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This Year and Next--In Jerusalem 

Jerusalem Post, April 6, 2001

Gerald M. Steinberg

 

For 2000 years, since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews have ended the Passover seder, retelling the story of the liberation from slavery, by repeating the ancient pledge of "next year in Jerusalem".        

This year, we will say these words with extra emphasis.  Under the illusion that a last-minute deal with Arafat could be reached, the Barak government was ready and even eager to surrender fundamental Jewish rights in Jerusalem.  The pledges that Israeli politicians have repeated since 1967, promising that Jerusalem will not be divided or lost again, were suddenly exposed as fragile and unreliable.  Instead, we discovered that plans for dividing Jerusalem, and allowing Palestinian "police" to provide "security" for Jewish sacred sites and neighborhoods, (the same people who are murdering Jews on the roads and blowing up bombs in Israeli cities) were being presented.        

The Israeli and Jewish version of people power, organized by a group led by Natan Sharansky and strongly supported by Diaspora Jewry, put an end to this misguided adventure on January 8.  On that evening, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, as well as many Jews from around the world who flew in for this historic event, gathered for the largest demonstration in Israel's history.        

While turning points in history are usually only visible with the passage of time, this case appears to be exceptional.  Already on the night of the demonstration, those who gathered around Jerusalem's walls recognized that they were part of an historic event, and the importance of that moment has been growing since then.  For the first time in many years, Jews from across the spectrum were moving in the same direction, towards a common goal. In years and generations to come, the rally for Jerusalem will be seen as one of the most important events since 1967. 

This sense of unity, determination, and shared purpose marked a fundamental psychological change, after a long period of anxiety and internal conflict. Standing together in front of the ancient Citadel, this united presence was a reminder that a return to the black period before1967 was absolutely unacceptable. The situation that existed between 1948 and 1967, when the most sacred sites of the Jewish religion were under Arab occupation, snipers fired from the walls, and the Jewish Quarter was desecrated, would not be allowed to happen again.  The evidence, including the secret construction on the Temple Mount in the past year, clearly shows that Palestinian, Arab and Islamic efforts to rewrite history, and to erase the Jewish foundations of Jerusalem, in both the history books and on the ground, have not changed since 1948.  

Similarly, just as the "international community" ignored the violation of guarantees of free access between 1948 and 1967, the same conditions continue today.   Internationalization of Jerusalem means, in practice, the loss of Jewish rights and access.        

The number and broad spectrum of participants demonstrated that this outpouring was a reaffirmation of the national consensus on the sanctity of Jerusalem and of fundamental Jewish rights. In contrast to most rallies, this was not a show of power consisting exclusively of any particular group.  The crowd included religious and secular Jews, Palmach veterans and new immigrants, Haredi black hats and knitted-kipot, as well as American and Russian accents.  Every public opinion poll demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of Israelis draw the line around Jerusalem's walls. Our collective presence revived a sense of common purpose and the realization the national consensus on this and other issues has not been destroyed, despite divisions and self-doubts.  It also reminded Israelis and the Jewish people of the strength inherent in three thousand years of history and revitalized the core values of the return to Zion.       

 The rally also marked the revival of the soul and voice of the Jewish people.  Like the slaves in Egypt, who had no collective voice, and no ability to shape their political environment or control their own lives, the Israeli public had been worn down by attractive promises of an unreachable peace and the alluring desire for "normalcy".  In the case of the slavery in Egypt, as portrayed in the Biblical narrative, the liberation process began when the people were finally able to express their anger and their "sighs" triggered divine intervention.  Only then was Moses sent to start the process of delivery from bondage to freedom.  This is the liberation that the Jewish people relive every year during the Passover seder.        

In the modern version, the liberation from the paralysis and myths of the Oslo "peace" process began with the mass rally in Jerusalem that gave voice to our oppression.  Beyond showing the Palestinians and the rest of the world that the Barak government had no mandate to give away Jewish rights in Jerusalem, this rally showed us that we had the strength and the unity to fight for our fundamental interests.  The elections on February 6 that put a decisive end to the Barak government were a further expression of the determination to take control of our destiny, and to insure the continuity of Jewish Jerusalem.        

The point of the Passover seder is to renew the strength and determination to insure Jewish and Israeli survival.  Similarly, however difficult the situation may be in the upcoming weeks, months, and years, we must continue to speak out, and to demand our liberation from the tyranny of modern terror and oppression.

L'shana Ha'ba B'Yerushalayim  -- Next Year in Jerusalem.