Giving Up Jerusalem Would Mean End of Zionism

The Jewish people need to decide between Jewish historic Zionism which views our settling the land of Israel as a moral right, and colonialist post-Zionism which views the Jew as a foreign occupier of his land.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said a few days ago: "It breaks my heart to initiate relinquishing sovereignty over the Temple Mount but there is no other choice." However, conceding the Temple Mount means opting for a one-way road that leads straight to the annihilation of Zionism. And the heart that will be broken will not be that of Olmert but rather that of the Jewish people. There is only one meaning to giving up the Temple Mount: the end of the State of Israel. [The late defense minister] Moshe Dayan was mistaken when he declared that Sharm el-Sheikh without peace was preferable to peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. But the Temple Mount is not Sharm el-Sheikh.

No one gives up their heart in return for peace. If the aim was peace at all costs, the safest and most immediate way to achieve it would be simply to convert to Islam. Just as, for the sake of peace, even the most ardent left-wing activists would not be prepared to convert to Islam, not even in a symbolic way, so it is impossible to concede the symbols that express identity. Peace is merely a means for the Jewish people to exist and thrive.

Genuine photo of Temple Mount, with Western Wall in foreground and Dome of the Rock in left background.
Olivier Fitoussi

Many Zionists support the establishment of a Palestinian state and with that end in mind, they are prepared to make far-reaching concessions. The argument within the Zionist movement is between those who believe that it is possible to forgo [the outpost of] Migron and perhaps even Ariel, and those who believe we must build in Judea and Samaria. The argument is between the issue of reducing the scale of the demographic problem versus the benefits of remaining in territories that are vital from the national-historic and security points of view.

But you cannot be a Zionist if you are prepared to yield the place that provides us with the moral, historic and religious right to this land - the Temple Mount. It is not by chance that the Palestinians are demanding an Israeli withdrawal from the Temple Mount. The leaders of the Arab world and the Palestinian national leaders understand the significance of symbols.

As early as 1895, Theodor Herzl wrote in a letter to Baron Maurice de Hirsch: "What is a flag? Is it nothing more than a pole with a rag of fabric glued together. No sir, a flag is something more than that. With the flag, the people are led wherever the leader wants them to go, to the land of choice. People will live and die for the flag, only for it will they be prepared to give their souls if they are educated to do so."

Symbols have significance. If we are prepared to give up the heart of our homeland in difficult times, we will end up by also conceding those places which today seem more convenient. The Palestinian national movement is interested in an Israeli declaration, signed by the elected leadership of the Jewish people, that even in the place where the Jewish people's demand to be entitled to the land is the most moral and justified, the right of the Palestinians - "the natives" - takes priority over the right of the Jews - "the colonialists." That is why they are not prepared to make concessions. They want to have the symbol. The right to the land.

Abbas Zaky, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, said some two years ago: "When the Jews leave Jerusalem, the Zionist ideology will begin to collapse. It will die a natural death." Olmert has deserted the heritage of political Zionism which recognized the importance of symbols. Olmert has forgotten that decisions in the practical and material world have spiritual and moral significances that are likely to undermine the basis on which the Zionist ethos and the State of Israel rest.

The Jewish people need to decide between Jewish historic Zionism which views our settling of the land as a moral right, and colonialist post-Zionism which views the Jew as a foreign occupier of his land. It is impossible to maintain a nation-state which negates all connections with the past of the nation. It is impossible to create an ad hoc Zionism which views the Jew who settles in Ramat Aviv as someone moral and the Jew who settles in Jerusalem as a foreign conqueror. Zionism is based on an inseparable connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Even thousands of years of exile were unable to sever this connection. This is a tie that is so deep that it grants the Jewish people moral preference to the right to the land even over the (small number of ) Arab fellaheen (farmers ) who were living on the land in the early days of Zionism.

I am not going to enter into the question of whether it is correct to implement this right over the entire land. It is possible that there are places where the demographic reality does not justify continued control over them. But there are places from which withdrawal would be the end of Zionism. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning."

Ronen Shoval is the chairman and co-founder of the Im Tirtzu movement.