In honor of Yom Yerushalayim I wanted to share with you this powerful message (written after the Six Day War by Eliezer ben Israel) that has accompanied me since 1970.
A Letter to the World from Jerusalem
Eliezer ben Israel
I am not a creature from another planet, as you seem to believe.
I am a Jerusalemite- like yourselves, a man of flesh and blood.
I am a citizen of my city; an integral part of my people.
I have a few things to get off my chest. Because I am not a diplomat, I do not have to mince words. I do not have to please you, or even persuade you. I owe you nothing. You did not build this city; you do not live in it; you did not defend it when they came to destroy it. And we will be dammed if we will let you take it away.
There was a Jerusalem before there was a New York. When Berlin, Moscow, London and Paris were miasmal forest and swamp, there was thriving Jewish community here. It gave something to the world which you nations have rejected ever since you established yourselves – a human moral code.
Here the prophets walked, their words flashing like forked lightening. Here a people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, fought off waves of heathen would – be conquerors, bled and died on the battlements, hurled themselves into the flames of their burning temple rather than surrender; and when finally overwhelmed by sheer numbers and led away into captivity, swore that before they forgot Jerusalem they would see their tongues cleave to their palates, their right arms wither.
For two pain filled millennia, while we were your unwelcome guests, we prayed daily to return to this city. Three times a day we petitioned the almighty: “Gather us from the four corners of the world, bring us upright to our land; return in mercy to Jerusalem, Thy city and dwell in it as Thou promised.”
On every Yom Kippur and Passover we fervently voiced the hope that next year would find us in Jerusalem. Your inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, the ghettos in to which you jammed us, your forced baptisms, your quota systems, your genteel anti-Semitism, and the final unspeakable horror, the Holocaust (and worse, your terrifying disinterest in it), all these have not broken us. They may have sapped what little moral strength you still possessed but they forged us into steel. Do you think that you can break us now, after all we have been through? Do you really believe that after Dachau and Auschwitz we are frightened by your threats of blockades and sanctions?
We have been to hell and back – a hell of your making. What more could you possibly have in your arsenal that could scare us?
I have watched the city bombarded twice. By nations calling themselves civilized. In 1948, while you looked on apathetically, I saw women and children blown to smithereens, this after we had agreed to a request to internationalize the city. It was a deadly combination that did the job:British officers, Arab gunners and American made cannons.
And then the savage sacking of the Old City: The willful slaughter, the wanton destruction of every synagogue and religious school; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; the sale by a ghoulish government of tomb stones for building materials, for poultry runs, army camps – even latrines.
And you never said a word.
You never breathed the slightest protest when the Jordanians shut off the holiest of our holy places, the Western Wall, in violation of the pledges they had made after the war – a war they waged, incidentally against the decision of the UN. Not a murmur came from you whenever the legionnaires, in their spiked helmets casually opened fire upon our citizens from behind the walls.
Your hearts bled when Berlin came under siege. You rushed your airlift “to save the gallant Berliners.” But you did not send one ounce of food when Jews starved in besieged Jerusalem. You thundered against the wall which the east Germans ran through the middle of the German capital - but not one peep out of you about the other wall, the one that tore through the heart of Jerusalem.
And when the same thing happened twenty years later, and the Arabs unleashed a savage unprovoked bombardment of the holy city again, did any of you do anything? The only time you came to life was when the city was at last reunited. Then you wrung your hands and spoke loftily of “justice” and the need for the “Christian” quality of turning the other cheek.
The truth is – and you know it deep inside your gut – you would prefer the city to be destroyed rather than have it governed by Jews. No matter how diplomatically you phrase it, the age old prejudices seep out of every word.
If our return to the city has tied your theology in knots, perhaps you would better reexamine your catechisms. After what we have been through, we are not passively going to accommodate ourselves to the twisted idea that we are to suffer eternal homelessness until we accept your Savior.
For the first time since the year seventy there is now complete religious freedom for all in Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans put the torch to the temple everyone has equal rights. (You preferred to have some more equal than others.) We loath the sword – but it was you who forced us to take it up. We crave peace – but we are not going back to the peace of 1948 as you would like us to.
We are home. It has a lovely sound for a nation you have willed to wander
over the face of the globe. We are not leaving. We have redeemed the pledge
made by our forefathers – Jerusalem is being rebuilt. “Next year” – and the year after, and after, and after, until the end of time - “in Jerusalem!”