By now Elie Wiesel’s newspaper advertisment, which attacked Obama’s position on east Jerusalem settlements, is well known. My editor, Gary Rosenblatt, even got an exclusive interivew with Wiesel about it, which is certainly worth a read. In short, Wiesel’s letter basically said that Obama did not understand the signficance Jerusalem has for Jews. "Jerusalem is above politics," Wiesel noted, which I’m guessing will be remembered by many as an egregious snafu. He then went on to describe how closely the city is attached to Jewish religion, history, hearts, minds and lore.
It is obvious that Jerusalem is central to Jewish religion and history. But frankly, I found Wiesel’s conflation of that Jerusalem with the political region that we refer to when we say "Jerusalem" today, troubling, to say the least. The Holy Basin, where all the relics of the Jewish past — and Muslim and Christian past too, for that matter — is one percent, literally, of the physical size of the political city Israel governs today. In other words, the boundaries of the present city has been constantly revised, and continues to be so, in light of changing political circumstances–war, UN resolutions, armistices, the whole lot.
And, sadly, the most recent actions of the Israeli government, particularly concerning Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab town in East Jerusalem, are deplorable. About 500 Palestinians have been evicted from their homes, which they’ve lived in since 1948, and have now been given over to religious Jewish settlers. Israel apologists are claiming that the Arabs that lived in those homes have no right to do so. They argue that those Arabs simply occupied homes that were previously owned by Jews who fled after Jordan attacked Israel in 1947. Moreover, they argue that those evicted Arabs have refused to pay rent to the former Jewish tenants. All this is true. But what they fail to acknowledge is that those Arabs living in those houses fled their homes in West Jerusalem, when Israel claimed the city as their own capital in 1948. Those Arabs, famously, have no right of return.
It’s worth noting, too, that Jerusalem — east and west — was never part of the plans for either a Jewish or Palestinian state when the UN granted both soverignty in 1947. It was to be internationalized, looked over by foreign powers, in light of the city’s volatile past. Obviously, that never happened. But it seems to me that any fair and just peace between Israelis and Palestinians would do well to reconsider this plan. Neither Israelis nor Arabs seem capable of sharing the city in any equitable way.
But this of course is beyond even the pale of reasonable discussion today because so many people share Wiesel’s sentiments. They have a similar idyllic view of Jerusalem that has nothing to do with the hard physical realities of the place. So it was with real eagerness that I read this open letter to Elie Wiesel, published in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, last week. It’s signed by over 100 Jewish Jerusalemites, most of them intellectutals and academics, with a few Israeli Prize winners and former Knesset members in the mix. I encourage everyone to read it and take the claims of these authors — who actually live in the place so many of us simply have vague sentiments about — seriously.
And, if you’re more interested in what Jerusalem, and justice, require, read Leon Wiesletier’s piece on Sheikh Jarrah. It was published in The New Republic several weeks ago, and having read this open letter, I was reminded of it again. I think you’ll find both worth your time.
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