AND THEY SHALL BUILD HOUSES...

By Boris Shusteff

"The Land of Israel without Jerusalem is merely 'Palestine.' Down the generations the Jews have been saying not 'Next year in the Land of Israel' but 'Next year in Jerusalem'... One can create Tel-Aviv out of Jaffa but one cannot create a second Jerusalem. Zion lies within the walls, not outside them." (Menachem Mendel Ussishkin, Last Words, 1947. Quoted in Eliahu Tal's Whose Jerusalem?)

For four years the world media has tried to instill in people's minds the image of soon-to-be Palestinian state with "East Jerusalem" as its capital. The world that was used to East and West Berlin, does not question the legitimacy of a similar division for Jerusalem. While two Berlins existed on the map, there was never division into East and West Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a united city through 3000 years of its history, with the exception of the 19 years when the Old City was captured by Jordan, and immense efforts were made by the Arabs to eliminate any traces of the Jewish presence in the Old City.

When we say, "Next year in Jerusalem," it is the Old City that we promise to return to. It is the Old City were the Temple stood and were it was ruined by our enemies. It is the Old City which witnessed our glory and our destruction as a sovereign people. It is the Old City where we returned to in 1967 and promised never to leave again. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning..." This words were directed not to Gilo and to Mishkenot Sheananim, they were spoken to Gar Hazeitim and to Gar Hazofim. They were spoken to the Jerusalem that lived in our memory. As the city's twentieth century biographer Amos Elon wrote in Jerusalem, the City of Mirrors,

Among the many vanquished capital cities of the ancient world, only Jerusalem survived in the imagination of her exiles and in that of their descendants from generation to generation....[it] became their great Capital of Memory. Memory gave them their culture and their identity. Other peoples too had occupied lands and cities and than lost or abandoned them. The point was that they did not remember. The Jews did remember. They never forgot Jerusalem.

We never forgot Jerusalem and we never abandoned it. Despite all of the possible and impossible restrictions, persecutions, and human and natural disasters that the Jews suffered, the Jewish presence in Jerusalem remained uninterrupted. Until this century our connection with Jerusalem was not contested either by Christians or by Moslems. Abraham Joshua Geschel in the book Israel: the Echo of Eternity quotes from the Italian scholar Ermette Pierotti, who spent many years in Jerusalem, wrote many books on Jerusalem and served as chief architect to the Ottoman governor, the Pasha of Jerusalem. In 1864 in the book Customs and Traditions of Palestine he wrote

We all know, and the Arabs also are aware, that God said to Abraham: 'Unto thy seed I will give this land, and repeated the promise several times to him and to Isaac and to Jacob. So fully do the Mohammedans believe this.

Now, on 8 July, 1861,...the Jews waited with all formalities on the Governor, Surraya Pasha, and requested him to restore to them the keys of Jerusalem according to a right on the death of one sultan and the accession of another. At the same time, they brought forward such proofs of the justice of their demand that the Pasha did not refuse it but referred to his ordinary counsel consisting of the Mufti,...the Cadi... and other persons of distinction natives of the country. Their decision was in favor of the Israelites, the whole Council being aware that they were the ancient owners of the country.... Said Pasha, the general of the forces ...went to the Jewish quarter where he ... was conducted to the house of the Chief Rabbi who received the Pasha at the door and there was publicly presented with the keys.

Those were the keys of the Old City, as the Old City and Jerusalem was the same. The Jews lived in every corner of the City. In the beginning of this century they could not have known, that by the end of the century vast areas of the Old City would become Judenreihn. According to the population statistics given in Eliahu Tal's book Whose Jerusalem?, in 1914, 70% of the residents of the Mixed Quarter (which was in 1920 renamed by the British into the Muslim Quarter) were Jews. Moreover, "the main street of this quarter--Haldiya Street--housed 22 synagogues, two yeshivot and a number of Jewish communal institutions, including the printing press of the local Hebrew newspaper. 1160 of the 1840 residents of the street were Jews." A similar situation existed in the Christian Quarter where "out of seventy larger stores... only eight belonged to members of other communities and all the rest belonged to the Jewish people."

The eviction of the Jews from the Old City began only under British rule (1917-1948). It continued when the City was under Jordanians ( 1948 -1967). The situation did not really improve after the liberation of the City in the Six-Day War. Although the majority of the Israelis generally agreed that Jews have the right to leave anywhere in the Old City, no steps were taken by the successive Israeli governments to encourage the Jewish presence in the midst of Arab neighborhoods due to the fear of increased tension.

The indecisiveness of the Israeli government was quickly exploited by the PLO's leaders who rushed to fill the vacuum. Although a strategic document, the Palestinian Charter does not mention Jerusalem even a single time. However, seeing that the Israelis were hesitant to return to the Old City, the PLO leaders unveiled the slogan: "Jerusalem-- the capital of the future Palestinian State." The Palestinian Arabs increased the buying up of property in the Christian Quarter while constantly accusing the Jews of "intrusion". The recent decision by the PLO to apply the death penalty to anyone selling land to the Jews was not unique. On September 2, 1991, The Unified National Leadership of the Intifada ordered "the execution of anyone who sells property in Jerusalem to Jews."

The suicidal Oslo agreement only worsened the situation. After Israel agreed to put Jerusalem on the negotiating table the pace of the illegal Arab construction reached unprecedented level. According to the Israeli media today there are more than 1,000 buildings erected without a permit. All this happened during a period of almost nonexistent Israeli building activity in the Old City. Any Israeli move in or around Jerusalem immediately causes an uproar among the PLO's leaders. They not only threaten to use violence in order to counter any Israeli step, but they fulfill their threats. The Hasmonnean tunnel episode as well as the Har-Homa neighborhood construction show the inflexibility of the Arab position.

It appears that the constant Arab propaganda not only succeeded in convincing the Palestinian Arabs that Jerusalem is their future capital, it also convinced many Israelis. This is why the completely legal move of the three Jewish families into an existing building on the Mount of Olives, to the area named Mitzpei Daniel, caused a terrible outcry, not only among the Arabs, but among the Jews too.

The news agencies reported on 9/17/97 that more than 1,500 Israelis led by members of the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, held a protest in Mitzpei Daniel and many joined the Palestinian Arabs in a march in front of the settler house, shouting, "We don't want to die for the settlers' sake." It did not matter to this marching Israelis that the Arabs chanted "Allah Akbar." Apparently they forgot that these words are mouthed by the terrorists prior to detonating their bombs or triggering their submachine gun. They also forgot that modern Israel is a country of settlers. Without the settlers their would not have been a Jewish State.

In October, 1967 M. Syrkin, a former Professor of English Literature, wrote in "Midstream,"

"They may have been simple-minded in believing that the swamps they drained, the stony soil they irrigated, would make them welcome neighbors. They were socialist idealists who believed that to reclaim a marsh through their own toil and devotion and to establish agricultural settlements on soil on which no one had been able to live for generations was a gain for all and a loss to none. The result of their personal sacrifices was the green country-side which now enables Arabs to point to the flourishing land of which they were "despoiled."

These marching Jews sounded like the Jews working in "Judenrattens," thoroughly helping the Nazis to prepare the deportation lists in the hope that their treachery would save their lives. These other Jews did not want to die for the sake of the Jewish saboteurs, who did not want to be on these lists. When Yael Dayan said to one of the women who moved to Mitzpei Daniel, "Don't you think you're inviting terror ... You don't have the right to take the fate of all of us in your own hands," she resembled the appeasers from the Warsaw Ghetto. They tried to convince the leaders of the uprising not to fight, since, by fighting, they were inviting a military response from the Germans, therefore endangering(!) the fate of the Ghetto.

If this kind of behavior is expected from the leftist camp, the "galut-type" response from the Netanyahu government is extremely disturbing. No, Netanyahu doesn't say that the Jews cannot live in the Old City. He just says that it is not the right time to do it now. He does not say when the right time will be, because he is very well aware that a time when the Jews will be welcomed by the Arabs, to live together as friends, will never come. The appeals of Israeli leaders are not only disturbing, they are shameful, too. Here are just three examples.

On September 18, 1997 Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg wrote in The Jerusalem Post, "How strange it is to hear Netanyahu, whose election pledge was an undivided Jerusalem, now condemning those who try to live up to this principle, proclaiming that what they have done is "not good for the Jews, not good for Jerusalem." Israeli interior minister Avigdor Kahalani called upon Irving Moskowitz, who owns the property in Mitzpei Daniel, to agree to voluntarily remove the tenants of the building. In return, Israel would declare the right of the Jews to live there but they would not actually remain on the premises. If we were to follow this distorted logic, we would see that the day is not far when some official will announce that the Jews have the right to live in Israel, but they will not actually remain there.

State Attorney General Amnon Rubinstein announced that it is permissible to forcefully evict the Jews from Mitzpei Daniel if they pose a danger to public security or if they create disturbances in the area. This statement was made at a time when hundreds of Palestinian Arabs stoned the compound and clashed with the police guarding the house. It is one thing to read Franz Kafka's books but it is absolutely different to see them coming true. According to Rubinshtein it is not the stone-throwing Arabs who create disturbances, but the Jews who just simply want to live in this neighborhood. Talking to journalists Moskowitz said "We expect that the Arab neighbors will respect us and we will respect them in return. We will have good relationships with them." The tragedy is that there is a tremendous abyss between the Jews' and Arabs' approach to the issue of coexistence. While the Jews are ready to accept the Arabs living among them, the Arabs, including the Palestinian Arabs, vehemently object to the presence of Jews.

For the Arabs, Israel is just 2% of the vast Arabian peninsula. For the Jews Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. If the Arabs object to the Jewish presence, it is they , the Arabs, who must leave. They may go to live with their Arab brethren in any of the 23 Arab countries. If they want to stay, they must honor the right of the Jews to live where they prefer, as a free people in a free country.

Among all of the professions the most peaceful one is the profession of a builder. People build houses in order to live their and raise their children. Let the Jewish people have enough strength to follow the words of the great prophet, "And they shall build houses and inhabit them" (Isaiah, 65:21). 9/18/97.

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Boris Shusteff is a Russian immigrant and a proud member of the Freeman Center.


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