Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Chaim Weizmann on Jerusalem, December 1, 1948

Here is part of a speech given by Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, in Jerusalem on December 1, 1948:
It is with a sense of humility and sorrow that I rise to speak here among you who have suffered so much and wrought so much during this great and tragic year. Jerusalem holds a unique place in the heart of every Jew. Jerusalem is to us the quintessence of the Palestine idea. Its restoration symbolises the redemption of Israel. Rome was to the Italians the emblem of their military conquests and political organisation. Athens embodies for the Greeks the noblest their genius had wrought in art and thought. To us Jerusalem has both a spiritual and a temporal significance. It is the City of God, the seat of our ancient sanctuary. But it is also the capital of David and Solomon, the City of the Great King, the metropolis of our ancient commonwealth.

To the followers of the two other great monotheistic religions, Jerusalem is a site of sacred associations and holy memories. To us it is that and more than that. It is the centre of our ancient national glory. It was our lodestar in all our wanderings. It embodies all that is noblest in our hopes for the future. Jerusalem is the eternal mother of the Jewish people, precious and beloved even in its desolation. When David made Jerusalem the capital of Judea, on that day there began the Jewish Commonwealth. When Titus destroyed it on the 9th of Ab, on that day there ended the Jewish Commonwealth. But even though our Commonwealth was destroyed, we never gave up Jerusalem.

An almost unbroken chain of Jewish settlement connects the Jerusalem of our day with the Holy City of antiquity. To countless generations of Jews in every land of their dispersion the ascent to Jerusalem was the highest that life could offer. In every generation new groups of Jews from one part or another of our far-flung Diaspora came to settle here. For over a hundred years we have formed the majority of its population. And now that, by the will of God, a Jewish Commonwealth has been re-established, is it to be conceived that Jerusalem - Jerusalem of all places - should be out of it?

Ten years ago the question first came up in connection with the Report of the Royal Commission. And in the great debate which took place on that subject in the British House of Lords the then Archbishop of Canterbury said these memorable words:

It seems to me extremely difficult to justify fulfilling the ideals of Zionism by excluding them from any place in Zion. How is it possible for us not to sympathise in this matter with the Jews? We all remember their age long resolve, lament and longing.

"If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

They cannot forget Jerusalem ...

The Archbishop spoke the truth. We cannot forget Jerusalem. And if that was true then, it is all the more true today, for in this last year we have sealed afresh our covenant with our ancient mother-city with the blood of our sons and daughters. In addition to our historical unbroken chain of Jewish settlement in this city, the fact of our numerical preponderance among its inhabitants, a new link has been forged - your heroic defence of Jerusalem in this past year. It gives us the right to claim that Jerusalem is and should remain ours.

Where were all those who indulged in such fine phrases about the spiritual associations of Jerusalem for the whole civilised world? Did they lift a finger to protect Jerusalem, its men and women and children, its homes and houses of prayer, against the Arab shrapnel which rained death day and night on your homes for months on end? Did they make the slightest move when the Jewish Quarters of the Old City with their ancient synagogues were reduced to rubble by Arab gunfire, and were desecrated and defiled after the surrender? Did they utter one word of protest against the Jews being denied, for now over a year, access to the Wailing Wall, which is our holiest shrine? Do not worry, my friends. The ancient synagogues will be rebuilt, the road to the Wailing Wall will be opened.

You have renewed the ancient covenant with your blood and your sacrifices. Jerusalem is ours by virtue of the blood that was shed by your sons in its defence. You suffered hunger and thirst in the broiling heat of the summer and defended Jerusalem against surrender and destruction. Not only the soldiers. The ordinary men and women, yea, and the little children, who went about your work while the bullets flew around you and many of you fell victims to the deadly missiles. All of you have had a share in this defence.

When I say that Jerusalem is ours, I am fully conscious of the sacred associations which Jerusalem has for others than ourselves. We respect these associations. When you defended Jerusalem against havoc and destruction, you fought not only for your own people but for civilisation.

Men and women of Jerusalem, fear not for the future of your city - of our city! The words of our national hymn Hatikvah will yet come true:

To be a free people in our own land -
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

They don't make Israeli leaders like they used to.

(The Palestine Post report of this speech can be found here.)