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A View From Jerusalem – May 2018

A week to remember

On Sunday, Jerusalem, our capital, the city of gold and light, celebrated the 51st anniversary of its unification with tens of thousands of teenagers dancing the streets, waving blue and white flags in honor of this landmark occasion. These endless circles of dancers were the warm up show for today’s historical events.

Usually, May 14 is celebrated in honor of David Ben-Gurion, the executive head of the World Zionist Organization at the time of the historical proclamation of the establishment of a Jewish state in eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. This year, however, May 14 marks the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem. This is a historic act following President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement that the U.S. officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, acknowledging the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

As I ascended to Jerusalem this morning, Mother Nature revealed her fascinating magic. Sunshine and blue skies tried to break through clouds, rain and thunder, while winds blew from the east—all so rare in May. It seems like nature itself was uncertain about these events. Confused by conflicting messages. It was as if today’s festivity needed to break through worldwide criticism, apologize for our Jerusalem’s right to celebrate, glow for its holiday, radiate with pride, be the capital it is, for 3,000 years of Jewish history since King Solomon build his first Temple.  Do not shy away Jerusalem, do not apologize.  You earned this celebration, you own it.

When Jewish couples marry—on their day of unification—they recite: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”  Jerusalem’s sacred stones have dried tears of mourning and agony, just as easily as they see tears of joy and grace. Soldiers protecting it and conquerors abusing it have pressed its soil, their heavy boots leaving marks alongside pilgrims and worshipers’ silent steps. Jerusalem’s ancient olive trees were watered with the sweat and blood of battle. Sorrow’s cry was heard side-by-side the raucous celebration the Water-Drawing Festivals. There is only one Jerusalem, one eternal capital, our capital.

Today, our streets are decorated with beautiful American flags. The United States of America, Israel’s strongest ally, made history, and sent a clear message—Israel, with Jerusalem at its heart, is here to stay.

Nevertheless, the air is uncertain and the climate, disordered, as are politics and public opinions. The majority of Israelis support and celebrate the move across political divides and differences, while the majority of the U.S. Jewry sees the embassy move as a dangerous step, questioning its timing and the possible consequences. Time matters, but it cannot rule over justice. Does this region really need an incentive to ignite?

Time has proven that violence doesn’t need an excuse, it’s a monster feeding itself, whether we time our actions to is satisfaction or not. For 70 years, we have had the right as a sovereign state to take pride in our capital and celebrate it, refusing to allow legitimate declarations to be held hostage to terror.  Unfortunately, terror in Jerusalem did not cease even while the U.S. embassy sat in Tel Aviv.

Tomorrow, May 15, marks Nakba Day—Day of the Catastrophe—when Palestinians annually commemorate the displacement that preceded and followed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. It is unfortunate that one person’s happiness is another one’s grief, but with today’s embassy move, the Palestinians are leading the “March of Return” in Gaza, which includes violent riots, burning tires, hurling rocks at the security fence and at Israeli soldiers and launching flaming kites into Israeli territory. As I write this, there are tens of thousands of Palestinians participating in the Gaza riots. Many have been killed as they attempt to cross into Israel’s nearby towns in order to wreak terror on our citizens.

I cry with and for the children of Gaza, I have nothing but sympathy for these miserable innocent human beings living their lives under the umbrella of terror and hatred, denied basic humanitarian needs, and more so, denied hope. However, these tragedies are a direct and proven result of the local regime in Gaza and its refusal to reconcile with Israel and withdraw from terror and aggression. It’s a direct consequence of using resources intended for infrastructure and rehabilitation for military and arming.

This is Israel’s reality for the past 70 years, Jerusalem’s daily events for 51 years. The sunshine fighting thunder, desert dusty winds fighting blue clear skies.

I believe. I believe that the majority of our Palestinian neighbors long for the same blue skies, looking to warm up by the same sunshine. I believe that all children have the same right to live in dignity, aspire for a bright future, and enjoy the best of life.

I pray for the day there will be no borders, where Palestinian children will fly beautiful kites over the skies of Gaza and its nearby Israeli towns. Kites of hope and joy, not kites of flames and hatred.

Until that day comes, we are all obligated to do our very best to protect ourselves and our children while continuing to strive for peace and reconciliation. We are entitled to celebrate our sovereignty while reaching out to our neighbors.

Jerusalem earned this celebration. I hope the entire Jewish world can put politics aside and rejoice with us.

On Saturday night, Israel won for the fourth time the Eurovision Song Contest. The majority of countries put aside politics and prejudice, voting for the best song. Next May, Jerusalem, our capital, will host this contest.

Let us all borrow from music its powers to bridge and connect, to form one melody from many tunes, one filled with hope and light.

L’Shanah HaBaah B’Yerushalayim—Next year in Jerusalem.

Leah Garber,
Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center

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