Even as Israel prepares to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem next week, a shameful incident took place which should serve as a painful reminder that much still needs to be done to strengthen our hold over all parts of our beloved capital.
According to a report in Wednesday’s Yediot Aharonot, a busload of recruit’s to the IDF Paratroopers Brigade were on their way to the traditional military induction ceremony at the Western Wall when police ordered them to close the curtains over the windows, lest Arab onlookers attack as they arrived at the Old City’s Damascus Gate.
Yes, you read that correctly. Israeli soldiers were instructed to hide behind their bus curtains in the heart of Jerusalem.
The paper noted that the soldiers vehemently objected, but were forced by their commander to accede to the order, although not before they began to chant, “The eternal nation does not fear a long road.”
The irony of this incident is so profound, and so bitter, that it simply defies comprehension.
After all, it was none other than a heroic group of paratroopers – the 55th Paratrooper Brigade commanded by Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur – which liberated the Old City during the 1967 Six Day War.
And now, barely five decades later, cowardice rather than courage has become the order of the day.
We can take some comfort in the fact that the soldiers themselves opposed the mortifying directive, demonstrating a healthy sense of national pride and patriotic fervor despite their superiors’ failure to do the same.
But what kind of message does it send to our young men in uniform, or to Jews in general, when we have reached such a sad state of affairs? Must Israeli soldiers visiting Jerusalem now mimic Jews in Europe, many of whom are afraid to wear a yarmulke in public for fear of anti-Semitism? This episode takes on larger significance when looked at in the larger context of what is happening elsewhere in Jerusalem, where it often seems that Israel has forgotten the true meaning of exercising its sovereignty.
Take, for example, the rampant illegal Arab construction that has been going on for years in various neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.
According to Jerusalem City councilman Arieh King, Palestinian Arabs have illegally built over 41,000 housing units in Jerusalem, with nearly a thousand new ones added each year.
Nevertheless, over the past 12 years, just 580 illegal Arab homes have been demolished by Israeli authorities, or an average of just 48 annually. At the current pace, it would take well over another 1,000 years to remove all the illegally- built Palestinian edifices in Jerusalem.
Palestinian Arabs have erected structures in Jerusalem on state-owned land and even in national parks, and have put up mosques adjacent to Jewish neighborhoods despite lacking the necessary permits.
Simply put, illegal Arab construction has long been spinning out of control, yet very little is being done by Israel to enforce the law and rein it in.
And then, of course, there is the daily, ongoing affront to Jewish freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, where the Israeli government regularly submits to the demands of the Muslim Wakf which oversees the site and bars Jews from praying there.
The police continue to impose restrictions on Jews visiting the Temple Mount, preventing them from carrying a Bible, waving an Israeli flag or even reciting a blessing over a bottle of water.
And the Wakf is now said to be once again planning another construction project adjacent to the Temple Mount on an archaeological site dating back to the Second Temple period.
As Israel’s Channel 10 reported last week, the Wakf is building a large complex of bathrooms at a site known as the Antonia Palace, from the Hasmonean era. They are doing so without a permit, and are even planning to break through the walls around the Old City to open another gate, all without even bothering to consult with the proper Israeli authorities.
Clearly, the Jewish state is failing on various fronts to enforce the rule of law in the capital, which only further emboldens the Palestinian Arabs in their efforts to redivide the city.
It is time to put an end to this political slouching and for Israel to reassert its dominion and control over the city we waited 1,900 years to return to.
The first step toward truly liberating Jerusalem is to free ourselves of fear. We must cease worrying about how the international community will react every time a Jewish building project is approved in our capital city, and we should begin to restore order in areas where Palestinian Arabs have been consistently breaking the law and doing as they please. And let’s stop discriminating against Jews on the Temple Mount, where they are treated as second-class citizens and harassed for wishing to commune with their Creator.
Winning the Six Day War was a miraculous first step in liberating eastern Jerusalem and restoring it to Jewish control.
It was a gift from God to the Jewish people. But a day to day battle is now being fought, and if Israel does not rise to the occasion, we are in danger of allowing the dream of generations to slowly and deliberately slip away.