active supporter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I recognize that Israel may eventually have to give up control over some areas of Jerusalem as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.ay not minimize or disregard either the religious or the psychopolitical significance of Jerusalem to its Muslim and Christian inhabitants, we cannot countenance the efforts on the part of Israel’s enemies to deny the Jewish people’s symbiotic interconnectedness with Jerusalem. Peace, if it is ever to be attained, must be based on a mutual respect for both history and deeply rooted centuries-old emotions.
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft is an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, a distinguished visiting lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law, and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)