15 May '15..
1. It is fascinating that of all Israel's noteworthy days of remembrance and of thanks fall in the Jewish month of Iyar. Iyar is traditionally regarded as the month of strength and courage. The State of Israel was declared at the start of Iyar and Jerusalem was liberated at the end of Iyar. In between we mark the Bar Kokhba Revolt -- 1,813 years passed between the time we lost our independence in 135 C.E. and the time we reclaimed it in 1948. Nineteen years passed between the time the State of Israel was established and the time we could march through the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Israelites underwent a similar process as a fledgling people: The Israelite tribes that entered Canaan at the end of the 13th century B.C.E. waited hundreds of years before King David conquered Jerusalem and King Solomon erected the First Temple. Our lengthy historical journey is dichotomous, comprising two aspects: the national nucleus and the spiritual nucleus; fate and destiny; body and soul; Israel and Jerusalem.
The Arabs understand that the battle over this land, and the Jewish presence in it, begins and ends in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority and the Muslim world invest enormous efforts into perpetuating a false narrative suggesting that Jerusalem has always been Muslim, and that the man who built Al-Aqsa mosque 4,000 years ago was none other than Abraham. This narrative is not only prevalent among Islamists. During a recent conversation with Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, a self-proclaimed atheist, he refused to acknowledge the historical fact that there was ever a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. After I pressed him, he conceded that acknowledging this fact would "serve the occupation" or "colonialism," as he put it. Arab leaders always add the adjective "al-mazoum" -- meaning make-believe or false -- when making any mention of the existence of a Jewish Temple.
Every time you hear this argument, tell whoever made it that in 1924, the Supreme Muslim Council (headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, who later collaborated with Hitler against the Jews) published an English-language guide to the Temple Mount. In this guide, it said: "The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which 'David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings' (2 Samuel 24:25)."
In the ninth century, Jerusalem was called "Bayt al-Maqdis," Arabic for Beit Hamikdash, or the Temple. It was only in the 11th century that the name "Al-Quds" ("the Holy Sanctuary") was introduced, taken from the biblical "holy city." Jerusalem has even been referenced as "Zion" many times in Muslim texts.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the value of Jerusalem has steadily risen in the eyes of the Muslim world. Up until then, it had been neglected for hundreds of years. The Dome of the Rock houses a 240-meter (787-foot) long inscription containing some of the earliest surviving examples of verses from the Quran. Professor Menashe Harel once remarked that in all those verses there is not one mention of the word "Jerusalem," and that the city is entirely absent from the Quran. And why should it appear? Whoever heard of Jerusalem during the time of the Prophet Muhammad? In contrast, Mecca and Medina are mentioned hundreds of times in the Quran. In fact, when Muslims are in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount, they turn to face Mecca when they pray.
Indeed, Jerusalem has never played a political, cultural or spiritual role in the history of Islam or the Muslim world. It only gained value when it was taken from the Muslims, be it during the Crusades or during the war with us.
2. And what about us? Can anyone imagine a Jewish existence in exile without yearning for Jerusalem? Jews bring up Jerusalem in every prayer, every blessing, at wedding ceremonies and when mourning and during every holiday. The yearning to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it permeates the Jewish experience. Jerusalem is mentioned millions of times in the Bible and other important religious texts, the Apocrypha, books of customs and Jewish law, questions and answers, Jewish philosophy, poetry, liturgy and prose. "Zion, surely you will inquire about the fate of your prisoners?" asked 12th century poet Yehuda Halevi. We were all prisoners of Zion while we were in exile, inquiring about the fate of a single city. Throughout history, was there ever another people who yearned for a city and viewed it as a source of life, only to emerge from history and renew its ancient homeland there after a lengthy and arduous journey?
During the War of Independence in 1948, amid endless efforts to fight for Jerusalem at the expense of other fronts, David Ben-Gurion said: "The value of Jerusalem is not measurable; it cannot be weighed or counted. Because if land can have a soul, then Jerusalem is the soul of the Land of Israel and the war for Jerusalem is infinitely important, not just militarily.
"Jerusalem demands, and deserves, to have us stand up for it. The oath 'by the rivers of Babylon' is as relevant today as it was back then. Otherwise, we will not be worthy of the name Israel," he declared.
The battle to justify our existence in this land begins with learning our history. There are signs of fatigue among us, and these days, various diplomatic solutions that are floated appear to "naturally" include the division of Jerusalem. The truth is that any leader who believes in dividing the Old City and handing over our holy sites will never achieve true leadership among our people. The failure to understand the deep link to Jerusalem is a major failure to understand the depths of our people's souls. A people who, for 2,500 years, swore: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning," will never accept a leader who thinks they can lead a body without a soul.
It is true that Jerusalem is plagued with flashpoints and problems, but that won't keep us away from the spring of our lives. The historical process on which we are currently embarking requires lots of patience, and nerves of steel.
3. When Jerusalem was reunified after the Six-Day War, and the Western Wall became accessible to the masses, Jews of every variety flocked to the site, including assimilated Jews and "partial" Jews. The first encounter with the place is a kind of shock therapy. One often feels a deep emotional connection without any rational explanation or clear reasoning.
In January 1961, Israeli Ambassador to Canada Dr. Yaacov Herzog famously debated historian Arnold Toynbee, who claimed that the Jewish people were a "fossilized" civilization torn from somewhere and dropped into history (incidentally, Zahalka used a similar metaphor when he said that the Jews landed on the Arabs from above, "from a book").
In the debate, Herzog quoted Toynbee as saying that the Jews are not dead, but not really alive. That there is no continuity in terms of creative life and creative thinking and that the Jews somehow slipped out of the cultural mainstream onto a secluded island and got stuck there. From time to time their voices were heard as they cried out to the passing ships.
It was with good reason that Toynbee was accused of anti-Semitism. One would have to be thoroughly blinded by hate, and oblivious to the enormous cultural, philosophical and religious treasures generated by the Jews in exile, to describe the Jews in such a wildly misguided way.
Eight years after that famous debate, Herzog met Toynbee again, but this time the latter was more reconciled. "What do you say now?" Herzog asked, and Toynbee replied: "When I heard your soldiers at the Western Wall [during the Six-Day War] on the radio, I began to grasp the nature of your connection to that city, Jerusalem, and to that land."
Herzog wondered what had made his adversary come to this realization, having merely heard the soldiers on the radio speaking in Hebrew, but Toynbee explained: "There is a historical antenna for that. I heard the voices and I got it."