We’ve had interesting comments from Noam on Jewlicious before, so it’s not as if he doesn’t know us or know that he’ll receive a serious debate. Thus, I was surprised to see that he decided to attack my post “East Jerusalem Shabbat” about the reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City without presenting his debate on our site. I guess if he won’t debate me here, I won’t debate him on his site and do it here instead.
His criticism of my post is predominantly along the line of “If you support the reconstruction of a Jewish synagogue in east Jerusalem on the basis of a ‘return’ to this place to which the Jews have a historic connection, then you essentially concede that the Palestinians also have a right to ‘return’ to any part of Israel where Palestinians used to live.” He equates my support of the Hurva reconstruction to the support of some Israelis for the repopulating of Sheikh Jarrah or the Jerusalem mayor’s aborted attempt to convert the Silwan neighborhood into a mixed (Jewish and Arab) neighborhood with homes and commercial sites.
It’s an interesting claim, but it’s false. Let’s analyze why.
1. The Old City of Jerusalem is not Jaffa, and it is not even equivalent to the parts of east Jerusalem outside what Olmert called the “Holy Basin.” In other words, areas in and around the Old City which carry religious and historical weight to Jews and others that goes far beyond normal.
For perspective, I would not argue that ancient Tiberias, a town that held a Jewish population for 2000 years, is as critical to the notion of what constitutes the emotional heart of a Jewish state as the Holy Basin with its ancient Jewish Quarter in the vicinity of the site of the Second Temple and its outside wall known today as the Western Wall.
As I pointed out in the original post, the notion of a return to Zion as we can see expressed in the Passover Seder which we’ve recently celebrated, meant a return to the historic and religious center of Jerusalem which happens to be in east Jerusalem, in the Holy Basin.
2. If the Palestinians could claim an equivalent within Israel, it would be in…the Old City of Jerusalem. Of course, they actually can’t, although they try, because they don’t have a 2000 or 3000 year old religious relationship with this city and the emotional heart of their faith is physically present in Saudi Arabia. There was never a desire for a Haj to Jerusalem.
That’s not a small matter, although Israeli governments have turned their heads away from this basic claim because the Haram esh Shereef dwells above the Temple Mount.
3. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say the Palestinians do have this type of bond with the Holy Basin, because of the Haram esh Shereef. This relationship in no way negates the Jewish connection to this area. In fact, separating the Jews from this area would be exactly the sort of profound injustice that the Jordanians perpetrated in 1948-1967 by excluding all Jews from this area. Because of its profound religious and historic importance, Jews must have access and rights within the Holy Basin, regardless of any future settlement.
4. Furthermore, because of Jordanian and before that Ottoman history, there are legitimate concerns on the part of Jewish Israelis and all Jews who care about Jerusalem, for that matter, that if this area is given to the Palestinians, Jewish access to Jewish holy sites will be eliminated. The Jordanians actually promised to permit Jewish access to holy sites and then reneged on their commitment. The Ottomans taxed and took bribes from the Jewish community to such an extent that it kept the community in poverty for centuries. The Palestinians deny a Jewish connection to the place.
5. Sheikh Jarrah is not on the same plane as the Old City with its Jewish Quarter and Jewish sites in the Holy Basin. Although it was a Jewish neighborhood pre-1948 and the Israeli High Court acknowledged that the property which the recently arrived Jewish Israelis did belong to Jews, I happen to agree that an Israeli return to this neighborhood opens the door to Palestinian ownership claims within Israel. In fact, I wrote so in a recent post:
Sheikh Jarrah is a serious tactical mistake by those Jews who want to reclaim parts of east Jerusalem, precisely because it opens up areas inside Israel to similar claims by Palestinians. Buying up land or houses today and then moving people in is one thing, and it is legitimate. However, if one wants to bring in pre-1948 real estate into the equation, must one be prepared for the Palestinians to do the same. For that reason, the Israeli government should pass a law challenging the Courtâ€™s ruling and removing these Jews from Sheikh Jarrah. If there was doubt before, let it be gone now, because if these people support Goldstein, they should be condemned, evicted and prevented from living anywhere where they could provoke Palestinians. They do not deserve the protection or support of any part of the Israeli government or population.
6. I point out in that post, as the quote shows, that I believe that
Buying up land or houses today and then moving people in…is legitimate.
It is also legitimate to rebuild ancient destroyed synagogues that carry serious emotional and historical weight.
This is not just my idea, this was the conclusion of the UN committee sent out to investigate and propose to the General Assembly how Mandatory Palestine should be divided among Arabs and Jews. The conclusion, as described in UNGAR 181, which Israel accepted and the Arabs rejected, was that after dividing the land into two, Jerusalem would not be divided but instead would be an international zone without sovereign.
7. To expand on that idea, east Jerusalem is not Palestinian. It is certainly not Jordanian. I will also argue that ultimately, it won’t be Israeli, although today it is. East Jerusalem is an amorphous term that describes the land to the east of a border between two parts of Jerusalem that were divided by Jordanian and Israeli control respectively in 1949. However, its heart is the Holy Basin and that can only be controlled by those who would grant access to all and be able to prevent the regular and constant flare-ups that take place here (read up on the infighting between churches and their denominations if you want to see how brutal this can get). That would be the Israelis or some sort of truly independent and theoretically neutral force, like, say, an American contingent of soldiers.
8. The Palestinians have entered it into their consciousness that Jerusalem must be their capital and most of the world agrees. Those of us who want peace and recognize that giving up land will be the only way to achieve this, recognize that part of any compromise will involve giving up large sections of east Jerusalem. It’s a practical decision. In fact, Barak offered two and a half quarters of the four quarters in the Old City to Arafat. The talks stalled when the Palestinians refused to consider anything but their own sovereignty over the Temple Mount, even as they denied any Jewish connection to this site which contains the Western Wall.
It should be added, by the way, that based on history, the only group that offers respectful control and access to the other two groups when in charge of the Holy Basin, are the Jews. The Palestinians deny any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and their construction of Solomon’s Stables has proven that. The Jordanians did not permit any Jews in there. Period. The Ottomans required bakshish (bribes) in the first place and then restricted access to Jews and Christians in the second place. The Christians haven’t been in charge for a few hundred years, but when they were, they did not treat either group respectfully and in the days of the British Mandate, permitted the Muslims to restrict Jewish access to the Western Wall.
9. The comparison of rebuilding an historic synagogue in the Old City versus Israeli Jews moving into the predominantly Arab, secular Shaikh Jarrah, even if the property legitimately belongs to them, simply doesn’t wash. This neighborhood differs greatly from the areas of religious importance in the city both to Jews and Arabs. It was also made into an Arab neighborhood during Jordanian rule, when the displacement of the Palestinians and need to re-house them did constitute a factor in how this area was populated. As a consequence, it should be treated differently. Having Jews live there should be permitted, but only if they are buying houses or land without displacing others. Building houses on purchased land does not displace others and does not open up the question of “return” since this area is not yet Palestinian. It remains disputed.
10. Silwan is an altogether different matter. This neighborhood was built after Israel took this area over in 1967, and the 90 or so houses there were built illegally by Palestinians. That Israel allowed this to happen is a shame, but it did happen. However, what the city wanted to do was improve the neighborhood for all citizens of the city, and especially the local residents. In the process, about one quarter of the residents would be displaced with compensation, but not replaced with Jewish residents.
In any city around the world, a decision like this might be controversial, but not on the conflict level the way it has been politicized by the Palestinians. This would have improved the quality of life of local and city residents while not replacing them with Jewish ones. It does not raise a question of “return” but rather one of governing for the betterment of the city’s population. This is normal city planning and design event and is not related to the conflict. Conflating it with the conflict is a mistake.
Conclusion: Ultimately, Israel cannot act like a bully in east Jerusalem. For the most part, I don’t think it does. The brouhaha over Silwan is a case in point. Even the Shaikh Jarrah situation is one where the Palestinian families refused to pay rent for years before they were evicted after years of hearings in the courts. However, displacing Arabs in favor of “returning” Israeli Jews anywhere outside the historically Jewish areas of the Holy Basin presents many complications that should be avoided, particularly the issue of equivalent “return.”
Of course, supporting the construction of an historically important synagogue in the Old City that had been destroyed in war by the enemy which evicted every last Jew from there and which does not displace any Palestinians today, in no way opens the door to any Palestinian claims of “return” to areas within Israel.
UPDATE: A rebuttal to criticism of this post is up on Jewlicious now.