Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Assault on Israel's Heritage

The assault on Israel's Jewish heritage has begun. The American administration has taken taken the side of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in denying Israel's right to build in Jerusalem, and by extension, the deep Jewish historic roots in the Land of Israel. The increasing American pressure for Israel to stop building in its capital and to surrender half of the city to the Palestinians, coupled with the continued assault on Israel's Jewish heritage, serves to delegitimize Israel's right to exist.

In February, Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu announced that he would add Mearat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron and Kever Rachel, Rachel's Tomb, in Bethlehem to a list of Jewish and Zionist heritage sites. Mearat HaMachpela is believed to be the burial place of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Rachel's Tomb is described in the Book of Genesis as the site where Jacob buried his wife Rachel following her death during childbirth. These two holy sites are incontestable proof of the deep biblical and historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.

Rioting on the part of the Palestinians, and international condemnation, followed Bibi's recognition of Israel's Jewish heritage. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas called the move "a serious provocation" while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh threated a third intifada. Throughout Israel, Arabs rioted, vandalized Jewish property and attacked soldiers. In Hebron, Arabs threw glass bottles at IDF patrols while in Jaffa, local Arabs, aided by Israeli leftists, threw molotov cocktails at buses. The UNESCO Director General released a statement expressing "concern" over the move. The US State Department called it "provocative and unhelpful". The absurdity of the situation reached its apex with full scale denial of the Jewish heritage of these sites by Turkey's premier Erdogan told a Saudi newspaper that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”

The next target in the assault on Israel's heritage was Jerusalem. When US envoy to the region, George Mitchell, was visiting Israel with the intention of starting indirect talks between Israel and Fatah, Israel's Minister of the Interiour Eli Yishai announced announced the construction of 1,600 Jewish apartments in the Jewish neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo. Mitchell claimed that this routine construction was part of an Israel effort to humiliate him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the announcement "an insult" while Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, called it "an affront". When Bibi visited Washington in order to deliver a speech to AIPAC, Obama treated him with disdain and humiliated him. There was no photo-op between Bibi and Obama and no state dinner. Obama showed his displeasure by leaving Bibi to wait for him for forty minuted while he had dinner with his family. Israel's PM received a treatment that that would have been considered shameful for the leader of Angola.

Obama's pandering to the Arabs has encouraged them in their war against Israel and the Jewish people. His harsh stance on Jerusalem and his embarrassing treatment of Bibi has made the Arabs harden their position and to continue their assault against Israel. Fatah called for Muslims to converge on the al-Aksa mosque to protect it from Jewish attempts to destroy it. Hamas escalated Muslim rioting by calling for "a Day of Rage" against Israel. The reason: Israel's rebuilding of the 17th century Churva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. The synagogue, built in the four centuries ago by Rabbi Judah Ha-Chassid, has been destroyed twice, the latest time by the Jordanians in 1967. After the Jordanians illegally divided up Jerusalem in 1967, they expelled the Jewish population from the Old City and proceeded to desecrate synagogues, yeshivot and Jewish sites in Jerusalem. To symbolize the destruction of Jerusalem's Jewish community, the Jordanian army dynamited the Churva synagogue and used its ruins as a stable. Israel's restoration of the most significant medieval synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem causes Islamic rage and violence. Hamas' ambassador in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told the Al-Jazeera satellite channel that the opening of the Hurva Synagogue formed part of a larger Israeli attempt to “invent” a Jewish history for Jerusalem.

Israel's Jewish heritage is consistently under attack. It has long been a policy of both Fatah and Hamas, as well as the larger Arab and Islamic worlds, to deny the historical fact of the Jewish roots and presence in the Land of Israel. This denial is strengthened by the Obama administration's portrayal of Jewish construction in Israel's capital as "settlements" and "threats to peace". Obama's hostility towards Israel ignores the fact that Jerusalem is, and always has been, a Jewish city. It has been at the heart of the Jewish conscious ever since King David made it his capital over 3500 years ago and his son Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah.

Internationally, a campaign is underway to paint Israel as an illegitimate colonial power. By erasing the Jewish people's roots in the Land of Israel and portraying Jews as European interlopers who stole Palestine from the natives, anti-Israel propagandists pave the way for the annihilation of the State of Israel. Since Israel is based on an original sin of land theft in 1948, Islamic genocidal threats and terror are perfectly acceptable means of "resistance". Any Israeli attempt at self-defense is automatically "war crimes", a colonial dictator repressing the aspiration of the indigenous people.

Israel will not be able to win the war against its enemies unless it sets the record straight. The State of Israel draws its legitimacy from the legacy of king David and Solomon, from Judah the Maccabbee and Bar Kochba. Zionism is the natural expression of two thousand years of Jewish longing to return home, to rebuild their country from which they were forcibly removed by Roman centurions and legionnaires. What gives Israel the moral upper-hand in the conflict is the fact that the Land of Israel belongs indisputably to the Jewish people. It was in the Land of Israel that the Jewish people arose, built two Commonwealths, and fought courageously before being carried away by first the Babylonians and then the Romans. It was the Land of Israel in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sojourned, in which David fought and Solomon built, in which Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied and called the wayward Jews to repent. It was the Land that, upon remembering its glory, the exiled Jews sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept. It is the Land upon whose agricultural cycle the Jewish calendar and holidays revolve. It is the Land which our Sages taught that the entire Torah rests. Jewish settlement and presence in Israel predates that of the British in Britain, the French in France, or the Romans in Rome. When the Greeks were only beginning to ponder the great philosophical questions, the Jews had already left Egypt, conquered the Land, established Jerusalem as their capital, built the Temple there, split into two kingdoms, been exiled by the Babylonians for 50 years, and returned to rebuild under Ezra and Nehemia.

Even after the vast majorities of Jews were carried into captivity by the Romans, the Land was never bereft of a Jewish presence. The center of Jewish life spread to the Galilee and then to the Golan, and during the ages, pious Jews settled in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. For the great masses who could not ascend and return home, Israel remained the focal point of their intense longing and desire. Every single year, at the end of every Passover Seder and Yom Kippur fast, every Jew would declare: Next Year in Jerusalem! At every Jewish wedding, a cup is broken and a vow is made: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem... Three times a day, every day, observant Jews turn towards the East and beseech G-d, "may our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy". A Jew cannot even eat a cookie without thanking G-d "for the good and spacious land which You gave our ancestors as an inheritance".

Any peace agreement must be based on the recognition that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the land in which our people arose and developed. Our answer to the haters must be that of Simon the Maccabee, which he wrote to the Seleucid king Antiochus: "We have neither taken foreign land nor seized foreign property, but only the inheritance of our fathers, which at one time had been unjustly taken by our enemies. Now that we have the opportunity, we are firmly holding the inheritance of our fathers." The relationship of the Jews and their Land is one of love, longing, tearful separation and joyous return.

As the holiday of Passover approaches, we must remember the fifth promise of Redemption, corresponding to the Cup of Eliyahu and the fifth cup of wine at the seder: "I will bring you to the land, concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord.'"

Chag Kasher v'Sameach

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