Sunday, September 22, 2019 -
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Occupation in the Old City of Jerusalem

Who is occupying whom? Be careful with language and with history.

Imagine that Temple Emanuel  in Denver were captured by foreign forces, who tore down the temple. In its stead, other forces built a mosque on the same square block at 1st and Grape St. We wouldn’t call builders of the mosque the rightful owners of the land, would we?

It disturbs us to see parts of the Land of Israel referred to as “occupied” for several reasons, one of which pertains to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. The land on which these two Islamic shrines sit was the land on which the ancient Holy Temple of Jerusalem stood. After the Jewish holy temple was captured by the Romans in 70, it by turns lay desolate, was resettled, or hosted Christian shrines, before the Dome and al-Aqsa were built on it in the seventh and eighth centuries. These structures have remained there ever since. So whose land is it, precisely, that is “occupied?” It is Jewish land.

Lest we be misunderstood, we do not advocate for a moment the destruction of the Dome of the Rock or the al-Aqsa mosque. Our concern is truth in language and truthful history. Jews who were expelled from the Land of Israel by foreign forces, and who centuries later returned to this land, are not “occupiers.” Yes, a pragmatic political problem exists with regard to the peaceable distribution of this land, and to the assignment of political sovereignty over it, but none of that changes the historical rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. It is not “occupied” by Jews.

The idea that in returning to the Land of Israel, Jews “occupied” it — that is, they dispossessed others who were living on it — is  a myth. Prior to the Jewish return to the land beginning in 1881, the vast majority of the land was empty. It was neither city nor farm. Look at the beautiful artistic renderings of the land in the 1830s by David Roberts — the great bulk of the land is empty. There was no one living on the vast majority of this land to be dispossessed.

Further proof: Look at the partition map of 1947, when the original “two state solution” was proposed by the United Nations. Jews accepted this solution. The Arab inhabitants (they didn’t call themselves Palestinians) rejected it. See how small a proportion of the land between the river and the sea the Jewish communities rested on. Virtually no one was dispossessed by these Zionist Jews, who did not settle the land — they resettled the land, based on the ancient home of the Jewish people and on the continuous presence of a Jewish community in the land ever since — a period of some 1,870 years.

Because the Arab nations and the Arab inhabitants of the Land of Israel of 1947 rejected the UN two-state solution by launching a war against the Jewish communities, they lost some land (most notably the Negev). Israelis proceeded to resettle the land they won, but Israel did not dispossess any Arab on the West Bank of the Jordan River —Israel did not control it! Jordan did.

Then, in 1967, the pattern repeated itself. Arab nations launched a war “to drive Israel into the sea,” and in so doing lost control of the West Bank. A critical element in the pattern was this salient fact: In 1967, the vast majority of the West Bank was empty, neither city nor farm. As Israel began to resettle that territory, again virtually no Arab inhabitant was dispossessed.

But two things did change: One, the Arab inhabitants began to call themselves Palestinians, projecting backward in time a national identity that never existed before. Two, in winning  control of the West Bank in the defensive war, Israel took  possession of the strategic hills there. Israeli control of these hills made it much more difficult for Jordan, Iraq and other Arab nations to launch attacks against the heart of Israel, as they had done in 1947 and 1967, but have not been able to do since. It was military considerations as much as historical rights to the land that motivated the first two decades of the post-1967 construction of Israeli settlements on land that had always been open to Jewish settlement since 1881; that is, open until the Arab nations  denied Jews access to it at the conclusion of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949.

Arab denial of access to Jews included the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Which means that when Israel won the Six Day War, Israel did not become the occupier of the Old City; rather, Israel expelled the occupiers, that is, the Jordanian rulers of the Old City, 1949-1967.

Is this polemical semantics? What is the difference between Arab control of the Old City, such that we deem it to have been “occupied,” and Israel control of the Old City, such that we deem it not occupied but “liberated”? The difference is not semantics. The difference is this:

Arab victors of 1949 closed the area to Jews, while Israeli victors of 1967 opened the area to Arabs.

Arab victors of 1949 engaged in ethnic cleansing, while Israeli victors of 1967 engaged in ethnic pluralism.

Arab victors stamped out freedom of worship for Jews at the Western Wall and the other synagogues in the Old City, while Israel sustained freedom of worship for Muslims in the al-Aqsa mosque.

That’s the difference. That’s why the Jordanians were occupiers, while the Israelis were liberators. It wasn’t semantics. It was political and religious reality.

Arab control of the Old City, 1948-1967, was consistent with Islamic construction of a shrine and a mosque over the ruins of a Jewish temple. The idea was to eradicate the Jewish presence from the Old City. That is “occupation.” Israeli control of the Old City, which sustains Arab-owned homes there and guarantees Islamic freedom of worship there, is not “occupation.” It’s not a truthful use of the word.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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