Returning to the Dream of Jerusalem

Not many years ago, there was still a widespread understanding that it would be impossible to return the nation of Israel to history and maintain a national culture in this country without Jerusalem.

Let them vote! Who really cares anymore? In the list of failures that have marked Israel's pretensions to preserve a united Jerusalem, voting by East Jerusalem residents in the Palestinian Authority elections is no more than another drop of milk that has already been spilled. The voting will neither help nor hurt, even according to Likud, which is currently railing against it. Indeed, Likud is the party that for years proposed that the Palestinians make do with human rights in Israel and cast their political votes elsewhere (in Jordan, for example).

Jerusalem, in any case, has been divided for many years already. It is divided between Israeli sovereignty in Jewish neighborhoods and de facto Palestinian sovereignty in most Arab neighborhoods. It is divided between the Temple Mount that the public still views as the heart of the nation and the focus of our yearnings and prayers - and the actual, physical Temple Mount, the focus of Palestinian religious-national power and domination. And it is divided between western Jerusalem, which is comparatively modern and well-developed, and neglected Arab East Jerusalem.

Continued attempts to separate the Arabs of East Jerusalem from those of the PA are like giving oxygen to a dead man. Moreover, without a revolution in the public's consciousness, a formal division is only a matter of time. The separation walls are already biting off neighborhoods inhabited by tens of thousands of Palestinians from Jerusalem's sovereign territory, and in the name of demography, politicians from all parties are already hastening to demand the city's division.

For years, adherents of a demographic ideology explained that we had to give up parts of our homeland in the West Bank so that the country would remain Jewish, so that Israel would not drown in a sea of millions of Palestinians, and so that it would be possible to fight for the truly Jewish thing: Jerusalem. Now, after Israel has retreated, step by step, toward "the real thing," it turns out that here, too, we must retreat before demography - and that the real problem is weakness of will rather than demography.

Instead of intensifying the struggle, building more and more, redeeming additional land, giving economic benefits to Jews who move to Jerusalem, building eastward rather than westward and significantly improving the standard of living in East Jerusalem, the demographers propose that even here, we should throw up our hands and abandon the dream of Jerusalem being ours.

People no longer talk about the root of the problem: the fact that we have forgotten our birthright, our right to Jerusalem. Faced with the sea of fabrications and lies that the Palestinians disseminate regarding the city and its history, it is necessary to go back to the starting point. This starting point cannot consist solely of existential-security needs. Instead, it must include a commitment to historic justice and a national consciousness and culture. Such a commitment of necessity exceeds the concern, important in and of itself, for our physical existence and the demographic balance.

Not many years ago, there was still a widespread understanding that it would be impossible to return the nation of Israel to history and maintain a national culture in this country without leaning on the historic and religious tradition that had nourished our national consciousness for generations. This tradition is, first and foremost, the tradition of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, whose heart is the Temple Mount and the Old City, is one of the main factors still preventing the national consciousness from being reduced to the obvious - the place where one was born. In every other country, this natural and primary connection is sufficient, but not in Israel, which was born out of the past and which, without the history and culture that stems from the Jewish religion, has no right to exist precisely here, in the Land of Israel. If a man's past goes no further back than his own lifetime, if there is no significance to his historical and religious background, but only to his place of birth, why should a Jew's right to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem takes precedence over that of an Arab?

The secret of the connection, from which everything must begin, is memory. And what is Jewish memory if not the memory of Jerusalem? Anyone who thinks of distancing himself from Jerusalem, from the Old City and the Temple Mount, is also distancing himself from the memory of his past, which, as is well known, is in many respects also the history of his present and future. In 1966, S.Y. Agnon expressed this internal truth when he said, in his speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize, that because of a historic catastrophe (the destruction of Jerusalem), he was born in one of the cities of the Diaspora, but he always saw himself as a man who was born in Jerusalem.

In the Israel of 2006, Jews have forgotten the justice of their claim and have ceased to speak about it. Instead, Israelis talk so much about their sins and mistakes that it sometimes seems that the Satan about whom Natan Alterman wrote has indeed blunted their brains and caused them to forget that they are in the right. Even if the reality of recent decades in Jerusalem is complex, this alone must not be allowed to determine the shape of the future. When it comes to Jerusalem, the vision and the dream must be granted a vastly more important role. It is possible to overcome the demographic problem if we view it as temporary and take action to correct it instead of incessantly retreating before it.