Full gas in neutral. With nearly built-in enmity on the part of the U.S. to the most basic Israeli positions regarding Jerusalem, it is no wonder our efforts to keep Jerusalem continue to run up against so many obstacles.
One would think the lines of confrontation over Jerusalem are clearly drawn: The Jews are striving to protect both parts of the city – their historic national capital and spiritual center in the east, and their modern-day capital in the other parts. In contrast, the Arabs demand the Temple Mount, the site of Muhammad’s mythical ascent to both the heavens and Mecca, together with the adjacent, mostly Arab-populated neighborhoods.
This, of course, would lead to a very clear position for the Arab side: “We want the Old City of Jerusalem, and the areas controlled by Jordan in the years 1948-1967, which you have ‘occupied’ since then. The Jewish-populated remainder of the city doesn’t interest us.”
Such a position – allowing Israel to retain what it won in Jerusalem in its defensive 1948 war – is bolstered by the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan. That agreement itself was buttressed by the U.S./British/French Tripartite Declaration of 1950 that guaranteed the very status quo set by the Armistice Agreement.
True, these were not official borders, because the Arab side made sure to insist, in true sore-loser style, that the borders thus set should not be construed as permanent. Israel agreed – but from the opposite angle. As Prime Minister Golda Meir said in 1969, for an Israeli leader to return to the 1949 borders was so dangerous it “would be treasonable.” Similarly, Abba Eban, who served as Israel’s foreign minister and ambassador to the UN, said the 1949 borders were reminiscent of no less than Auschwitz.
If even the 1949 borders are not safe for Israel, how much more unthinkable is it to erase whatever gains – such as western Jerusalem – Israel made in 1949!
Yet, despite the above, it appears a stand against Israel’s retention of western Jerusalem is being taken by the U.S. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, refuses to recognize that western Jerusalem – home to the Knesset, the Israel Museum, Bayit Vegan, Rehavia, Jaffa and King George Sts., etc. – belongs to Israel.
How is this manifest? Very simply: The U.S. refuses to register its American citizens born in Jerusalem as having been born in Israel. Instead, they are listed as “born in Jerusalem” – as if it were a country on its own.
This flies in the face of a duly-passed legal amendment by the U.S. Congress in September 2002 that reads, “For the purposes of the registration of birth [etc.] of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel.” In practice, the U.S. government actually refuses to abide by this law – even at the price of being hauled before the Supreme Court.
Specifically, the parents of 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky of Beit Shemesh, born just 17 days after the law was passed, wished to avail themselves of its benefits, and asked that their Jerusalem-born son be listed as having entered the world in “Jerusalem, Israel.” The American consular officials refused. The Zivotofskys then took the government to court, lost, appealed, won partially, and, in short, the case is to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in November.
The suit is “about forcing the State Department to follow a law that merely codifies a long-established reality,” Dr. Zivotofsky has written, namely, that “Jerusalem, and certainly the western part of the city where Menachem was born, has been an integral part of Israel since 1948; no one has suggested changing that status, even after ‘final-status’ talks are concluded.”
This is precisely the point: Perhaps the U.S. is thus suggesting precisely that – that the Israeli status of western Jerusalem be changed.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, against whom the suit is officially filed, has explained that “any unilateral action by the U.S. that would signal, symbolically or concretely, that it recognizes that Jerusalem is a city that is located within the sovereign territory of Israel would critically compromise the ability of the U.S. to work with Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region to further the peace process.”
In other words, she does not recognize “that Jerusalem is a city that is located within the sovereign territory of Israel.” This is certainly not a position Congress or the American public agrees with – yet the State Department is willing to go the Supreme Court with it.
In the 1950s, the American government took the position that Israel should take no actions in Jerusalem that would impede the city’s internationalization. Even if this idea was widely discussed prior and following Israel’s establishment, no one truly takes it seriously today. Can it be that the U.S. governmental bureaucracy is so sluggishly out-of-tune that it still adheres to irrelevant, five-decade-old policies?
Furthermore, if the status of all-Jewish western Jerusalem is in such danger in American officialdom, what does this say about the U.S. commitment to retaining the Israeli status of the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Temple Mount and Western Wall? And what about Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, Gilo, N’vei Yaakov and many other old-new areas of Jerusalem that were liberated in 1967 and have become thriving Jewish centers for the ingathering of exiles and Israelis alike in the dynamically rejuvenating Jewish homeland?
Once again, we are made to understand that even – or perhaps especially – regarding Jerusalem, we are a “nation that dwells alone.” Whatever we felt was self-evident regarding our national, historic and religious links to this unique city, and the world’s official acceptance of these links, is once again shown to be supported by shaky pillars in loosely packed earth. Though Jewish history in Jerusalem is marked by a host of laurels for the Jewish nation, we can never rest on them.
We must constantly remember the Psalmist’s refrain, “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.” It must be ever on our minds: the subject of letters to congressmen and publications, phone calls, classes and lectures in our shuls, articles in our local newspapers, blogs, talkbacks, and the like.
Jerusalem has room for many things, but complacency is not one of them.
To take an even more active role in the struggle to Keep Jerusalem Jewish, we invite you to visit and take part in our bus tours of critical but little-known parts of Jerusalem and environs. Come see for yourselves the implications of dividing our Holy City. 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, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, continues to write and edit. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now live in Beit El.
Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org