Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day: A Quasi-Holiday based on a Series of Lies

Today’s Haaretz features an editorial entitled “The Lies of Jerusalem,” in which that paper’s editorial board refuses to take Israeli governmental conventional wisdom (a “wisdom” shared by far too many in the American Jewish community) lying down:

Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated on Sunday for the 45th time by great crowds and with spirited declarations of public figures, is supposed to mark the unification of the two halves of the capital after the Six-Day War. Each year the gulf between the festive joy of the Jews and the alienation felt by their Arab neighbors widens. The holiday has turned into a day on which the right provokes the city's Palestinian residents*, and nationalist Knesset members demonstrate their domination.

…A new report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel… shows that Jerusalem is less deserving than ever of being called a united city. The insupportable policy of "Judaizing Jerusalem" has not succeeded in keeping Palestinians out of the city (where they comprise 38 percent of the population); it exacerbates their already difficult living conditions and heightens their hostility to Israeli rule. State agencies advance new construction projects in Jewish neighborhoods throughout the city, but are miserly with building permits for Jerusalem's 360,000 Palestinian residents. The lack of job opportunities and the economic isolation from the West Bank have increased the unemployment rate, leading to a situation in which 84 percent of the Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are below the poverty line.

I would submit, however, that the lie of “unification” (or “reunification,” as so many have it) is only one of the lies on which this 45-year-old holiday is built.

To the extent to which we believe that Jerusalem is holy, and/or the heart of Jewish peoplehood—that Jerusalem is a very, very small place. And it has nothing to do with anything that lies outside the Old City walls.

Virtually every single stone beyond the Old City is a modern construct, and has nothing to do with the ancient Divine commandment to build on the Temple Mount. When we pray toward Jerusalem, we’re not praying toward the settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, or Palestinian villages unilaterally annexed by the municipality, or even the neighborhoods that constituted Jewish Jerusalem prior to 1967 and in which the State of Israel has every right to maintain its capital.

We are praying toward the Holy of Holies—or we should be, at any rate.

On the heels of the Six Day War, the Israeli government expanded Jerusalem’s municipal boundary ten-fold, gobbling up Palestinian villages wholesale—or, in several cases, just the farm land, but not the homes of the people who owned it. In the years since, the city’s appetite has alarmed even Jewish Israelis who had no desire to see their suburbs swallowed by the eternal, undivided capital. This is not holy writ, nor is it an expression of centuries’ longing to return to the Jewish homeland. It is avarice, and xenophobia.

When we Israeli and American Jews treat the entirety of Jerusalem’s bloated footprint as our Holy City, we’re rewriting scripture, we’re rewriting history, and I would argue that we’re practicing a kind of idolatry, placing our attachment to a human construct above any and all Divine commands to live justly. Aside from anything else, it is simply incomprehensible to me how we can possibly align those child poverty figures with any notions of holiness.

*For an example of this, please watch this clip from last year’s march and note in particular the cries of “Muhammad is dead,” “may your village burn,” and “slaughter the Arabs,” the latter shouted in Arabic for good measure.