Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(Un)Happy Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem entered a new phase in its millennial history in June 1967 when the city was reunified after nineteen years of division. During these years, like Berlin and Nikosia, Jerusalem had been a divided city. The western parts served as Israel's capital, a capital connected with the main areas of the Jewish state through a narrow corridor. The rest of the city and its northern, eastern, and southern environs were past of the West Bank annexed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israel conquered East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Six Day War. Since then, Israelis have been celebrating Jerusalem Day.

Israeli sentiments surrounding the Six Day War have been vividly described in Tom Segev's book 1967, namely, the anxiety and claustrophobia and the fear of a second Holocaust that preceded the war and the national exuberance and messianic mood that followed it. Along with the intoxicating sense of a miraculous victory and catastrophe averted, regaining access to the Jewish sacred and historical places, including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, the Old City, all that played a major role in shaping the sense of national religious euphoria that prevailed at the time.

Nothing captures the national religious sentiments prevailing among many Israelis at the time better than the unofficial anthem "Jerusalem of Gold," a song written and composed by Naomi Shemer for a song contest held in West Jerusalem before the war in 1967.  Today Tablet Magazine published a splendid piece on the history of this song researched and narrated by Liel Leibovitz. (A shorter version of this piece was broadcast by As Leibovitz points out, some of the more odious aspects of the song, especially its depiction of Jerusalem (in the version preceding the conquest) as an empty void and as an abandoned city, were immediately evident at the time to the few sober Israeli observers who publicly took a stand against it, among them Amos Oz and the alternative folksinger Meir Ariel who rewrote the lyrics, calling Jerusalem a "city of iron."

Also today, Haaretz  sardonically noted that PM Netanyahu used the opportunity of a Jerusalem Day speech to the Knesseth (the Israeli parlament) to educate "a lawmaker from Israel's Arab minority" on matters of "comparative religion."
Netanyahu (...) said, "There are those among us who lament the very day Jerusalem was liberated and the capital of Israel was freed from its stranglehold."
Netanyahu told the special Knesset session that "Jerusalem" and its alternative Hebrew name "Zion" appear 850 times in the Old Testament, Judaism's core canon.
"As to how many times Jerusalem is mentioned in the holy scriptures of other faiths, I recommend you check," he said.

Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel's Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. "Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem," he said.
"There is no undercutting, nor do I intend to undercut, the connection of others to Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
"But I do confront the attempt to undercut and warp or obfuscate the unique connection that we, the people of Israel, have to the capital of Israel."
We might add that it is difficult to imagine how a comparison of the number of occurrences of the name Jerusalem in the Bible with the number of occurrences of the name in the Qur'an is not to undermine the connection of "others" to Jerusalem. Nor is this particular comparison all that useful, though it is often heard. It can dazzle only those who conveniently forget that what is true for the Qur'an is also true of the Torah, which is equally fundamental to Judaism as the Qur'an is to Islam. In neither book is the city directly mentioned. Now here's room for a new, more interesting conversation!

1 comment:

  1. So you know just how common and how misleading is the claim about the Torah and Koran...

    The other day I found in my foyer a pamphlet, produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called "Top 10 Lies About Israel." The #1 lie was that Israel was created as a result of European guilt over the Holocaust. The pamphlet argues that "Jerusalem is mentioned more than 600 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, but not even once in the Koran." The sentence is printed in bold type, so that it should stand out from the rest of the paragraph's presumably less convincing arguments.

    My dad and I had a real debate over whether this was relevant, or true, or why it should be in bold, or even mentioned at all. The entire last paragraph of your post comprises much of what I said to my Dad (notwithstanding Abraham's blessing from the mysterious Melchizedek).

    The funny thing is, we both agreed that Israel is not the product of European guilt! The "number-of-Scriptural-mentions" argument creeps its way into the strangest places...