There is nothing like being there: Hearing the music. Watching the young people dancing with enormous sprit. And seeing the flags – oh so many flags! – waving in the air. This picture was taken in the late afternoon on Sunday, on King George Street in front of the Great Synagogue, as participants gathered in preparation for the Dance of the Flags – the parade that led down to the Kotel (Western Wall).
I was there. At this very spot, feeling my heart lift, as the energy on the street soared. It was later reported that some like 30,000 people, mostly young, Dati Leumi – religious nationalist, participated. More than ever before. This, I understood, was Israel’s future.
Sunday night was the start of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday that requires fasting during day-light hours. There were protests that large numbers of Jews would be streaming into Sha’ar Shechem (the Damascus Gate – the largest and most imposing of the gates) and through a Muslim part of the Old City on the way to the Kotel just as the holiday was about to begin.
The attempt to stop it went all the way to the High Court, which denied the petition. Some 2,000 police officers were stationed along the route, to ensure quiet. And, thank Heaven, there was quiet so that the parade – which is a celebration of a re-united Jerusalem in Jewish hands – could go on.
In deference to the onset of the Muslim holiday, Sha’ar Shechem was closed to the parade at roughly 6:15, so there would not be Jews streaming through the area as Ramadan began at 8:00.
Ramadan or not, this parade really does not sit well with the Arabs in the Muslim Quarter, who consider the Six Day War a time of loss, a setback in attempts to destroy Israel. They actually call it “Naksa,” the setback. When they make their peace with the reality of our presence here is when it will be possible to have peace in the larger sense.
Credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli
For me, there was a sense of poetic justice in our young people entering via this gate. For in the past several months, the area right in front of the gate had been a prime location for one terror attack after another. Among the songs they sang on Sunday was “Am Yisrael Chai,” the Nation of Israel lives.
The very next day, Monday, marked the moment in 1967 when the Ma’arat Hamachpela – Tomb of the Patriarchs – in Hevron, the second holiest city for Jews after Jerusalem, was liberated.
Credit: David Ravkin
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, IDF Chief Rabbi and a general in the IDF, actually liberated it himself. Here he is putting an Israeli flag up on the Machpela.
Credit: Hebron Fund
Why don’t we know this incredible story of what happened that day, as we know other stories? I had never heard it before. It was told by Rabbi Goren himself, and was heard by many, including veteran spokesman of the Hevron Jewish community, David Wilder. You might want to take the time to read this. It is a story of the hand of God.
Jews had not been permitted inside the Machpela for 700 years, barred first by the Mamelukes and then the Ottomans. They prayed from the infamous “seventh step.”
Credit: Hebron fund
Today, the Machpela – in the small enclave of Hevron that remains Jewish – is under Israeli control, and is shared between Jews and Muslims. There are some Jewish holy days when only Jews enter, and other Muslim holy days when only Muslims enter, and many days when both religions have access.
This is how we do it, you see – sharing. This same sort of arrangement has been suggested for Har Habayit (the Temple Mount), but the Muslims, wishing to claim it all for themselves, will have no part of it.
There are lessons here that we Jews have yet to fully absorb.
There had been quite a bit of anxiety about the French-initiated “peace summit,” held in Paris last Friday. But in the end, it fizzled. A communiqué was issued by the participants that reaffirmed “their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Of course, unsurprisingly, the summit also reaffirmed that “a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
What was perhaps surprising was this:
“US Secretary of State John Kerry prevented France from successfully launching a strong new peace initiative last week that could have impacted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said on Monday.
“Kerry was ‘definitely not enthusiastic’ about the June 3 Paris summit, he said and added that the American administration did not play a proactive role in the summit…
“When the summit convened it had hoped to have in its hand a much touted Quartet report about about the conflict. But disagreement over the language in the report, including US objectives, delayed its publication and it has yet to be issued.
“Delegates at the summit had hoped to use the report to create a blue-print for creating a two-state solution…”
So, we have been provided with a reprieve, but by no means should we consider the matter closed. Suffice it to say that it would be unwise to place full trust in Kerry and his boss with regard to this matter (or any other).
It could well be that Obama – not pleased at the prospect of the French stealing his thunder – undercut this summit to make way for his own initiative. There are rumors regarding what the president may yet opt for, including support for some sort of UN resolution. Rumors. We do not yet know, but must continue to stay vigilant.
As to Netanyahu’s suggestion, on the night Lieberman was sworn in, that a revised Arab peace initiative might be workable – that appears to be going nowhere quickly. The same al-Arabi cited above, of the Arab League, says he wants to see “action” from Israel with regard to ending the “occupation,” as the first order of business.
Al-Arabi says that Israel wants to “utterly change” the peace initiative for the sake of financial gain in Arab markets.
He also says that he knows Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold, and he is “one of the most extreme people I know.” Dore Gold? That would be fairly amusing, except that it tells us how intransigent the Arabs remain, Netanyahu’s hopes on the matter not withstanding. Haval, as we say – it’s too bad.
As to politics here at home, the situation is so contentious and fluid that I prefer to say little. There are times – many times, actually – when it simply does not pay to give much credence to the assortment of declarations floating in the air.
Minister Naftali Bennett (Chair, Habayit Hayehudi) continues to deride Prime Minister Netanyahu for his conflicting statements. As I’ve pointed out before, Bennett is often correct. But his motivation in making much of various matters is, of course, also political.
Netanyahu – rather than saying he wishes there could be a peace agreement, but recognizes that the parties are simply too far apart for this to happen – continues to declare himself in favor of a “two state solution.”
Yet, on Yom Yerushalayim, he proclaimed,
“The love of Jerusalem unites all of us as one man with one heart. I remember the divided city of Jerusalem with the Jordanians on the fence. That will not come back. Jerusalem will remain whole,”
Great. Then tell Abbas, who insists the PA must have eastern Jerusalem, to forget it, there is no deal.
Meanwhile, Yehuda Glick, new MK with Likud, claimed in a speech last Friday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “in his heart is with the settlers.”
Wish I could know that for sure. I continue to struggle with ambivalence, believing without full certainty that he is likely embracing the “two states” for reasons of diplomatic “pragmatism.” (Please, do not write to tell me what you think. None of us, the good Yehuda Glick included, can be certain.)
As to the opposition, head of the Zionist Camp Buji Herzog is still making noises about joining the coalition – if Bennett leaves. Other members of his party are quite opposed.
It has been revealed that another member of Hamas involved with digging tunnels was apprehended recently when he crossed the border from Gaza. Once again, we are being told that a wealth of information was secured. That we are acquiring this information is good news, what we are learning is most definitely not – although this helps us to prepare and plan properly:
“The suspect admitted that the tunnels were to be used by the Hamas Special Forces Nakhba unit to kidnap IDF soldiers, commit suicide attacks, and commit other large scale attacks on Israeli towns.
“Hamas, the prisoner said, is working to create a warren of tunnels under Gaza for its fighters to enable them to traverse the length and breadth of the strip completely underground. The tunnels contain rooms and structures to be used for the benefit of Hamas Special Forces fighters.
“The majority of tunnel entrances are located in and around schools, mosques, and private homes, built with the knowledge that Israel is less likely to attack these structures.”
Apparently Hamas has an elaborate communication system within the warren of interconnected tunnels, which even have recreation areas, so that the terrorists would be able to conduct a war from a base that is entirely underground.
This makes it clear how the huge quantities of cement Hamas confiscates is being utilized.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is returning home from Russia today, after meeting with President Putin for the fourth time in a year – the third meeting in Moscow. Goals included marking the 25th anniversary of relations between the two nations, and deepening ties.
While there are, certainly, points of disagreement – with Russia’s provision of weaponry to Iran being key, reports are of very cordial interaction. As seen here from an earlier meeting:
Netanyahu at one point said, “Israel’s doors are open to Russia and Russia’s doors are open to Israel,” while Putin, for his part, observed that in the war against terror, Russia and Israel were ‘unconditional allies.” The point was made, additionally, that there is a bond between the nations because of more than one million Russian-speaking Israeli citizens who had come from the former USSR. There are now three such Israelis who are ministers in Netanyahu’s government Avigdor Lieberman, Ze’ev Elkin (who was, once again, with Netanyahu as translator) and Sofa Landver.
Yesterday, Netanyahu helped to inaugurate an exhibit “Open a door to Israel,” on innovation and technology. Participating was a delegation organized by the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, which finds Russia more receptive to their products than the EU states.
A variety of subjects was discussed; key among them was the refining of coordination between the two air forces, to avoid inadvertent conflict over Syria. But there was also talk about the Palestinian Arabs, and Turkey.
This is one of the situations I believe Netanyahu is handling very well. The connection to Russia provides an important counterbalance to our troubled interaction with the US and his security coordination is truly important; Russia, for its part is seeking influence in the Middle East, and so is happy to foster this relationship.
I found it of interest that the two leaders also signed a bilateral pensions agreement, which seeks to “correct a historic injustice regarding émigrés from the former USSR up to 1992 who lost their eligibility for a Russian pension.”
You may remember that this issue, from the Israeli side, held up negotiations regarding Lieberman joining the coalition. He sought additional Israeli pensions for those who had lost Russian pensions. The resolution was an equitable increase in pensions across the board. But here we see a correction of the problem from the other side. I read nothing about this specifically, but must assume that this was done in response to a request made by Lieberman.
As a good will gesture, Putin agreed even before this meeting to return to Israel a Magach-3 tank tank captured in the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub during the first Lebanon war; it has been in Russia’s possession – in a museum, actually.
I wrote recently about an extraordinary program the IDF has, utilized adults with autism as volunteers in the army. In closing, I want to return to this subject. Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, yesterday posted movingly on Facebook about his special-needs daughter, who just completed her army service:
At her graduation ceremony, Yaeli saluted her commanding officer. She wore a uniform and an orange beret, and her father wiped his eyes and hoped nobody could see.
Her class – a class of young people with special needs – volunteered for the entire year on a base of the IDF National Search and Rescue Unit. They contributed as much as they could.
The soldiers and commanders were charming and attentive and treated them with respect and affection. “I don’t know who learned more from whom this year,” a 19-year-old sergeant told me, with a huge smile.
“So you’re now a soldier like Lior?” I asked Yaeli, and my non-speaking daughter nodded forcefully.
The next time someone tells you that the only role of the army is to fight, send him the photo I attached here. Maybe it’s true of other armies, but the IDF is much more than that. (Emphasis added)
Shlomo Carlebach, “Am Yisrael Chai”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.