People hold up the Palestinian flag during a protest by Muslim groups to condemn Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia December 8, 2017. .
(photo credit: DARREN WHITESIDE / REUTERS)
On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump made it official that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital should be obvious to everyone, and many thoughtful people rejoice at this acknowledgment of truth. Yet, many voices express outrage and threaten violence against Israel. In the “politically correct” community, it is assumed that Israel has no right to its own capital city. People raise the concerns of Palestinians, of the Arab world, of Muslims, of the sanctity of Christian holy sites. They worry about everyone’s rights – except the rights of Jews.
Let’s take a historical view of the situation.
The Muslim Ottoman Empire controlled the land of Israel for hundreds of years. Relatively few Jews lived in the holy land during those centuries. The Ottoman Empire could very easily have established a Muslim country in the land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital city. The thought never occurred to them. “Palestine” was a poor backwater of little significance; Jerusalem an old, decrepit city that no one (except Jews) cared very much about. There was no call for a Palestinian state, and no claim that Jerusalem should be the capital of a Muslim country.
Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. Neither Jordan nor Egypt ceded one inch of territory to Palestinian Arab rule. Neither suggested the need for a Palestinian country, nor took any steps in the direction of creating a Palestinian state. Jordan did not declare Jerusalem the capital city of the Palestinians.
In June 1967, Israel defeated its implacable Arab enemies in the remarkable Six Day War. In the process, Israel took control of the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. In making peace with Egypt, Israel ceded the Sinai to Egypt. In attempting to create conciliatory gestures to Palestinian Arabs, Israel ceded much of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. Israel is the only country in the world to have given territory to the Palestinian Arabs. Israel has a legitimate claim to much of this territory, but for the sake of peace decided not to press its claims.
Although no Muslim or Arab nation, when having control of Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza created (or even suggested creating) a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, the current PC propaganda is that the Palestinian Arabs have a right to their own state with Jerusalem as capital.
Why did this position gain so much credence? Why is the “international community” so concerned – even enraged – that President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Don’t they all know that Israel’s claim to Jerusalem goes back 3,000 years, and that Jews have prayed facing Jerusalem from time immemorial? Don’t both Christianity and Islam recognize the sanctity of the Hebrew Bible – a Bible that highlights the centrality of Jerusalem in so many texts?
When the land of Israel was a desolate, poor backwater, no one cared much about it. But once Jews came and revitalized the land – suddenly people started to take notice. Jews planted farms, developed progressive agricultural techniques, built cities, roads, schools, universities. Suddenly, this desolate backwater became desirable due to the labor and ingenuity of Jews. Before the Six Day War, no one cared much about the desolate West Bank or the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip or the poorly maintained Old City of Jerusalem. But once Israel took control and started to turn these places into beautiful, modern areas – then these places became desirable. Once the Jews had made so many improvements, now claims were made on behalf of Palestinian Arabs that they should have all these things themselves.
The world has not been too bothered by the Arab economic boycott of Israel; by constant threats of war; by a steady flow of rockets shot into Israel; by ongoing terrorism against Israel and Israeli targets. But when Israel defends itself against these attacks, it is more likely that Israel will be condemned by the nations of the world than that the perpetrators of crimes and murder against Israel will be condemned.
Certainly Israel is not a perfect country, and there is no doubt that it has made errors in its policies – as has every other country on the face of the earth. But Israel has a right to flourish and to enjoy the fruits of its labor and creativity and idealistic endeavors. Israel does not ask to be judged more kindly than any other nation – only that it should not be judged less kindly than any other nation.
The current PC propaganda ignores hundreds of years of history of the holy land, ignores the rights of the people of Israel, ignores truth.
If we are to have peace between Israel and the Palestinians (and the rest of the Arab world), it would be most helpful if people understood the historic context of the unrest, if both sides strove to establish a spirit of mutual respect, if both sides focused on how much benefit all would have if a just and fair peace were to be in place. Misguided individuals and countries who forget history, who ignore or deny Israel’s rights, who look the other way when Israel is maligned and attacked – such people are part of the problem, not the solution.
As we read in Psalm 122: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love thee.”The author is founder and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (jewishideas.org) and rabbi emeritus of the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City.