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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Early Israeli discussions on unifying Jerusalem (Israel Archive blog)

From the English-language Israel State Archive blog:

Looking around them at the end of the war, one thing just about all Israelis agreed upon was that Jerusalem must never again be divided, and must be united as Israel's capital. The day after the war the Cabinet decided (decision 536) to appoint a subcommittee with the revealing title "Committee of Ministers to Determine the Status of United Jerusalem". With a name lke that, what was there left to talk about?

The main issue was not if, but how. Back in 1948 Israel had been careful not to make a show of exerting its writ to the western part of Jerusalem for fear of provoking actions of internationalization. (We've already mentioned this here and here). Some of the participants in the June 12th dicussion were in favor of repeating the action, perhaps by having the Minister of Defense publish a decree about East Jerusalem being under Israel's jurisdiction. They feared Israeli fanafre would rouse Vatican pressure to internationalize the city, although they recognized the Muslim world was against the idea. Most of the participants disliked the idea, for various reasons. Some felt it important to pass an openly declarative law that would clarify Israel's determination never to leave Jerusalem. Others, most prominently Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, the Minister of Justice who was chairing the meeting, saw no need for declarative shows, but did think Israeli control of the city should be enacted by law, not by administrative stealth. Otherwise, they warned, some wise-alecs would move to the east of the city and refuse to pay taxes; they were also worried about the legal aspects of people and institutions moving back to where they had been before 1948 with no clear legal framework. Shapira summed up his position by noting that while not everyone accepted the Israeli position that Jerusalem is Israel's capital
...and most of the foreign diplomats don't come to Jerusalem, or they come only at night but not in clear daylight, I've given up on solving that problem. I don't care if even ten years from now the French or even the American ambassador doesn't come to Jerusalem for our Independance Day celebration. I can live without them and I don't need their declaration that they accept Jerusalem as our capital. What I need to do now is to unify the city, to unify the Old City and the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus. By the way, I haven't yet had the time to go look for my father's grave on the Mount of Olives. I don't want to touch Bethlehem, which is as ancient a city as Jerusalem on its own right. If I remember correctly, the Bible mentions Bethlehem even before Jerusalem.

Menachem Begin: Yes, and Hebron is also mentioned earlier.

Shapira: Hebron, no question.

Begin: As Kiryat Arba.

Shaira: That I can't say; I'd have to look in Rashi. But the Bible was written before Rashi.
(Secular Israeli politicians today rarely have such conversations).

The committee agreed on a smaller group of its members who would formulate a law which would exert Israeli law over the eastern parts of town (the line to be defined later), in the expectation that the full cabinet would adopt it and the Knesset enact it, all within a week.
Other parts of the documentation prove that Israeli leaders were not hell-bent on "Judaizing" Jerusalem the way they are accused:

Along the way the participants discussed other aspects of controling Jerusalem. Zerach Wahrhaftig, Minister of Religious Affairs, was peeved that no-one had yet called in his experts, so that the various holy places were not yet open to the public; he was particularly irritated that a delegation of four Israeli Kadis (Muslim holy men) had tried to visit el Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1948, and had been turned away by Israeli troops. Zvi Zur, the deputy Minister of Defense, assured him they would be allowed in the following Friday. Zur and everyone else agreed that the Israeli soldier who had placed an Israeli flag on the Omar Mosque on the day of the battle shouldn't have.
Read the whole thing.

(h/t, of course, to Yaacov)