EXPLAINING THE JEWISH CLAIM TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
28 Elul 5761August 2001
The David Cardozo Academy
Machon Ohr Aaron
Cassuto Street\par Jerusalem 96433
Tel: 02 6414077Fax: 02 6426076
Let us speak of Jerusalem. To whom does Jerusalem belong? To the descendants of Rome? To the Christian church? To the Arab world? Through thousands of years all educated men, whatever their religious or national affiliation, called it the City of David. Never was it called the city of Titus, the city of Godfrey of Boullion, or the city of Saladin. Jerusalem appears 600 times in the Bible and not once in the Koran. Jerusalem may have become the third holy city in Islam but for Jews it is not only the first but also the "only" city. Even more important is the following: Who mourned for Jerusalem for two thousand years?
Did the Romans declare a yearly fast for Jerusalem after it was destroyed two thousand years ago?
Did the descendants of Titus or Godfrey, Mohammed or Saladin? Do they fast on the ninth of Av, the day of the destruction of both Temples without missing a year as the Jews did and continue to do? Would any other nation ever cry for the destruction of its capital after even two hundred years? Even if we agreed with those who believe that the Palestinian people founded their homeland in Palestine, did they ever fast for its well-being or for Jerusalem's destruction year in and year out? They did not do so, not even for one year! And did, or do, their Arab brothers around the world sit on the floor and weep like we Jews do, year in year out, in every corner of the globe when we think of the destruction of this holy city?
The Wailing Wall
Let us continue and speak for a moment about the famous "Wailing Wall" at the site of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. No doubt you have all heard about it, and many of you may have visited this holy place. To us, the Jews, this is the center of the world. It is the last remnant of the Temple and, as such, it is by far the holiest place we have on earth. While the Arabs have Mecca and its shrine and the Catholics Rome with the Vatican, we have Jerusalem and its Wall. For centuries we would tear our garments whenever its ruins came into view. For thousands of years, in millions of Jewish homes, a painting of the Wall has hung in the front room, and it is in the direction of the Wall in Jerusalem, and only in that direction, that every Jew still prays. Since the destruction of the Temple and until this very day, tens of thousands of synagogues from the north to the south of our planet have been erected in such a way that they point toward the Wall and its city. This is indeed an exclusively Jewish practice.
Even in Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka, our parents and grandparents continued to pray in the direction of this Wall. While finding themselves in the gas chambers and taking their last breaths many would die with Jerusalem on their lips. Indeed, Jews end their festive meals, their speeches and celebrations, with a wish that they can not hold back: "Next year in Jerusalem!" For these last two thousand years we Jews have been a people of orphans. We were without the Wall and this embittered our lives beyond description. We could not breathe nor smile. All our history was waiting at this wall. No real joy was possible without her, and not for a moment was she out of our consciousness. And even now that God has granted us the State of Israel and allowed us to come to His Wall whenever we please, we still tear our garments and sit on the floor right in front of her when we remember the destruction of the Temple on the ninth of the Hebrew month Av. The Temple Mount behind the Wall is, indeed, so holy to us that till this very day Jewish Law does not allow us to enter its space at any time. Indeed we are not worthy to touch its sacred ground.
In contrast, the Arab nations, including the Palestinians turn their backs to this site, when they pray even when they find themselves in Jerusalem. Instead they turn their faces to Mecca. Is there anything more revealing than exactly this custom?
Meeting one's forefathers
It is not only the religious Jew who feels uplifted whenever he enters the Wall's courtyards. It is also the secular Jew who suddenly feels that he enters a different world. It is as though he meets all his forefathers who, I know for sure, stood at its gates when entering the Temple to serve God. He feels the presence of Jews of all generations. It is here that the High Priest stood when he asked forgiveness for his people and for all of mankind on the Day of Atonement. It is at this very place where our prophets stood when they felt the need for inspiration. Here the greatest of Jewish saints used to come to speak to their Lord. Here the Jew feels the presence of our great teacher Rabbi Akiva and his famous colleagues who lived in the second century. A few meters away stands Maimonides our greatest philosopher and codifier, together with his students. In front of him he sees women and children throughout all the generations, looking up to the Wall as if they see the angels passing by. A little further down there is the Jewish soldier entreating God to help him fight the Romans and the Greeks when they invaded our land thousands of years ago. The Jew feels the hundreds of thousands of prayers that have arrived here from every corner of the world to plead with God for shalom, peace and tranquillity for all mankind. Prayers accumulated over thousands of years have become solidified in this Wall. Once you have lived a moment at the Wall, you never go away. It becomes a part of every Jew. Our bones are filled with its spiritual air. It is our oxygen. Throughout tens of centuries, many of our forefathers would rise at midnight, every night, except on Shabbath, and put on clothes of mourning, cover their heads with ashes, sit on the floor and recite prayers expressing grief over the destruction of the Temple and the suffering of all Jews stranded in exile without their sanctuary and city.
"I take delight in your dust"
The Wall is more than a place or a memorial to the glories of the past. It is a prelude, a herald of days to come. It was one of our finest poets, Yehudah Halevi, who expressed these feelings in one of his greatest poems:
"Would that I had wings, that I could wend my way to Thee, O Jerusalem, from afar. I will make my own broken heart find its way amidst your broken ruins; I will fall upon my face to the ground, for I take my delight in your stones and show favor to your very dust. The air of your land is the very life of our soul."
Indeed it is also the Wall of our hope. It is the symbol of our future. Whatever is to happen to us is already enshrined in the Wall. It is the symbol that God has not forgotten us. It is His promise that one day things will get better. The Wall is with us for thousands of years, and it has seen so many peoples and armies coming and going. The Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Kurds, Mongols, Mamelukes, Tartars, Turks and British. Many have tried to destroy the Wall, so as to deny the Jewish claim to the land. But the Wall was indestructible; it stood as if it was made from eternity, untouchable by hammers, swords and even bombs. It refused to stop giving evidence for the Jewish claim to the land on which it stands.
Indeed, we Jews look forward to the day it will no longer be called the Wailing Wall but the "Wall of rejoicing."
We were and we are in love with this Wall. To us it is our banner of all that we were, are, and will be. In fact, some of us have the custom of kissing it, others are too scared to touch it. And how often have we heard that secular Jews broke down when standing at this site? They were carried away, unable to contain their own feelings.
Shall we then give up on this Wall, its city and its land?
Jews always dwelled in the land
When carefully reading the history of the Jews since the biblical days of Joshua till this very day, we discover that in all these 3200 years Jews have been living in Israel in an unbroken time sequence.
When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in the year 586 B.C.E., and the Romans once more destroyed the Jewish commonwealth in the year 70 C.E., Jews continued to live in the land.
Though the majority of Jews were forced out, a sizeable community of Jews always remained in the land. Sometimes its members increased and at other times they diminished, but the continuity was never broken. Whatever the circumstances and however miserable life was while residing in the land, the Jews never, ever abandoned the land. Neither did they assimilate or merge with other non-Jewish religious groups. They remained a distinctive group with its own religious culture and customs, a most impressive religious community which considered itself temporarily living under foreign rule and waiting for the moment that the Jewish State would, once more, be restored. Never was there a moment in which Jews actually abandoned this belief. Never did they resign themselves to the idea that the establishment of a Jewish State was no longer a possibility. Even when they actually lived in the land they felt as if they were living in a kind of exile as long as the land had no independence. It was like living in a social and religious contradiction.
No other motherland
Unlike other nations who were forced out of their lands in antiquity, Jews did not become resigned to their exile, neither did they consider the countries in which they had to live as their new motherlands. Even after a large percentage of Jews assimilated in the last two centuries and consequently started to see their host countries as permanent places to stay, the Jewish people as such continued to dream of its ancestral land as the only place where Jews could actually be at home.
In the days of the Babylonian captivity, Jewish noblemen and high officials in the Persian service headed the returning exiles. Later on, the Roman Empire had to deal with an uninterrupted series of revolts against its provincial governors. The last revolt, known as the Judaean war, was one of unprecedented fierceness that took the Romans by total surprise. Fifty years later Jews, again, rose up against the Romans, until their political independence was finally crushed. And when even that did not really get them to leave the country, the Romans started to use the policy of extermination and expropriation until the bulk of the Jews were killed or driven out of the land.
When, many centuries later, the Crusaders entered the land, they still found Jewish populations in Galilee as well as important Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Ashkelon, Ramlah and Gaza. In fact, in those days, there existed a movement of "Mourners for Zion". These people would neither eat bread nor drink wine. They dressed in black garments and lived in caves. They fasted all their lives and prayed incessantly for the return of the Jewish people to the land.
In the year 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain and many turned back to the land of Israel, although the journey was perilous and life in the land nearly unbearable. Many settled in the land and created a great center of Rabbinic and Kabbalistic tradition, especially in the city of Safed in Galilee.
With astonishing courage Jews managed to survive in the land. In fact, in the town of Pekiin in Galilee, a flawless line of descent can be traced from the days of the ancient Israelites till the present day.
Reaching the land
In the meantime, Jews, throughout all these 1900 years, did anything in their power to reach the land. Others moved there in their old age, and when that was unattainable, they arranged to be buried there. Many decided to walk to the land despite lacking any kind of transportation. Many died on the way while others were forced to return. Again others arrived under the most difficult circumstances. Whoever left his hometown for the land of Israel was accompanied by the whole community till the outer borders of the town. Hardly anybody earned more respect than those who would "go up to the land". Many people would leave their families and friends behind and wander from country to country in an attempt to reach the land. Often they were persecuted and were easy prey to robbers and murderers. But nothing would change their minds. When finally they made it, they were completely penniless and on the brink of death. Still the joy of having reached this holy goal outweighed all suffering. When they arrived, they would literally kiss the ground, a custom which is continued till this very day by many religious Jews. Many would literally roll themselves in the dust of the land so as to fulfill the words of the Psalmist "For Your servants take pleasure in her stones and delight in her dust."
Strengthening ancient Jewish settlements
Over nearly two thousand years, since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews who were living in foreign countries sought to strengthen the Jewish settlements in Israel. This was seen as a privilege and a sacred duty. All sorts of financial organizations were brought into existence so as to ensure that there would be ongoing support for those who lived in the land.
One of the better known activities was that of the "shelichim", messengers from the Holy Land who frequently visited their brothers in the diaspora. This institution seems to have continued, without interruption, for over nineteen hundred years.
In addition to the need to collect money for the strengthening of the settlements in the land, the messenger had still another and, perhaps, even more important task: to cultivate spiritual attachment to the land. In this way he was not only the receiver but also the one who contributed to Jewish life in exile. He brought gifts of inspiration, moral guidance and even consolation to those who were forced to continue to dwell in foreign countries.
Among the messengers were some outstanding scholars and pious people. Even famous mystics took it upon themselves to travel the world and visit Jewish communities wherever they may have been. (This was far from an easy undertaking, sometimes it involved real hardship in which they were away from their families for many months.)
The messengers carried special authority, since it was believed that those who dwelt in the land possessed higher wisdom. Some even settled disputes, gave legal advice, dispensed religious rulings, and taught classes on the Bible and inspired their fellow Jews with awesome sermons. They were seen as the personification of the land and to have such a guest staying in one's home was considered a great privilege.
The messenger was seen as a representative of the holiness of the land and as such he had to be equipped with outstanding qualities and human dignity. In this way he was able to bring comfort to his brothers, lead them to repent and create an intense craving for the redemption and the return of all Jews to the land of Israel.
He was often a treasure house of legends about the land and its people. He spoke about the great tzaddikim, righteous people, living there, about the numerous miracles which happened in Jerusalem. He spoke about the ten lost tribes, about the Western Wall and its inner beauty. He would bring songs and melodies from the land so that his audience imagined itself to be in the land for just a few minutes. Nothing was more exalting than that.
Often messengers would bring away samples of the soil. To receive some of it was seen to be a great privilege and often it was carefully placed in a silver box. At other times it was used to bury people when they were unable to be laid to rest in the holy land itself.
Because of this there was no need for the messengers to plead for contributions. Every Jew considered it his duty to share in the Jewish living in the land. It was a privilege of the highest order. In fact it was seen as a way in which one was able to be represented in the land. After all, every Jew was obligated to live in the Holy Land and when this was impossible, one should at least help the land to be built.
Building the land while in exile
In many countries there were several organizations which looked after specific parts of the land. There were even agreements outlining the location of each territory and stating who was responsible for its maintenance. In this way Jews in exile became "physical" settlers in the land and looked after their portion in almost exactly the same way as the farmer takes care of his land.
There were even cases where Jewish communities taxed their members so as to ensure that enough money would reach the land.
In addition, nearly every home had a special box for donations toward the maintenance of the Holy Land. Before a Jewish woman lit the candles for Shabbath on Friday afternoon, she would drop some money in the box as a token of her commitment to the land.
This, my dear friends, was the custom of Jews for nearly two thousand years. Where else does one find such love for a native country?
For centuries after the destruction of the Temple, thousands of Jewish pilgrims would arrive at the Temple Mount on the Jewish holidays. People used to come from Babylon, Egypt and Europe to be close to the walls of the Temple and the city.
Defying normal affinity
I am coming to the end of my first lecture on Israel. I have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is not just a strong closeness or one built on a unique kind of national nostalgia, but that this relationship is one which defies all normal dimensions of affinity. Just as ardent love between human beings can be real and powerful even when they do not dwell together in one location, space or even time, the love of the Jewish people for the land is an ongoing powerful link, an embrace that never tires, a hope that never ceases.
We believe that no nation has ever shown such a love for its country. No people has done so much to prove its commitment and willingness to sacrifice lives so that it could dwell, stay or to return to its country. As I will convincingly show in my next lecture series our Palestinian neighbors have no such connection with this land. Although we definitely acknowledge that some of their forefathers lived in the country, the Jewish claim to this land far outweighs the Palestinian argument.
Even the non-Jewish world was deeply affected by the Zionist sentiment. Puritan theologians convinced the British government to allow the Jews to return to England, since they believed this was a necessary preliminary to the restoration of the Jewish State. When the notorious false Messiah, Shabbatai Zvi, appeared in the sixteenth century, bets were taken at Lloyds as to the date when he would enter Jerusalem with his followers. Appeals by famous gentiles to help the Jews return to their homeland became common. King William 111 from England, Louis X1V of France and other European monarchs received elaborate schemes of how to help the Jews settle their homeland.
Many years later Napoleon Bonaparte send a proclamation sent a proclamation to all Jews, in the name of France, to return to the land with "this nation's warranty and support and to maintain it against all comers."
Long before the world heard about a Palestinian claim to the land, many famous gentiles called for the restoration of the Jewish State.
*The seventh Earl of Shafstbury called for the return of the Jews to their homeland " since everything seems ripe for their return." In the times of August 26,1840, he wrote that " it would be a crowning point in the glory of England to bring about such an event."
*The famous poet, Lord Byron, wrote his "Hebrew Melodies" stating that "the white dove hath her nest, the fox his cave, mankind their country, Israel but the grave."
*George Eliot, author of the Zionist novel "Daniel Deronda" influenced early Zionist thinkers and called for the return of the Jews.
Alexander Dumas, the younger, in" La Femme Claude", together with so many others, laid the foundation for christian Zionism with the goal of bringing the Jews home in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.
A Palestinian State?
This does not mean that we are not prepared to offer the Palestinian Arabs a land and to help them start a vibrant Palestinian State. But we can only do so once their leadership understands that our claim is legitimate and that peaceful negotiations will have to take place within mutual respect. Above all, we must be convinced that this Palestinian State will not turn into a terrorist State, but rather into a civilized country. We cannot be at all sure of this at this moment. In fact, we believe that a Palestinian State may not become a threat just to the Jewish State but to many European countries as well, with serious, far reaching consequences.
The purpose of politics is to serve the ordered progress of society along the lines of the greatest moral usefulness. The present situation in the Middle East represents a supreme example of political perversion.
We must ask the Palestinian Arabs and many other Arab countries, to stop their antagonism and unprecedented hatred for the Israeli State. It is unacceptable when Palestinian schoolbooks systematically teach their students to hate Jews. A whole generation has been indoctrinated to see Jews as their worst enemies. Under such circumstances, no dialogue can ever take place.
Palestinian Arabs and others have perpetrated a great lie on the world by portraying Israel as a kind of colonial phenomenon. No state in the world expresses the concepts of nationhood more intensely than Israel. It is the only state which bears the same name, speaks the same language, upholds the same faith, and inhabits the same land as it did 3000 years ago.
Take Israel and all that has emanated from Israel out of Middle East history - and you empty that history of its central experiences. Arab political and intellectual leaders have never made a serious effort to understand, even in a reluctant mood, the tenacity, depth and authenticity of Israel as a national reality with deep roots in the Middle East.
Mr.Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel offered Yasser Arafat more than 93% of the West Bank and Gaza, taking enormous risks for the survival of the State of Israel. The offer was totally rejected by the Palestinian Authority. It has, therefore, become abundantly clear that the Palestinian leadership is not satisfied with anything less than the complete destruction of the Jewish State.
The Bible states in clear terms that we need to love our neighbor as ourselves and we Jews are fully committed to this. But it does not say "Love your neighbor and kill yourself".
The Middle East has excellent prospects for an intellectual revival, comparable to the time when the famous seats of learning in Alexandria, Beiruth and Antioch flourished beside the Jewish academies of Palestine, or when six hundreds years later Jewish, Christian and Moslem scholars could engage in Baghdad in free dialogue. The Holy Book of Islam, the Koran, contains a huge mass of material which can be traced to Jewish sources, not only biblical, but also elements from Jewish liturgy and later law.
Arabs welcome Jews home…
Let me, therefore, remind you of what the Pasha of Jerusalem wrote in 1864: "We all know and the Arabs are also 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 the Mohammedans believe this. Now on 8 July 1861 the day on which the news of the death of Abdul Megid and the accession of Abdul-Azis arrived in Jerusalem, the Jews waited with all formalities on the Governor, Surraya Pasha, and requested him to restore 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 council consisting of the Mufti, or Chief Officer of religion, the Cadi or Chief Judge 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(2) The ceremony was accordingly performed in the following manner. Sa'id Pasha, the general of the forces, accompanied by officers of his staff and some members of the Council, and followed by a crowd of sightseers, went to the Jewish quarter where he was met by a deputation of that nation and conducted to the House of the Chief Rabbi who received the Pasha at the door and there was publicly presented with the keys." (3)
It was Emir Feisal, one of the great leaders of the Arab peoples at the Peace Conference following World War I, who wrote on March 3, 1919: "We Arabs…. look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist organization to the Peace Conference and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best in so far as we are concerned to help them through. We will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home…(4) I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of civilized peoples of the world." (5)
This my dear friends, speaks for itself.
The Arab world is five hundred times the size of the Jewish State
Few people, even those who clearly wish Israel well, are aware of the fact that the Arab world is five hundred times the size of the Jewish State. They do not realize that the Israel they are incessantly hearing about and seeing every day on the television screens is all of forty miles wide (including the West Bank) and if it were to give up the West Bank, it would be nine miles wide. Indeed most people have difficulty conceiving of a small country having such a large a history.
Neither do they know that at the famous Versailles Conference (1919-1922) which "determined the outcome of World War 1" and which was attended by all major governments, it was decided that the Jewish State was to be five times the size of the present day State of Israel which included what is presently called Jordan. Above all, millions of people have forgotten that the very purpose of creating the State of Jordan was to function as a Palestinian State. It was the Arab countries who deliberately convinced the Palestinians not to accept this offer. For the purpose of politically pressuring Israel and making it a bad name in world opinion, many of the Arab countries refused to absorb the Palestinians and deliberately caused ongoing suffering on their own brothers.
Without any difficulty I could add argument after argument. I shall not do so. There is no need for it. All that we can hope for is that the communities of the world shall understand our justified claim. Indeed there is no need for this conflict. Neither do we have any interest in this conflict. We would like to see the Palestinian Arabs living a happy life without animosity for our tiny Jewish State. But it should be clear that there is no way in which the Palestinians can contend with the Jews as far as a claim to the land is concerned. Three thousand years of history have spoken. Let all of us hear its voice.
May God bless you all, shalom from Jerusalem. ……….
1. See my upcoming second essay/lecture, soon to be published.
2. Italics added
3. Ermette Pierotti, Customs and Traditions of Palestine, Cambridge, 1864, pp 75 ff
4. Italics added
5. Benjamin Natanyahu, A place among the nations, Bantam Books, NY, 1993, pp 406 ff
*It is permissible to copy this essay for non-commercial purposes but the author's name and the source should be included.