An Israel of Pride and Shame – Roger Cohen.
In 1919, David Ben-Gurion, who 29 years later would become the founding prime minister of Israel, dismissed the possibility of peace.
Speaking at a public discussion, he said: “Everyone sees the difficulty of relations between Jews and Arabs but not everyone sees that there is no solution to that question. There is no solution. There is an abyss and nothing can fill that abyss … We want Palestine to be ours as a nation. The Arabs want it to be theirs, as a nation.”
Almost a century on, Ben-Gurion’s prescience, in this statement, is clear. Today, Jerusalem, contested city, is adorned with banners saying: “God Bless Trump. From Jerusalem DC (David’s Capital) to Washington DC.”
President Trump’s rash recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, its boundaries to be determined, has won him friends in Israel even as it has envenomed the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One thing is safe to say about 2018: It will not bring peace to the Holy Land. Peace is not built on provocations or ultimate-deal fantasy.
Tom Segev, a prominent Israeli historian who has just completed a biography of Ben-Gurion, told me Israel’s founding father was not much interested in Jerusalem when he first went to Ottoman Palestine in 1906. He was not drawn to “David’s capital,” preferring to stay with the Jewish pioneers in Petah Tikva and elsewhere.
“Jerusalem had too many Orthodox Jews, who were anti-Zionist, and too many Arabs,” Segev said. Ben-Gurion was interested in forging a new Jew: the scrawny scholars of the European shtetl poring over sacred texts would become vigorous tillers of the soil. “Tel Aviv was the capital of Zionism; Jerusalem of Judaism,” Segev suggested.
The Zionist movement accepted United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. It accepted a split that excluded Jerusalem from the nascent Jewish state, with the city as a separate entity to be administered by the United Nations.
Arabs, however, rejected Resolution 181, went to war, lost, and under the Armistice Israel took control of West Jerusalem, which became its capital. War erupted again in 1967, Arabs lost again, Israel captured East Jerusalem and declared the whole city reunited as its capital. Settlement of the occupied West Bank began.
This lightning victory in the Six-Day War occurred a half-century ago. Most Israelis were born after it. The pre-1967 lines mean nothing to them. These are the facts.
Then comes emotion.
Such a victory could only be God-given. As Segev put it, “That’s when the euphoria starts, lasting until today. Strong nationalism and strong religion begin to coalesce. It was somewhere inside our collective soul.”
By the mid-1970s, Israel stood at the fulcrum of its shift from brave upstart to colonialist power. The messianic push to settle the West Bank (and so the biblical Land of Israel) would shift religious Zionism from a marginal phenomenon to the heart of Israel’s politics. The nation’s culture began its steady journey from a communal to an individualist culture.
Yitzhak Rabin, the secular general who concluded that only territorial compromise with the Palestinians would bring peace, was killed in 1995, not by a Palestinian but by an Israeli religious zealot. Since then Israel has moved steadily right.
Was this inevitable? Could an ethno-religious Jewish state only find itself in eternal conflict, controlling the lives of Palestinians? Segev thinks it was inevitable. “If I were a Palestinian, I would also fight the Jews,” he said. “That was the price of Zionism.” Hence his book’s title: “A State at All Costs.” Was it worth the price? “I am very much aware how high the price was,” he said.
I don’t think it was entirely inevitable. Had Rabin lived, there would have been a chance for peace. Had the cultivation of victimhood not proved a fatal Palestinian temptation, a chance could have existed. And what of the price paid? Put a gun to my head, or rather my heart, and I will say as a Jew that, yes, Israel was worth the price.
The Jews needed a homeland. History proves that. Assimilation never worked; the Holocaust was no more than a culmination. The United Nations, in 1947, backed such a homeland. And if I, as a Jew, have lived a privileged life in the diaspora, it is in part because of the pride and strength that the new Jew of Israel forged. “Never Again” became more than mere words through Israel’s might.
But the Israel hoped for by Ben-Gurion has lost itself, corrupted by overreach. “The situation is very bad in the occupied territories,” Segev said. “There’s a systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights. Our government is more and more right wing, racist, anti-Arab. If they were members of a government in Austria, we’d recall our ambassador in protest.”
This is the government cheered on by President Trump and an American ambassador, David Friedman, who sounds like the West Bank settlers envoy.
This is the government leading Israel nowhere. This is my shame.
The Conflict in Jerusalem Is Distinctly Modern. Here’s the History – Sewell Chan.
In December 1917, 100 years ago this month, the British general Edmund Allenby seized control of Jerusalem from its Ottoman Turkish defenders. Dismounting his horse, he entered the Old City on foot, through Jaffa Gate, out of respect for its holy status.
In the century since, Jerusalem has been fought over in varying ways, not only by Jews, Christians and Muslims but also by external powers and, of course, modern-day Israelis and Palestinians.
It is perhaps fitting that President Trump appears to have chosen this week to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite concerns from leaders of Arab countries, Turkey and even close allies like France.
Conflicts over Jerusalem go back thousands of years — including biblical times, the Roman Empire and the Crusades — but the current one is a distinctly 20th-century story, with roots in colonialism, nationalism and anti-Semitism. The New York Times asked several experts to walk readers through pivotal moments of the past century.
1917 – 48: British Mandate
“It was for the British that Jerusalem was so important — they are the ones who established Jerusalem as a capital,” said Prof. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, a historical geographer at Hebrew University. “Before, it was not anyone’s capital since the times of the First and Second Temples.”
The three decades of British rule that followed Allenby’s march on Jerusalem saw an influx of Jewish settlers drawn by the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland, while the local Arab population adjusted to the reality of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the city since 1517.
“Paradoxically, Zionism recoiled from Jerusalem, particularly the Old City,” said Amnon Ramon, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. “First because Jerusalem was regarded as a symbol of the diaspora, and second because the holy sites to Christianity and Islam were seen as complications that would not enable the creation of a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Many early Zionists were secular European socialists, motivated more by concerns about nationalism, self-determination and escape from persecution than by religious visions.
“Jerusalem was something of a backwater, a regression to a conservative culture that they were trying to move away from,” according to Michael Dumper, professor in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in England. “Tel Aviv was the bright new city on a hill, the encapsulation of modernity.”
For Arabs, he said: “There was still something of the shock at not being in the Ottoman Empire. There was a reordering of their society. The local Palestinian aristocracy, the big families of Jerusalem, emerged as leaders of the Palestinian national movement, which was suddenly being confronted by Jewish migration.”
Opposition to that migration fueled several deadly riots by Palestinians, while Jews chafed at British rule and at immigration restrictions imposed in 1939 — restrictions that blocked many Jews fleeing the Holocaust from entering. After the war, in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states — one Jewish, one Arab — with Jerusalem governed by a “special international regime” owing to its unique status.
1948 – 67: A Divided City
Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.
Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan. “For the Palestinians, it was seen as a rallying point,” Professor Dumper said.
Israel and Jordan, he said, were largely focused elsewhere. Israel built up its prosperous coastal areas — including Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon — into a thriving commercial zone, while the Jordanian king, Abdullah I, focused on the development of Amman, Jordan’s capital.
The early Israeli state was hesitant to focus too much on Jerusalem, given pressure from the United Nations and from the European powers, according to Issam Nassau, a historian at Illinois State University.
Having accepted the idea of international control of Jerusalem, the early Israeli leadership sought alternatives for a capital, perhaps Herzliya or somewhere in the south. They also realized that not having control of Jerusalem’s holy sites might have some advantages, according to Dr. Ramon.
While Israel moved many government functions to Jerusalem during the country’s first two decades, foreign governments largely avoided Jerusalem and opened embassies in Tel Aviv, in recognition of the United Nations resolution.
1967 – 93: Two Wars and an Intifada
No event has shaped the modern contest over Jerusalem as much as the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, in which Israel not only defeated invading Arab armies but also seized control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria.
“The turning points in 1967 were two: the great victory, including the fast shift from fears of defeat before the war to euphoria and the feeling that everything was possible, and the emotional impact of occupying the Old City,” said Manchester Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Images of Israeli soldiers praying at the Western Wall, to which they had been denied access during Jordanian rule, became seared into Israel’s national consciousness.
“Jerusalem became the center of a cultlike devotion that had not really existed previously,” said Rashid Khalid I, a professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University. “This has now been fetishized to an extraordinary degree as hard-line religious nationalism has come to predominate in Israeli politics, with the Western Wall as its focus.”
The victory of the right-leaning party Likud in 1977, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, helped solidify this new emphasis on Jerusalem as integral to Israel’s identity. Religious settlers became more prominent in political life in Israel, beginning a long ascendance that has never really halted. Old-line socialists with roots in Russia and Eastern Europe gave way to a more diverse — and also more religious — population of Israelis with origins in the Middle East, North Africa and other regions.
As part of this shift, Jerusalem’s symbolic importance intensified. Its role in Jewish history was emphasized in military parades and curriculums, and students from across Israel were taken there on school visits. This process culminated in 1980, when lawmakers passed a bill declaring that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” — although Israel stopped short of annexing East Jerusalem, a move that would most likely have drawn international outrage.
1993 – present: Oslo and Beyond
The 1993 Oslo accords provided for the creation of a Palestinian Authority to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while deferring a resolution on core issues: borders, refugees and Jerusalem’s status. In the nearly quarter-century since, the prospects for a lasting peace deal have seemed ever more elusive.
A visit by the right-wing politician Ariel Sharon in 2000 to the sacred complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — which contains Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — set off violent clashes and led to a second Palestinian uprising that claimed the lives of about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis over five years.
Palestinians say that Jewish settlers have encroached on East Jerusalem, and that Israel has compounded the problem by revoking residency permits. Even so, the ethnic composition of Jerusalem’s population has remained about 30 percent to 40 percent Arab.
“The entire international community has been in accord that Israeli annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem since 1967 is illegal, and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Professor Khalidi said. “If Trump changes this position, given the importance of Jerusalem to Arabs and Muslims, it is hard to see how a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli agreement or lasting Arab-Israeli normalization is possible.”
Professor Ben-Arieh says the conflict over the city is likely to endure. “The Arab-Jewish conflict escalated into a nationalistic conflict, with Jerusalem at its center,” he said. “Jerusalem was a city holy to three religions, but the moment that, in the land of Israel, two nations grew — the Jewish people and the local Arab people — both embraced Jerusalem. More than Jerusalem needed them, they needed Jerusalem.”