Jerusalem, 6 days, and 50 years
By Rabbi Dr. Gil Nativ
Rabbi Gil Nativ shares his personal thoughts on the Six Day War, 50 years after the historic battle.
After the Six Day War, the Israeli poet Haim Hefer wrote, "Twenty-year-old paratroopers carry on their backs two thousand years". I was sure that he was writing about me (though we never met) since this is exactly how I felt in the historic moments of breaking through the Lions' Gate in June 1967. The 2000 years on my back had a physical weight: I was carrying (in addition to my rifle and ammunition) three boxes each containing 250 rounds of machine-gun ammunition. Though I was in good physical shape, I felt like an overloaded mule… what will I do if enemy snipers fire at us? I slowed down and a few soldiers passed me. Then a different thought struck my mind: The last time a Jewish soldier climbed up this slope was 19 centuries ago, in the revolt against the Romans. If I lag behind my company, I will not forgive myself for the next 19 centuries! I had <s>a </s>second wind and caught up with my company commander.
A week later, 3 days after the war ended and already wearing civilian clothes, I invited my girlfriend, Zivah, (my wife for the past 47 years) for a walk through the alleys and streets where my company had fought a week earlier. We were amazed to see thousands of Israelis shopping in the Arab shops in the Old City. I wrote in my diary, "How fortunate are (artillery) shells whose explosion softened into sounds of bargaining shoppers and sellers".
Most Israelis, myself included, were not concerned in the jubilant second half of 1967 about long-range plans: will these Arabs become citizens of Israel? Are we annexing only the Old City? Is there such a thing as municipal annexation? Will the Arab residents of Jerusalem continue to be happy with the good business they enjoyed with Israeli conquerors-customers-employers?
We discovered that Palestinians, like most human beings "do not live on bread alone" (Deut.8:3), but have national aspirations of living in freedom. The debate whether there was a Palestinian people a century ago is purely an academic exercise. Palestinians became a nation in the process of struggling with us, and through awakening from the illusion that other Arab-Muslim nations would fight for them. In 1947, the United Nations said that partition meant two independent nations side by side. We accepted this plan and they stupidly rejected it and paid a painful price for their rejection. Nowadays the world says again, Partition. If we Israelis stupidly reject this, we will pay a painful price. The price is, first of all, a painful split between extremes within our people. On 'Jerusalem Day' in recent years, during the annual reunion with the men of my battalion, I was shocked to watch a group of fanatic Jews marching while carrying flags and shouting racist slogans. The fact that there are similar fanatic groups among Palestinians is neither an excuse nor a consolation!
The future partition between Israelis and Palestinians should definitely entail the evacuation and resettlement<s>s</s> of Palestinians from areas with a Jewish majority, in exchange for evacuation and resettlement of Israeli settlers from areas densely populated by Palestinians. Unfortunately, we Israelis will probably carry out this process unilaterally. Will we have 'good neighbors' after we construct 'good fences' between our nations? I reply with a Biblical example: It took Moses forty years before he could tell our people: "Do not abhor an Egyptian for you were residents in his land" [Deut.23:8]. Had he said the same sentence a generation earlier, his own brethren would have stoned him to death! He had to wait until the entire generation who suffered slavery in Egypt would die before uttering such a bold mitzvah… Similarity it will take about 40 years after Palestinians are separated from us and live independently for a courageous leader telling them: Do not abhor Israelis! Let's cooperate with them for the mutual improvement of lives in this split tiny country.
What about Jerusalem? Meeting with Islamic clergy in the nineties I said to them: "For you, Jerusalem is third in holiness after Mecca and Medina, but for us it is the holiest site. When a Muslim prays he faces Mecca, but when a Jew prays he faces Jerusalem!" They rejected my claim, responding that all three cities are equally sacred in their faith…
I believe that we should strengthen the Jewish population of Jerusalem by encouraging evacuated settlers to reside in formerly Arab neighborhoods. However, the Old City should be proclaimed an international city with guarantees that neither Israel nor Palestine will annex it.
Why should we give up our priority over Jerusalem, when Muslims have never shared Mecca with people of other religions, and Catholics are unlikely to give up the Vatican as the dwelling place of Christ's emissary on earth?
"For my house will be a House of Prayer for all peoples" [Isaiah 56:7]. We were the first to introduce a belief in one universal God who created all human beings in His image, and we should be the first to establish a site in which all human beings can worship together, regardless of the many different names and descriptions they have for the One God. In my vision, not only the Old City will be an international-demilitarized city, but a new shrine will be built on the Temple Mount -a meeting place for Jews, Christians and Muslims, where people of all religions and denominations will be able to pray with a common voice.<s></s>
"If you will it – it is no dream!"
Rabbi Dr. Gil Nativ is a former lecturer at Leo Baeck College and rabbi of New Essex Masorti Synagogue. Since August 2015, he has served as the rabbi of HaKerem Masorti Congregation, Israel.