Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

The Spirit of Jerusalem

By Natan Sharansky

(January 12) - On Monday, 400,000 Jews gathered outside the walls of the Old City and swore allegiance to Jerusalem. In doing so, those who attended the rally, along with their supporters both in Israel and abroad, joined the countless generations of our people who have affirmed our nation's abiding refusal to turn its back on that which we hold most sacred.

In every generation, the Jewish people have faced a clear and often painful choice. While this choice has assumed many different forms throughout our history, from conversion in the Middle Ages to assimilation in the Modern Age, it has remained essentially the same - to be true to our faith, tradition and people no matter what the consequences, or to escape our identity in the hope that this would afford a measure of peace, quiet and acceptance.

We are here today as Jews precisely because our forefathers refused to opt for "peace now" solutions, no matter how difficult the alternative. That is why the spirit of Jews as diverse as those who fought against Greek assimilation, rebelled against Roman tyranny, died rather than convert, and rejected a plan to build a national home in Uganda were all with us this week - for while they are no longer physically present, the idea that justified their struggle endures.

In the last few weeks and months, the hostile intentions of those with whom we seek to make peace have been unmasked. No doubt it is obvious to all who are not blind that the Palestinian leadership is not yet prepared to live in peace with us and that in this environment, concessions will only lead to more violence. But when it comes to Jerusalem, this is beside the point. The Jewish people must refuse to divide Jerusalem not because our neighbors don't desire peace, but because even peace is not worth any price - and a peace that demands that we sacrifice our identity as a nation and undermine our connection as one people is a peace that must be rejected.

Jerusalem is not merely the capital of our country, but also the bedrock of our existence - the nexus of Jewish national and religious life. For 1,000 years of life in the Land of Israel, it was here that our priests prayed, our prophets preached, and our kings ruled. For the 2,000 years of our exile, it was the source of our hopes and aspirations, symbolizing our dream to return to Zion, ingather our people, and rebuild our nation.

We are told by those who support Jerusalem's division that it is only a "symbol." But if there were ever a people of symbols, it is the Jews. We fill our days, months and years with a multitude of symbols of faith, tradition and heritage that give meaning to our lives and purpose to our history. Jerusalem, perhaps more than any other, has proven the most potent symbol of all.

I know the enormous capacity of this "symbol" to empower those who invoke its name and believe in its force. Over two decades ago, I said the following words to a Soviet Court about to sentence me to 15 years in prison for my work as a Jewish activist.

"For 2,000 years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed all over the world and seemingly deprived of any hope of returning. But still, each year Jews have stubbornly, and apparently without reason, said to each other, 'Leshana haba'a biyrushalayim!' ('Next year in Jerusalem!') And today, when I am further than ever from my dream, from my people, and from my Avital, and when many difficult years of prisons and camps lie ahead of me, I say to my wife and to my people, Leshana haba'a biyrushalayim."

And this week, together with my family, writing these words in our historic capital city as the leader of the Jewish state turns his back on the hundreds of generations that came before him and agrees to trade his nation's most sacred possession for a promise of peace, quiet and acceptance, I say to my ancient people, Leshana haba'a biyrushalayim. ©Jerusalem Post 2001

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