Jerusalem Day celebrations.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
As a nation we’re embarrassed by the return to our land. We take great pride every year on Independence Day, boasting of our 2,000-year wait and our success in reestablishing sovereignty in our own land. Yet we hadn’t returned to all of our land; the United Nations voted to only give us half. The Land of Israel that was promised to us by God, that we prayed to return to, that we pined for through Crusades, pogroms and in concentration camps is double the size of what the UN gave us. The land stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and includes our capital city, Jerusalem. Even though it was half of what we deserved, we gladly took the deal, for we weren’t willing to give up the opportunity of a return to our land.
I have to imagine that there were mixed emotions in Jewish and Zionist communities when the UN’s partition plan was announced. On the one hand, after 2,000 years we were going to return to our land – yet we weren’t given what we deserved. These Jews were probably apprehensive about defending half the land; Israel wasn’t designed to be so thin. The borders must’ve seemed indefensible.
It wasn’t until 19 years later that we finally returned to the full land. In June 1967, Israel won the Six Day War and took over the western bank of the Jordan River.
For thousands of years this area was called Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria). We were finally back in the greater Israel, the entire land that was ours. Cities such as Nablus, Hebron and of course, Jerusalem’s Old City, were finally in our control. For the first time in two millennia, Jews could travel to the cities of our past, the cities which existed as prayers for the future, and call them the cities of our present.
Why don’t we celebrate our complete return to all of Eretz Yisrael? On Jerusalem Day we skip half the celebration.
It’s almost as if so many great things happened in 1967 we recognized that we can’t celebrate them all, so we picked the biggest event and said we’ll just celebrate that. We decided to name the day after that event and we have parades that celebrate it, and that’s enough. We celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem, and call it Jerusalem Day. What about celebrating the return to the complete Israel? The world vilifies Israel for controlling its complete land. History is denied, our people’s dreams are delegitimized and we are made to feel shamed in our own home. The world says our land is the Palestinians’ land and our narrative is false. I don’t deny that Palestinians have lived here for close to a thousand years, but that doesn’t negate that the land is ours.
Our response to the world’s denial of our history has been nothing but pitiful. Even the strongest of pro-Israel organizations don’t face the world’s challenge headon, preferring to focus on other important areas of contention like delegitimizing the boycott movement and claiming Israel’s right to self-defense, all the while quietly shying away from the charge of occupation and apartheid. We need a different approach. We need to proudly declare that we belong in Judea and Samaria.
We need to face the charge of occupation with the response that it’s our land. We need to educate and explain that just because the UN didn’t give us all that was ours doesn’t mean we don’t deserve our full land.
We need the world to understand that there are two sides to the story, and eventually be convinced that our side is the correct one.
There is theory that the eastern mountains in Judea and Samaria naturally protect Israel’s western flank.
Armies invade Israel from the east and the mountains’ arduous ranges stave off attack. The same protection Judea provides the rest of Israel in war, it provides in the world’s courts. If we flattened the mountains we’d open ourselves to attack, and if we give in to the world’s delegitimization of greater Israel, we’re opening ourselves to charges of delegitimizing our claim to western Israel as well.
Jerusalem Day’s celebration should be extended past the reunification of Jerusalem to the return to greater Israel. Those who advocate for Israel should begin including Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria in their talking points, and groups should make sure to include fun, historical and educational spots in Judea and Samaria as part of their itineraries. It’s time we took pride in our land and let the world know that we aren’t going to leave this land simply because they say we should.
The author is a rabbi at Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah and teaches Israel political advocacy to students across America.