The danger of sinat hinam – baseless hatred – the sin blamed by our sages for
the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, tends to be the Tisha Be’av lesson
on which most people dwell, but it may not be the most important one to take
from the day.
This is not to say it isn’t a lesson worth remembering and
applying in modern times. The hatred that the Labor-Zionist movement bore toward
the capitalist Revisionist-Zionists, for example, led to a waste of time and
effort that could have been put toward saving European Jewry. With the sinking
of the Altalena, that hatred brought the state to the brink of civil war at the
moment of its birth (thankfully Menachem Begin had internalized this lesson and
restrained the Irgun from retaliation).
But at a time in our history when
we are ready to make dangerous concessions to our enemies, the more important
lesson to be drawn from the date marking Jerusalem’s destruction might be a
simpler one: We are not invulnerable. Jerusalem could fall again.
very thought occurred to me this past Tisha Be’av. As I did the simple task of
washing my hands, I thought of the prohibition on washing above one’s knuckles.
I then considered how the people of besieged Jerusalem didn’t even have access
to water or food.
As a resident of Jerusalem, where I intend to stay for
many years, I wondered if that could happen again and quickly realized it could.
It already happened in modern times, in 1948. Then, the Arabs put a stranglehold
on Jerusalem, intent on conquering one of the Yishuv’s major cities and striking
a symbolic blow that could have been the deciding factor in the war.
one point, the city was 48 hours away from starvation.
As Larry Collins
and Dominique Lapierre write in their acclaimed book O Jerusalem!
, “Famine was
truly at Jerusalem’s doorstop. Certain elements in the... population were close
to panic.” A weed called khubeiza, which sprang up after the rain, became a
“delicacy” until it, too, ran out. Arab shelling made it dangerous to leave
one’s home. There was no garbage collection due to lack of fuel for trucks. A
water shortage was also a serious problem.
When describing the even more
severe situation of the Jews in the Old City before their surrender, the text of
reads like a modern-day Eicha: “Their water was almost gone. The
electricity supply had failed. The sewers no longer worked and it was impossible
to collect garbage. In the May heat, the [Jewish ] quarter’s alleys were heavy
with the stench of decomposing excrement.... Uprooted from their homes because
the Arabs had either captured them or made life in them unbearable with
shellfire, most of the quarter’s seventeen hundred residents huddled together in
three synagogues.... They cooked on the floor, slept on dirt-encrusted,
vermin-filled old mattresses, weeping, praying or gazing off into
Before 1948, Jerusalem was also hit by Arab riots, starting in
1920. And even today, east Jerusalem remains almost off-limits to Jews, not only
for political reasons, but also because it’s not really safe
BECAUSE JERUSALEM is located in the heart of the West Bank, which
the world and the Palestinians expect to be the location of their state, the
creation of such a state would leave Jerusalem surrounded.
general willingness to make concessions to achieve a peace agreement and past
prime ministers’ willingness to cede control over parts of the capital, the
Palestinian state will most likely be given some form of jurisdiction in
This means Jerusalem will be vulnerable, surrounded and
partially occupied by a state whose population views the city as its next
conquest. According to the last poll commissioned by the Israel Project, 61
percent of Palestinians reject the notion of two homelands for two peoples,
between 66% and 84% (depending on the wording) believe that the destruction of
Israel is the ultimate goal, and 92% believe Jerusalem should be their
If a Palestinian state is established, Jerusalem will in all
likelihood become a battlefield again, whether through rockets, rioting, suicide
bombs, roadside bombs, shootings, stabbings or an organized military
There are no agreements we can sign with the Palestinians that
will prevent this. The Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords and just a few years
later launched the worst terror war Israel has seen. Sometimes it is their own
police officers who commit the acts of terror.
There is also no reliable
guarantee the international community can provide. The UN did nothing to carry
out the partition resolution in 1947-48; the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) pulled
out of Sinai at Nasser’s whim just before the Six Day War; and Security Council
resolutions 242’s and 338’s calls for “secure” borders have become meaningless.
(For more on this point, see Barry Rubin’s July 24 Jerusalem Post
nightmare of international guarantees”).
Quite the contrary, the
international community usually restrains Israel from defending itself. The fact
that the Palestinian state will technically be sovereign will provide it with
added protection against Israeli intrusions into its territory under both the UN
Charter (Article 2) and customary international law.
day-to-day tasks and working to make ends meet, it may be hard to imagine the
hell into which we could descend. That is exactly why Judaism is so obsessed
with remembering dates and symbolic rituals and prohibitions. That is why we
have a day like Tisha Be’av to mourn past destruction – to remind us that
Jerusalem could indeed become a battlefield. It could even fall – it has
The writer is an attorney from New York currently residing in
Jerusalem. He is chairman of Likud Anglos' Jerusalem Committee and a frequent
writer on Israeli politics and foreign policy. He can be reached at