The Most Improbable Capital
By Nachum L Rabinovitch

Jerusalem is the most improbable capital in the world. Perched high up and surrounded by steep cliffs, it is a mountain fastness more suitable as a protected holdout for a small community of hermits seeking isolation and solitude than for the administration of a country. Moreover. it has no agricultural hinterland capable of feeding and sustaining a large population. Even today, with dual-lane highways blasted through the most difficult natural obstacles, access to Jerusalem is still not easy.

Throughout most of recorded history, getting in and out of Jerusalem was a challenging undertaking. The caravans and the armies that plodded endlessly between the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia and Egypt since time immemorial moved along the western Coastal Plain or eastwards through trans-Jordan skirting the mountainous backbone of the country.

Nonetheless, Jerusalem became not only the capital of kings of flesh and blood, but also came to be almost universally looked upon as the symbol of Divine Kingship. As a real city of marble and stone, it became already in antiquity one of the major world centers. In Second Temple times, Jerusalem's fame spread westwards through Europe and reached as far as Indochina in the east. Its population then is estimated at 300,000- 400,000 - a very large city in those days.

As an idea and a concept, Jerusalem became the spiritual home of millions. In the first mention of the city in the Bible it is called "Shalem" - the City of Peace. Then Abraham, the first Jew, called it Yireh - "God will see." Thus it became Yerushalem.

Despite the handicaps of geography and economics, Jerusalem became at some point in history "the perfection of beauty, the joy of ail the earth (Lamentations 2:15). The constraints of terrain and location did make their influence felt over long periods of time. As one foreign conqueror succeeded another. Jerusalem retreated into the desert, where by all natural accounts it belongs. It was only when Jews were able to settle in the Holy City that it grew and prospered.

No foreign ruler ever made Jerusalem his capital, for the obvious reasons described above. Some European kings took for themselves the honorific title "King of Jerusalem," but even the short-lived Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was nothing more than a military outpost.

Under the Turks, early in the 19th century, the population of Jerusalem was less than 10,000. As soon as Jews were allowed in. they quickly became the majority. By the end of the century, Jerusalem counted 75.000 per- sons, two thirds of them Jews.

The entire history of Jerusalem is testament to its unique character as the embodiment of the Jewish spirit. No mere material considerations could impede its growth and development when Jews built Jerusalem. Nor, when the Jews were absent, could any other factors prevent its decline. This was demonstrated once more during the 19-year Arab occupation of part of Jerusalem - the walled Old City and its eastern environs - after the 1948 War of Independence.

While western Jerusalem flourished, the Old City languished. Not only did the latter become judenrein, but the population as a whole decreased. The process was reversed only with the reunification of the city in the miraculous events of the 1967 Six Day War.

And now population figures are again indeed, have surpassed - those of 2,000 years ago.

AS WE AGAIN rejoice .with Jerusalem on the day of its deliverance 25 years ago. there is much to gladden our hearts even as we contemplate the progress made since last Jerusalem Day only one year ago.

Great new buildings projects are underway that were talked about for a decade but which only now are becoming reality. In the streets that always resounded with many languages. Russian and Russian-accented Hebrew are heard more and more as new waves of olim come to build Jerusalem. New industrial developments are promising a sound economic infrastructure for the capital's expansion.

Yet sad thoughts force themselves on our attention. The vision of Jerusalem as the City of Peace seems no nearer. Not only are many Arabs unwilling to join in the responsibilities of good citizenship, but some Jews, too, perhaps in a misguided conception of peace, argue for a kind of reverse apartheid. When Arab terrorists seek to exclude Jews from certain areas, some Jewish voices are always raised in support. As if justice to the Arab minority in our midst requires us to accept the kind of subjugation they force upon us in Arab lands.

In the heart of Jerusalem stands the Temple Mount, the place where our ancestor Abraham said: "God will see."

There stood the First and Second Temples. Of that Holy Place it is written: "My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7). There, too, Moslems worship in El Aksa Mosque. Yet, not only do they control their own place of worship, which is right and just, but they also refuse Jews access to pray on other parts of the Mount that is holy to us.

And we acquiesce for the sake of peace.

When Jews gathered at the foot of the Mount at the Western Wall last Succot, a hail of stones from above resulted in a UN decision to investigate not the crimes of Arab terrorism or exclusiveness, but the alleged responsibility of the Jews. And one cannot help but wonder whether our acquiescence to exclusive Mos- lem control - rather than serving peace, en- courages hatred and war. Surely "God will see."

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch is head of the Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva in Maateh Adurnim.


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