Happy holiday, my fellow Jews. Today is Jerusalem Day. For many of my generation who were not here when the state was established, this day is a kind of Independence Day on which we were reborn. When Jerusalem was liberated, we felt a wrong had been corrected and that two parts of a whole had at last been reconnected. We were overwhelmed with joy. In the 55 years that have passed, we have dressed Jerusalem in concrete and mortar, established facts on the ground and fought for our existence here. But in the battle for public consciousness, we have been negligent.
To have a series of arguments to present to the world about Jerusalem and our right to it, as well as about our existential and security needs, is important, but it is not enough. The focus of our story should be our right and connection to Jerusalem and our commitment to the city as a result.
On this holiday, we must therefore speak of the 240,000 Jews who reside in Jerusalem beyond the old chokepoints, who do not represent an obstacle to peace, but rather an obstacle to dangerous partition. On this holiday, we must also talk about the Jerusalem that accompanied us on our long journey through the Diaspora. When it comes to Jerusalem, we must first ask “Why?” before we can ask the “How?”
If we do not go as far back as King David, who purchased Mount Moriah from Araunah the Jebusite, and his son King Solomon, who built the First Temple, and if we do not visit the City of David at the foot of the Temple Mount at least once a year, we will not be able to explain our story here to ourselves.
The destruction of the two biblical Temples changed the reality in the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, but it brought generations of dreamers and poets who issued a prayer and longed for its reconstruction. The sanctity of the city and the memory of its glory were woven into almost every holiday and religious ceremony held by Jews in the Diaspora: In daily prayers, at circumcision ceremonies, at Bar Mitzvahs, in blessings over food, and even at weddings. In all these, Jerusalem was never forgotten and maintained an intense emotional connection.
In 1966, the writer S.Y. Agnon explained that, although he was born in the Diaspora, he always saw himself as Jerusalem-born. Israel’s national anthem was adapted from the nine verses of Naftali Herz Imber’s poem “Hatikvah,” which mentions Jerusalem eight times. This is in addition to the common refrain among Israelis in the Diaspora: “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Before the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem, the city was ruled by the Jews, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Parthians, the Romans and the Byzantines. Islam, which now demands exclusivity and ownership of Jerusalem and its holy sites, only showed up 2,000 years after Israel became a nation, while the Palestinians, who undermine our existence in Jerusalem, began to define themselves as a people just 100 years ago. By contrast, since the conquest of Canaan in the 12th century BCE, the Jews controlled the Land of Israel for a thousand years and had continuous presence in it for the last 3,300 years.
In that time, Jerusalem was the Hebrew capital, but it was never the capital, politically or in the public consciousness, of an Arab or Islamic state. The purported “parents” of the Palestinians—the Arabs, Mamluks and Ottomans who settled here—did not have a national, sovereign connection to the Land of Israel. They conquered it and governed it, but their center of power was always located elsewhere. Even the Jordanians did not make Jerusalem their capital when they ruled the city.
By contrast, in hundreds of religious fatwahs issued by Muslim religious figures since 1967, the Jews have been designated enemies of the believers and as desecraters of the Islamic nature of Jerusalem. From here, the path was short to an attempt to undermine the Jewish people’s right to Jerusalem, rewrite its history and de-Judaize the city, despite the 1,000-year-old writings of many Islamic scholars. In our time, we have seen the addition of the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” blood libel.
We will therefore remember today that Jerusalem is not just history and geography. It is also the chemistry and biology that race through our arteries. In the absence of knowledge of the events that transpired in the city and its significance, we will not understand why Jerusalem is the embodiment of Jewish justice and our claim to this country, and why without it, we will fall. Do not, therefore, let the mistaken among us confuse you. This is no foreign land that we have conquered. We have returned home, to Zion and Jerusalem, and those who return home are not occupiers. This isn’t just about terminology. We liberated the city from a series of occupiers who abused us and our rights for generations, and now we must guard it in every sense and rejoice on its day of liberation despite its complexity and complications.
Nadav Shragai is an author and journalist.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.