Weeks of protests and clashes in Jerusalem, missile strikes from Gaza and retaliations from Israel, and spasms of ethnic violence throughout the country led Israel to the brink of war.
Tensions first erupted in the Holy City. In the days leading up to the conflagration, while Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day to mark Jewish control of the city since 1967, Palestinians protested Israeli legal proceedings to evict several families in East Jerusalem. Clashes ensued, including inside the holy al-Aksa mosque.
To those who live in Israel, every time the violence erupts it’s more of the same, albeit soul-crushing.
Jerusalem has been one of the world’s most volatile and most treasured cities for some 2,000 years. The present conflict over its control is part of that long history. The city will, of course, be a focal point of any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Agreement on its status has been put off time and again by both sides, shoved off to some “later date.” It’s increasingly clear that it cannot be put off much longer, not without more bloodshed.
Since taking control of the Old City after the Six-Day War, Israel has, for the most part, administered Jerusalem fairly, allowing safe access to holy sites for Muslims and Christians. That’s why scenes of violence at al-Aksa were so jarring.
Some Israelis assert claim to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which Jordan occupied after the 1948 war. As Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King said, if “someone was squatting on your property, wouldn’t you have the right to take him from your property?”
The problem is, asserting claims to regions that fell into Arab hands in 1948 is a slippery slope and a dangerous precedent, as are Palestinian claims to land that has been part of Israel since 1948. Both present serious obstacles to peace.
Violent extremists in Hamas present an equal or greater obstacle. In the face of rocket attacks from Gaza, launched by forces bent not on “reclaiming” land but destroying Israel, Israel has every right, and every responsibility, to defend itself. That is beyond question, and beyond qualification.
Jews have a strong historical claim to Jerusalem; the ties that connect us to the city are ancient and spiritually resonant. When we were once again able to pray at the Western Wall in 1967, it was not only a homecoming but a reunification with our origin story.
Unfortunately, however, there is an extreme nationalist faction in Israel, supported by some Jews in the diaspora, that celebrates Palestinian suffering and sees compromise as weakness.
Ultimately, the Old City of Jerusalem will have to be shared peacefully.
Meanwhile, we support Israel in its struggle to defend its people, we mourn the casualties among Palestinians as well as Israelis — and we are relieved by the cease-fire.