There is no Zionism without Jerusalem

IDF soldiers on an educational excursion view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

By ILANA BROWN (The Jerusalem Post)

This week celebrates 45 years since the reunification of Jerusalem after the miraculous Six Day War. One of the most emotional documents in the historical record is the audio recording of the paratroopers entering the Lions’ Gate and arriving at the Western Wall.

The version of the recording available on the Internet has been shortened but the original translated text is still available. The radio broadcaster reports from within the walls of the Old City describing his emotions upon reaching the stones of the Western Wall. Soldiers recite the Shehechianu prayer. Rabbi Shlomo Goren sings El Maleh Rachamim in honor of those who have fallen and in the recording one can hear the soldiers’ heart-rending sobs. The shofar is blown and Goren says that it is in this year that we are in a rebuilt Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is part of the Jewish people in the same way that the heart is part of the human body. It is not merely an organ that keeps the body functioning. Without it there would be no life. The last line of the Passover Seder calls for “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Before the groom breaks the glass at his wedding he says “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…” When Jews pray, they face Jerusalem. Ethiopian Israelis have chosen Jerusalem Day to commemorate the Ethiopians who died on the long trek to Israel. The song “Jerusalem of Gold” is recognized the world over.

The national anthem of Israel concludes with the line “To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Both with religious and secular associations, the list goes on and on.

The State of Israel passed a law in 1980 declaring that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” While not internationally recognized as such, until the law is changed, Jerusalem is the complete and united capital of the sovereign State of Israel.

By law, by religion, by emotion, Jerusalem is the center, the core, the heart of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Along with the idea of two states for two peoples, we are asked to consider Jerusalem as the shared capital for these two states. We are told that holding Arab-majority neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as jailers is morally abhorrent. We are told that misguided Zionism has turned us into overlords. It might be suggested that Jerusalem was divided from 1948-1967 and it did not destroy the State of Israel or substantially damage the Jewish people around the world.

I would suggest a different perspective and a different understanding of the big picture. In theory, a shared capital sounds both fair and logical. Even an international city sounds like a legitimate argument for the status of Jerusalem. This would require Israel to change its own sovereign law, divide its own capital city, compromise its own religious feeling toward Jerusalem and limit its secular love of the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Arab-majority neighborhoods are a different question. I propose that this is a social issue, not a question of Zionism or even the status of Jerusalem. Every major city in the world has less desirable neighborhoods. Poverty and crime are more obvious. The police presence there is greater. Classical Zionism tells us that the Jewish people have a legitimate right to live in the historic land of Israel. It did not provide a plan for a utopian society or even a framework for solving societal ills. It is our responsibility today to face these challenges, not to delegitimize our own existence or undermine the idea of Zionism.

From the year 70 CE, when Jerusalem fell to the Romans, until 1967, the city was not under Jewish control. And yet, Jews around the world continued to yearn for Jerusalem – not for Tiberias, not for Safed, not for Hebron. In 1948, when the Jewish state was established and immediately plunged into a war, the infant state was not able to hold Jerusalem. But still the people yearned for Jerusalem. And finally, when the paratroopers entered the Old City on June 7, 1967, religious and secular alike were awed by their achievement.

Col. Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the force in the Old City, a secular, native-born Jerusalemite, declared “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!” He did not say “The Old City” or “The Jewish Quarter.” Rather, his Jewish heart told him that the important thing was the Temple Mount; the Temple Mount was in our hands.

When a people fulfill a dream, a 1,900-year-old dream, how does that people abandon it and give it to someone else? How does one give up even part of that dream? Zionism tells us that we have a legitimate right to have a state in our historic homeland. The heart of our homeland is Jerusalem. We need not apologize for advocating for our right to the Zionist dream, nor for fulfilling that dream.

So on this Jerusalem Day, imagine a Jewish homeland in Uganda, or in Alaska, or in Madagascar. Why does a Jewish homeland anywhere else seem hollow and empty? The answer is Jerusalem.

The writer lives and works in Jerusalem and volunteers for Im Tirzu.