As our sad commemorations of the double-destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples intensify with the approach of the fast of Tisha B’Av this Sunday, we have no choice but to find the parallels between then and now, enabling us to avoid our fateful mistakes of yore.
Indeed, it is critical for anyone who wishes to have a say or impact on what Jerusalem will look like in the coming years to know the basics of what happened nearly 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, respectively. Our Sages of the Talmud, who lived just before, during, and after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the gradual loss of Jewish near-sovereignty in the Holy Land, had a very clear take on the matter: Baseless hatred among the Jews, in its various manifestations, led to the sacking of Jerusalem. And so did the committing of the cardinal sins of murder, incest, and idol worship – specifically towards the end of the First Temple period.
In addition, the Sages instituted fasts for the various milestones along the way. They decreed a fast for the siege placed upon Jerusalem by the Babylonians (10th of Tevet), one for the breaching of the city walls (17th of Tammuz), and one for the actual burning of the Temple (9th of Av). Lastly, they instituted the Fast of Gedaliah (3rd of Tishrei) for the assassination of the erstwhile leader of the surviving remnants of the Jewish community, and the dashing of all hopes for Jewish sovereignty for several decades to come.
Each of these has its parallels in our contemporary situation.
Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a massive wave of illegal building in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, for the express purpose of creating geographic contiguity from Ramallah in the north to Bethlehem in the south. The goal is not merely to facilitate Arab travel and strengthen the Arab presence, but even more, to divide Jerusalem de facto and create, on the ground, the capital of a Palestinian state.
This creeping Arab expansion is definitely having an effect, strangling the city’s urban development – very much like the Babylonian siege forcefully imposed upon Jerusalem long ago. This stifling siege of illegal Arab construction, unhindered by the enforcement of zoning laws, combined with the double whammy of a lack of housing solutions and employment opportunities for Jews, has long been closing in on us. For years, it has cost Jerusalem an average net loss of some 8,000 Jews a year.
In some places, most unfortunately, the enemy has “breached” the walls – and right within our city limits, two huge Arab neighborhoods have sprouted and continue to grow wildly, unblocked by the security barrier. The two – Kafr Aqeb and Ras Hamis/Shuafat – have become Hamas strongholds that block Jewish growth, with high crime rates and almost no Israeli governance.
The growing Arab population in Jerusalem now stands at 40% of the total population – and in eastern Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority wishes to establish its “capital,” it holds a commanding lead of nearly 60%. Will we wake up one day soon to a Hamas-backed mayor in Jerusalem!?
But possibly these problems are just the symptoms of deeper issues, as they were in the days of the Holy Temple. We must ask ourselves: Are we sufficiently attached to each other? To Jerusalem? To our nationhood and sovereignty? To our age-old teachings and values?
Though those who live here are perpetually witness to countless acts of kindness on the individual, communal and even national levels, the headlines read both here and abroad paint a different picture. How can it be that the personal rancor of certain party leaders can prevent us from electing a solid, unified government that holds the values of a Jewish State as its most precious asset? What happened to our historic love of Jerusalem, that which we have vowed for millennia to verily pay for with our right arm? What happened to Zion – all of it – at the memory of which we simply sat and wept?
Is now, just before the Fast of the Ninth of Av, not the time to remember to come together in love and commitment to each other and to everything the Holy Temples stood for?
And from thoughts and intentions to practical acts: What can we do to secure our capital, keep it unified, and develop it with a large Jewish majority?
Clearly, dividing the city and handing over the Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian Authority control will only aggravate the problems. Geographically and demographically speaking, an Israeli withdrawal will strangle the city, leading not only to increased Jewish emigration (as happened when the city was divided in 1949) but also to heightened immigration by Arabs to the Israeli side where they can continue to enjoy the full political rights that Israel grants them. Security-wise, the void formed by an Israeli withdrawal would quickly be filled by Islamic terror forces, deployed just across streets or valleys from Jewish neighborhoods – while Israel’s ability to respond would be limited. Dividing the city would also place the holy sites at the mercy of Islamic extremists, who have proven that freedom of access and worship is not on their to-do list.
The Jewish people and state must do everything today to prevent the modern destruction of our eternal capital. As Tisha B’Av approaches, KeepJerusalem’s Jerusalem Shield Program appears to be the only practical, democratic and safe answer for the urgent challenges we face. It involves a massive increase in Jewish housing, especially where it can create wedges in the Arab corridor between Ramallah and Bethlehem. In addition, employment opportunities must be enhanced – as will possibly soon be taking place at the rapidly-developing western entrance to Jerusalem.
But perhaps most important of all is the Jerusalem Shield proposal to expand Jerusalem’s municipal borders in order to increase the city’s Jewish population. Satellite communities outside the current city borders, such Givat Ze’ev, Mevaseret Zion, Beitar Illit, Gush Etzion and Maaleh Adumim will become part of a greater Jerusalem municipality, according to the plan. At the same time, Kafr Aqeb and the Shuafat refugee camp would be detracted from Jerusalem – not to become part of the Palestinian Authority, but rather as separate, new Israeli municipalities. This would change the 60-40 Jewish/Arab demographic ratio to 85-15. The impact will be for generations.
When we mourn today for the destruction of Jerusalem, it’s not for the brick-and-stone structures that were destroyed, but rather for the loss of our Temples, our capital, and what they stood for. Today, when we are on the fast track in rebuilding Jerusalem and sensing the footsteps of the Mashiach, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we preserve our gains – and to continue to work together with brotherly, causeless love for even greater progress towards a united, secure and Jewish Jerusalem. With this, Tisha B’Av will truly turn from a day of mourning to one of joy and celebration.
With unity and togetherness, it will come sooner than we think.
For information on how to participate in KeepJerusalem’s program to keep Jerusalem united and Israeli, visit www.KeepJerusalem.org.