Photo Credit: Jewish Press
We lost biblical Jerusalem for 19 years, between 1948 and 1967. Are we now facing the same danger again?
The question may seem far-fetched, but is actually all too real, as we witness ongoing discussions and contacts regarding Jerusalem between the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Let it be very clear: The PA/PLO not only demands what it calls “East Jerusalem” but even declares that the entire city of Jerusalem must be the subject of permanent status negotiations.
The issue of Jerusalem has been called a “core” issue, or, in Hebrew, one of the “nos’ei halibah” – issues of the heart. This term is more accurate than those who coined it might have realized, as it emphasizes the very life force of our people that is at stake.
As always, one of the key fronts in any war of values is that of knowledge. We must ask ourselves honestly: Are we sufficiently aware of all the issues? How would we do in an impromptu debate with a well-informed proponent of internationalizing Jerusalem who claims that Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev are illegal settlements? What are the historic, legal and national foundations to our claims to the Holy City?
Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech is an organization working to keep Jerusalem united and under Israeli sovereignty. Public advocacy (hasbara), education, and state-of-the art social media platforms are its main tools in getting the message effectively across.
The fact is that ignorance and moral erosion have left Jews and non-Jews worldwide in surrender mode regarding Jerusalem. This is why Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech was asked to initiate this new, biweekly column – one that will fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Jerusalem, explain the issues, and make sure we know what we are up against in this latest phase of the Jewish nation’s intense battle to keep Jerusalem.
Our first challenge is this: While we are confident that Jerusalem is and has always been totally ours, we must find out: What are the Arabs telling the Americans and the Europeans, who serve as the “mediators” in this dangerous game? Are their facts the same as ours?
They are telling them that though Jerusalem today stretches out over 108 square kilometers (nearly 42 square miles), this is merely the result of an “illegal Israeli expansion” that they refuse to recognize. They are saying that Israel’s Jerusalem is no greater than the 15 square miles it controlled until the Six-Day War of 1967 – and possibly even less. They are saying that Israel has no connection with the Old City or any other part of the remaining 27 square miles that comprise “East Jerusalem” – and that this area should be surrendered in its entirety to PLO/PA control. Note that the area thus claimed includes, in addition to the Old City, Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, the Mount of Olives, N’vei Yaakov, Ramot, and much more.
The danger of this claim is that it appears so ridiculous to most of us that we do not take it seriously. Everybody knows the Jewish neighborhoods are ours forever. How can they even expect to claim parts of our capital, where no Arabs live or have ever lived? And what would happen to all the Jews living there if we were to cede these areas?
But the Arabs do take their claims seriously. In accordance with the Arab narrative, they say that most of these areas are simply not Jerusalem. Gilo, Ramot, N’vei Yaakov and the others – even the Jewish Quarter in the Old City! – are nothing more than “illegal settlements.” They happen to be close to Jerusalem, but have a status no different from that of all the other “illegal settlements” in Judea and Samaria. As for the Old City itself, they claim, it belonged to Jordan – and Jordan ceded it to the PLO in 1988.
It is crucial to note that even the area of western Jerusalem, under Israeli control since 1948, is not uncontested. The official PLO/PA position is this (emphasis added): “As stated in the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, Jerusalem (and not merely East Jerusalem) is the subject of permanent status negotiations.”
The PLO/PA, while assuming it will control the Old City and its holy sites, further states that it takes upon itself to “guarantee freedom of worship and access [and to] take all possible measures to protect such sites and preserve their dignity.”
The facts, however, are these:
The PA has no title to the 70 square kilometers of what it calls East Jerusalem. Six of those kilometers (the Old City and environs) were illegally annexed by Jordan in 1950 in a move recognized internationally by only one country. The Arab League condemned the move.
The other 64 kilometers came from what the Arabs call the West Bank – an area under no sovereignty at all since 1948. Yes, Jordan “annexed” this territory, but once again, this was not recognized internationally.
Israel’s claim to these areas of Jerusalem, on the other hand, stems – among other reasons – not from illegal invasion, as in the case of Jordan, but rather from its victory in a defensive war in 1967.
In fact, jurist and international law expert Stephen Schwebel, who later became president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, wrote in 1970 that “Israel has better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”
As to the PA’s promise to protect holy sites and guarantee freedom of access, we need look no further than the desecration by PA elements of Joseph’s Tomb; shooting and rock attacks against worshipers at Rachel’s Tomb; rocks thrown at worshipers at the Western Wall; and of course the ongoing harassment of Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere.
In addition, Jordan, the previous Arab “master” over the Old City, blatantly ignored its cease-fire commitment to allow free Jewish access to the Western Wall during the 19 years it controlled the holy site. It also destroyed 59 Jewish religious buildings in the Old City in the process.
In sum: The enemies of a Jewish Jerusalem are quite clear about what they want: The Jews must leave all but a third, or less, of our holy capital city. Are we as clear about what we want?
Future columns will discuss Jerusalem hot topics such as current developments, strategic issues, demographics, security implications, Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, history, geography, and more.
Meanwhile, we invite you to visit Jerusalem and take part in our bus tours of critical but little-known parts of Jerusalem and environs, and see for yourselves the implications of dividing our Holy City.
For information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel is the senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author. Both live in Beit El and have lived in Jerusalem.