Wednesday, May 5, 2010

For Jerusalem

Elie Wiesel is considered one of today’s biggest spokesperson on the lessons on the Holocaust. He teaches generations of people about the danger of discrimination against any kind of group. His inspiring story and brave soul has been a source of inspiration for people all over world. I heard Wiesel speak a few years back at the UN rally on September 22, 2008 protesting against Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN. Wiesel’s speech was inspiring, as he spoke about the world’s responsibility to speak up against a man who incites hatred against the Jewish state and who suppresses the freedoms of his own people in Iran. This is why Elie Wiesel’s recent full page ad in the Washington Post really surprised me.

Perhaps I’m feeling a touch of disappointment in what I accepted as something more from a wonderful man. The last thing I would want to do is de-valuate his work, however I am inclined to think critically on his latest statements, of which I disagree. I find myself in agreement with the “leftists” that spoke against Wiesel on his recent ad. What ad am I talking about? In his ad, “For Jerusalem”, Wiesel argues on the sensitivity of Jerusalem, and says that, “Jerusalem must remain the spiritual capital of the world’s Jews, and should serve as a symbol of faith and hope – not as a symbol of sorrow and bitterness”. He argues that no one should pressure Israel on the debate of Jerusalem, and that discussions on it, should be postponed. WAIT- who is this talking Elie Wiesel or Netanyahu?

Wiesel bases his argument on the importance, sanctity and holiness of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. He writes, “It (Jerusalem) is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Quran… Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming.” Well if we are going to dictate our political discussions of land on Jewish history and importance, can’t we argue that Jews are more entitled to the West Bank than they are to say.. Tel Aviv? Hebron after all is the second holiest place in Judaism- if anything then can’t Tel Aviv, with no Jewish historical significance, be considered territorialsm?

Therefore, we must factor in the realities of today in order to access the current situation. Wiesel knows better than anyone that we can never predict what lies in the future, and therefore that our responsibilities lie in the today. If, as he always mentions, we strive for world peace and justice, than how can we ignore the justice for Palestinians? As Gideon Levy writes in a recent article in Haaretz about what Wiesel misses when speaking about Jerusalem, “Not about the need for an end to the occupation, not about the opportunity to establish a just peace (and a just Israel ), not about the outrageous injustice to the Palestinians. Only perpetuating the occupation.” How can we therefore continue to postpone the hottest topic in the debate for peace in the Middle East? Can we forget about the borders of a future state? Further, can we sincerely declare that every street in East Jerusalem, which is mainly inhabited by Palestinians, is the same Jerusalem our ancestors prayed to for years back? Or is it not true that through our modern years, we have extended the borders of what we call Jerusalem, and therefore what we call holy. As we extend the border of holy, we extend the borders of what we can’t touch and what we can’t give up. However, the idea of “Jerusalem” 200 years ago, was only the old city.

Wiesel ends his ad with the beautiful quote, “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul”. I couldn’t agree more with this quote- however not in the context it is being used. A divided Jerusalem isn’t a divided heart, or a divided soul, but rather a purer one and a more just one. An occupation simply stains the soul, stains the heart and threatens peace.

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