Sunday, June 03, 2007
Jerusalem: The eternal front line
THE JERUSALEM POST
June 2, 2009
The following is the full text of Caroline Glick's speech after accepting the 'Guardian of Zion' award. For nearly as long as I can remember, the image of the watchman on the gates of Jerusalem has been the singular image of Jewish strength for me. It is has always been to the Jewish watchmen, ever vigilant, to whom we have owed our lives, and our survival as a people.
Today these watchmen preserve our freedom in our land. For 50 generations in exile, it was the memory of those Jewish Centurions, manning the barricades, that inspired us to keep faith with our traditions, our God, our law and our land.
It is an honor beyond measure that Bar Ilan University and the Rennert Center would deem it proper to cast me among the ranks of our greatest defenders and champions. I know I do not deserve the distinction. I certainly do not believe that I have earned it. But I do know that since childhood I have strived to emulate the image of the watchman - or watch-woman - on the walls of Zion. And I pledge that I will continue throughout my life to strive to earn the distinction you bestow on me tonight. THE WATCHMAN at the gates is a powerful image. But of course the defense of Jerusalem cannot begin at the gates. And guarding Jerusalem is not simply a matter of physical strength. It requires spiritual commitment and wisdom as well. Indeed, defenders of Zion require a greater mix of physical and spiritual strength than any defenders of any spot on earth.
Both our recent and ancient history as a people is one continuous testament to this truth.
And it is this aspect of Jerusalem - the eternal and temporal front line of the Jewish people - that I wish to discuss with you.
If you drove to Jerusalem this evening from Tel Aviv, as the coastal plain suddenly ended 25 kilometers from the city at Sha'ar Hagai or Bab el Wahd, you reached the starting point of the siege of Jerusalem from 1947. It was from this gauntlet that the British-commanded Jordan Legion sought - with the help of the Arabs of Jerusalem and surrounding villages - to cut the Jews of the city off from the rest of the country and so to conquer the nascent Jewish state.
As you began ascending through the hills to Jerusalem you could see the remnants of some of the most fearsome and bloody battles of the war. They came in the form of the reverentially preserved hulks of armored personnel carriers used by Haganah and Palmach units sent in front of the Jordanian snipers in a continuous attempt to bring reinforcements and food to the besieged Jews of Jerusalem.
As the hills - covered on both sides by JNF forests - rose to meet you, you passed the Latrun fortress on your right. It was the British decision to transfer control over Latrun - with its command over the road below - to the Jordan Legion, that all but guaranteed the fall of Jerusalem by preventing reinforcements from aiding its undermanned defenders.
Wave after wave of Jewish soldiers threw themselves against the guns of the Jordan Legion in a desperate attempt to break its chokehold on Jerusalem.
If you came to this hotel from the center of town, you may have gone by Davidka Square. There you would have passed by one of the primitive mortars used by the Harel Brigade in the battle for Jerusalem.
The Davidka was grossly ineffective as a killing machine. But between its thunderous noise and the rumor mill, it proved an effective tool of psychological warfare against the enemy. Even more than in traditional conflicts, the psychological aspect of the War of Independence played a pivotal role in determining its outcome.
The Jews, who just three years before had been incinerated in European crematoria, were an object of wonder no less than hatred for our enemies. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, for many Arabs there was a sense that supernatural powers were at work as the new Jewish state rose from the ruins of Jerusalem.
If you came this way from the Old City, you most likely walked through the Jewish Quarter. It was to the 1,700 Jews who lived there in 1948 and their 150 defenders that the eyes of the citizens of nascent Jewish state were turned. The future security of the country was dependent on their ability to withstand the Arab siege. They had to be assisted and they had to hold their ground if the war was to end in a resounding victory for the Jews.
Tragically, the spiritual strength that sustained us 61 years ago was not matched by sufficient physical strength to hold the city.
As Jerusalem commander Dov Yosef instructed the starving and desperate Jews within the walls about the nutritional benefits of various leaves that they could eat in the absence of food, and as wave after wave of Jewish fighters fell to their deaths on the roads ringing the city - at Latrun, the Castel, Har Adar and Gush Etzion - in their bid to relieve the Jerusalemites - the British-commanded Jordanians delighted in our suffering. Arab snipers picked off any Jew within range.
In the end, the Jews of the Old City held out for six months. Last week marked the 61st anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem on May 27, 1948. Of the Jewish Quarter's 150 defenders, only 43 survived until the Hurva synagogue was destroyed by the Jordan Legion. It was the destruction of the venerable old synagogue that finally forced the hands of the rabbis within the walls. After the Hurva was destroyed, the rabbis began negotiating the surrender of the Old City to the Arabs.
If you walked to the King David Hotel today from the Old City, and exited through the Jaffa Gate, you certainly took note of the gentrified neighborhood of Mamilla. Today, as you walk through the new upscale shopping plaza, it is hard to believe that from May 27, 1948 through June 7, 1967 Mamilla was Israel's frontline. It was the Sderot and Kiryat Shmona of its time.
The Jews of the neighborhood lived in constant fear of Jordanian snipers who took pot shots from the walls of the conquered city at the Jews down below. The buildings you passed were once surrounded by sandbags. The Jews who lived inside them would run, not walk across the street. Any hesitation could spell their death.
But then, on the third day of the Six Day War, their long nightmare ended. After 19 years, the IDF succeeded in liberating the capital city. Paratroopers from kibbutzim danced with yeshiva buchers as they stood in awe before the remnant of the Second Temple. In June 1967, the proper balance between our spiritual and physical defenses had finally been struck.
After 2000 years, we were again a free people. EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO, on May 27, 1991, the 43rd anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, and the 24th anniversary of its liberation, tens of thousands of Jews from Ethiopia were airlifted to the Jewish state. As then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir said, the Ethiopian aliyah marked the first time in history where Africans were liberated from slavery by being taken out of Africa.
The entire country celebrated the arrival of these Jews, who had maintained their allegiance to Zion for thousands of years often in complete isolation from the rest of the people of Israel.
The next day, May 28, 1991, I stepped off an El Al plane at Ben Gurion Airport, and before reaching the passport check, I walked up the stairs of the old terminal building to the Ministry of Absorption's offices and officially made aliyah. A friend picked me and my massive immigrant suitcases up and a few hours later, I began my new life in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem that greeted me 18 years ago was almost entirely free from fear. It was hard for me to imagine that the city had ever been endangered as I rode the buses, walked along the streets, sat in cafes, hiked in the forests, shopped in supermarkets and clothing stores.
As I moved without fear through Arab neighborhoods, and traversed the old and new city, it rarely occurred to me that I was walking on contested ground. The Palestinian uprising, which had begun in 1988 and had instigated a period of self-segregation and renewed hostility towards Israel among the city's Arab residents, had been defeated in the wake of the Gulf War.
But unbeknownst to me and to my fellow Jerusalemites, all of this was set to change just two years later. When, as part of the implementation of the Oslo peace process with the PLO, the government of Israel allowed for an Arab armed force to be deployed on the outskirts of the city, fear returned to Jerusalem.
Within just a few weeks of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Jerusalem again became the front line of the country as terrorists from Ramallah, Hebron, Beit Lehem and beyond converged on Jerusalem to terrorize its people in shooting attacks and suicide bombings. What the people of Sderot experience today was first suffered by residents of Gilo.
I moved away from Jerusalem at the end of 1991, after I joined the army. I returned to the city in 2002. By that time, the sense of safety I had felt here during my first months in the country had been obliterated. Every day brought a new atrocity or attempted atrocity. My own street became the scene of carnage as a bus was bombed just a half a block from my front door. My neighbors' mangled bodies were strewn before me as I ran out of my home with some vague notion that I could help someone.
It was only after the government finally unleashed the Israel Defense Force in Judea and Samaria that a semblance of normality returned again to the city. It was only after Operation Defensive Shield returned our soldiers to the streets of Ramallah, Beit Lehem, Shehem, Jenin, Kalkilya and Hebron, and vastly curtailed the powers of the Palestinian armed forces, that we could feel safe going out to dinner and riding the bus again. DURING THE YEARS that Jerusalem came under physical threat, it also became politically threatened. Israel's acquiescence to the PLO's military presence on the outskirts of the city began a process of unraveling Israel's own claim to the city. As Yasser Arafat ordered his forces to march on Jerusalem, and denied that the Jewish people have any rights to the city, successive Israeli governments found themselves on the diplomatic defensive.
Just as our leaders allowed Jerusalem's physical wellbeing to be threatened, so they enabled its political unity to come under assault. Rather than insist that the world recognize our sovereign rights to our capital, at best, our leaders spoke of the strategic importance of Jerusalem to our physical security.
The element of metaphysical power embodied by the tactically worthless Davidka was absent from discussions of how Israel needed Tzur Bahar and Jabel Mukaber to defend Armon HaNatziv or how our control over Shuafat and Beit Hanina is necessary to defend Ramot, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev.
Happily today Prime Minister ISRAEL TRANSFORMED. In 1967, the convergence of Jerusalem as our frontline of physical security and spiritual security was palpable. Binyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have abandoned this defensive posture and are waging strident campaigns against all who demand that we again surrender our eternal capital.
But for much of the past 15 years, the full expanse of Jewish history and identity was narrowed to a discussion of isolated neighborhoods, as if they were what this is all about.
Jerusalem's importance is far greater than the sum total of its neighborhoods. In ignoring this basic truth, our leaders did more to imperil the city's neighborhoods than legions of our enemies could hope to accomplish.
Even more devastating than what we said to the world is what we said to ourselves. For much of the past 15 years, our national leaders scornfully and contemptuously worked to limit our expectations and accused us of being greedy for assuming we had a right to our capital.
When did King David live in Abu Dis?, they sneered. Why were we needlessly upsetting the Arabs by moving back to Ir David?, they hissed. The underlying message was clear. We were provoking our enemies by asserting our rights, which we were told, were unimportant.
In general, since 1994, to greater and lesser degrees, our leaders abandoned Jerusalem as our metaphysical frontline and reduced the rationale of our control over our eternal capital to a security argument.
This argument is fine for as far is it goes. We explained - correctly - that without Israeli control over Jerusalem, the entire country would be under threat. And this is true. Indeed it has always been true.
Among other reasons, King David chose Jerusalem as his capital city because of its strategic importance. Were foreign forces to take control over Jerusalem and surrounding areas today, everything from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv to Beersheva to Tiberias would be placed under threat.
As Shaar Hagai in 1948 and Beit Jalla in 2000 showed, with foreign forces on the outskirts of the city, Jerusalem is cut off from the rest of the country. To secure the city is to secure the country. And to abandon the city - whether by surrendering control of the road to Tel Aviv or by relinquishing Judea and Samaria - is to imperil the country.
Specifically, placing foreign forces in Jerusalem or on its doorstep would mean importing Gaza into the heart of the country.
Jerusalemites would find ourselves living in bomb shelters like our brothers and sisters in Sderot. Tel Aviv would find itself, like Ofakim, within range of enemy rockets. Terrorists with simple portable weapons could sit on the hills of Jerusalem and shoot down civilian jetliners landing at Ben Gurion airport. In wartime, terrorists with primitive artillery could shut down the country's vital traffic arteries, preventing reservists from reaching the fronts to defend the state.
Although inarguably accurate, Israel's security arguments for its sovereignty over Jerusalem have fallen on deaf ears. Neither the Americans - who demand that we cease asserting our sovereignty over eastern, northern and southern Jerusalem, not to mention Judea and Samaria - nor the Arabs consider Jerusalem primarily a military issue.
The Americans prefer to ignore the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of the city's frontline status as they push for an Israeli retreat to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. For them, the issue of Jerusalem is no more than a petty real estate squabble.
But our enemies know better. For them the question of who controls Jerusalem is rightly recognized as the core issue - as the issue upon which Israel rises or falls as a state and as a people. Earlier this month, this point was made clearly by one of Israelís sworn enemies.
In a television interview on May 7, the PLO's Ambassador to Lebanon Abbas Zaki explained that from the PLO to the Iranian mullahs, Jerusalem is seen as the metaphysical key to Israel's wellbeing. As he put it, "With the [implementation of the] two-state solution, [involving an Israeli relinquishment of Jerusalem], in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made - just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward."
As a wayward Jew once said, "The truth will set you free."
We owe the likes of Zaki - and the Iranians who call their most prestigious terrorist unit the Jerusalem Brigade - a big thank you for reminding us of who we are and what we need to survive. For even as our leaders tried to forget what we as a people have always known, our history - both ancient and modern - is testament to the truth of Zaki's statement. WE MARK the end of Jewish control over the Land of Israel as having occurred not with the Roman invasion in 63 BCE, nor from the defeat of Bar Kochba's rebellion 182 years later in 135. We mark the hurban, the destruction of our sovereignty, as having occurred with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
And why is this the case? It is because people do not fight for strategically significant hilltops. They fight for ideas like freedom. They fight for symbols, for abstractions like flags. They fight for their beliefs. They fight for their way of life.
They do not fight for strategic advantage.
We Jews know this better than any other people. We were the first people to self-consciously define ourselves at Mt. Sinai as a nation committed to an abstract principle of an invisible God, an abstract code of law, and an abstract, yet-to-be-seen promised land.
Josef Trumpeldor is not remembered as a great hero for having said, "It is good to die for strategically significant hilltops" - although that is what he died defending. Trumpeldor is remembered as a great hero for declaring, "It is good to die for our country."
Just as Zaki, Arafat, Nasrallah, and Ahmadinejad remind us every day, from the outset of our nationhood here in Israel 4,000 years ago, throughout the centuries of our dispersion and to this day, our fate as a nation - both physically and spiritually - has always been tied directly to our control, or lack of control over Jerusalem. Jerusalem has always been our front line both physically and spiritually.
Rabbi Akiva knew, as he gazed at the destroyed Temple from Mt. Scopus, that one day our control over the city would be restored and so our national wellbeing would be renewed. This is why he laughed as he watched foxes entering and exiting the Holiest of Holies.
Perhaps if he had known then that it would take nearly 2,000 years for that to happen, he would have joined his colleagues in their tears instead of shocking them with his laughter and gaiety. But still, today we know that Rabbi Akiva was right. Our return to Jerusalem did presage our national rebirth with the renewal of our sovereignty in 1948 and 1967.
The modern Zionist movement, which officially began with Hovevei Tzion in 1882, came after the Jewish repopulation of Jerusalem. By 1850, Jews again comprised the majority of the city's population. And it was our strong presence here that emboldened the early Zionists to believe that a mass return to Zion was finally possible. It was because we had returned again to Jerusalem that our hope and so our strength were finally renewed after 2000 years of stateless wandering and persecution. LET US RETURN for a moment to 1967.
In June 1967, Israel was transformed from a threatened, vulnerable Jewish statelet into a mighty state to be reckoned with. But who celebrated - then or since - the conquest of Gaza and Kalkilya? Who remembers the great battles in the Sinai or even the Golan Heights?
The images of that war that have entered our collective consciousness - never to leave - are the images of our paratroopers on the Temple Mount, of Mota Gur crying "Har Habayit b'Yadeinu!" "the Temple Mount is in our hands!," of our young soldiers praying at the Western Wall.
The convergence of Jerusalem as our frontline of physical security and spiritual security was palpable in those days.
In honor of Yom Yerushalayim this month, a documentary was aired on Israel Television about the signals battalion in the Paratroopers Brigade. The battalion played a major role in the fighting - first taking over the Rockefeller Museum, then the Temple Mount, then the Kotel, then the walls of the city.
In the documentary, the heroes who liberated Jerusalem were brought together 40 years later to celebrate its renewal and to recall their fight. They told a stunning story.
After the city was liberated, they situated themselves in the abandoned Jordanian police station just inside the Jaffa Gate. The same station now houses the Israel police. In one of the rooms, they found a large quantity of musical instruments. Apparently, the Jordanian police band was stationed at the site and stored its instruments there.
The men took one of the drums and climbed up the walls of the Old City overlooking Mamilla. There the Jews had been huddled beneath the streets in their bomb shelters for several weeks.
As they ascended the walls, the paratroopers began pounding the drum. It must have been a terrifically strange noise since they all claimed to have had no idea how to play the drums.
As the men told it, and as a woman who had been hiding in the shelters with her family recalled, the civilians became perplexed at the new sound that replaced the familiar staccato pop of gun bursts and cannon fire. Slowly, they began emerging from the shelters to find out what was happening.
There above them, they saw the flag of Israel flying. They saw Jewish watchmen on the walls, beating the drums of victory in a half-mad boom, boom, boom.
And at the site of the Guardians of Jerusalem above them, the Jews of Mamilla began to dance as in times of old. They danced and danced, and walked to the walls, first tentatively, and then with a massive convulsion of joy and relief, of hope and ecstasy as for the first time in 2,000 years the city was secured. The Jews were free of fear as we returned to the Temple Mount, to Mt. Zion, to Jerusalem from whence our strength was renewed. OUR ENEMIES are right in choosing their targets. They are right because they know who we are. We are the children of Jerusalem, of Zion. Our physical and spiritual survival is dependent on our willingness to dedicate our lives in every generation to guarding both the physical and spiritual walls of this city. It is only by guarding Zion, that we guard its people.
I am humbled and honored beyond words to have been chosen from among so many of my fellow Jews for this singular honor of being named a "Guardian of Zion." For me, more than anything, what this means, is that people I respect for their defense of our people accept me as a loyal daughter of this eternal city. It is all I have ever wished to be. It is all I wish for my children to become.
And with God's help, it is something I will be blessed to remain all the days of my life.
Thank you. God bless the people of Israel and our eternal capital city.