The Israel Peace Paradox

Dome of the Rock above Western Wall.

Dome of the Rock above Western Wall.

Since its re-establishment in 1948, Israel has sought to live in peace with both its Arab citizens and its Arab neighbors. Yet, there are several biblical injunctions that are seemingly in conflict with each other regarding Israel’s responsibilities to promote and seek peace, and protect itself from its enemies. [Read more…]

“Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal,” by Milton Viorst

Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal,” is ambitious in its scope, and original in its format. The history follows chapters on critical figures including Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook and Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Menachem Begin, and a final chapter “Arriving at Netanyahu.” But it is clear from the outset that this will not be a fair and balanced history. [Read more…]

Word Choices Matter: FactsOnIsrael.com

Who is the Occupier?

Who is the Occupier?

The right of the Jewish people to their homeland of Israel is greatly misunderstood. This is partly because the mainstream media has adopted the delegitimizing language of Israel’s foes, but also in part because we who are well-meaning supporters of Israel ourselves unthinkingly use these terms. Both of these practices contribute greatly to the widespread bias against Israel.

FactsOnIsrael.com, Inc., was incorporated in 2016 as a Pennsylvania non-profit entity, with a website, Facebook page, mobile app, and other activities to make clear to Jewish homeland supporters the connotations and nuances of words used in Israel-related discussion, and to encourage Israel supporters’ own use of historically-grounded terms, which reflect the Jewish people’s three-millennia connection to the land of Israel, and not Jewish-homeland delegitimizing pejoratives.

FactsOnIsrael.com website.

FactsOnIsrael.com website.

For example, “West Bank” is not a synonym for Judea and Samaria, but an antonym. The biblical names Judæa and Samaria (יְהוּדָה וְשׁוֹמְרוֹן) remained in use all through the 1800 years of continuous foreign rule between Romans’ destruction of the Jewish kingdom Judaea in CE 135 and the State of Israel’s attainment of independence in 1948 as the land of Israel’s next native state. The United Nations referred to “the hill country of Samaria and Judea,” not to “the West Bank,” in its partition resolution of 1947. “West Bank” was coined in 1950 by the invader Jordan, for the same reason the Romans renamed Judæa as “Palestine” in 135 – to disassociate the Jewish homeland from Jews.

There are a host of other historically incorrect misleading terms – e .g., misstatement of the 1949 Israel-Jordan military ceasefire lines, expressly declared in the Armistice Agreement not to be political borders as “Israel’s 1967 borders,” reference to “East” Jerusalem, which existed only during the Jordanian seizure of 1948-67, as though it had always been a separate city, not part of a single city, Jerusalem, that’s been the capital of three states, all Jewish, and has had a renewed Jewish majority since 1800’s Ottoman rule. Calling contested territories “occupied,” and Jewish communities “settlements” but Arab communities “towns and villages,” and labeling Israel “apartheid” likewise one-sidedly denigrates Israel.

The UNESCO resolution that disassociates Jerusalem from the Jewish People and calls the Temple Mount only by its Islamic name is blatantly contrary to historical evidence and is an insult to Jews and Christians. Even Islamic texts and 20th century guidebooks attest to the Jewish connection with King Solomon’s Temple.

Through explanations of toxic terms on our website; our book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-to-Z,” PowerPoint presentations to groups (some on our website), published articles, instructive videos in TED-talk fashion, and other means, we work to make clear to our own camp the critical importance of word choices, which everyone – Israel’s foes, the media, anti-Israel Jews – seems to grasp except us. We invite those seeking unfiltered facts on Israel to visit www.factsonisrael.com.

Contact: Lee S. Bender, President: 610-804-7882, lsb23@cornell.edu

When is the Media Going to Treat Israel as an Indigenous First Nation? When Jews Act Like It Is!

KotelBirkatHacohanimThe Jews are a people and Judaism is their religion. The Land of Israel is their ancestral homeland, with an unbroken history of 3,500 years. The Jews in Israel are a modern nation, having gained their independence from Great Briton in 1948.

Israeli Jews as indigenous people have native rights which they should assert. Israel has the deepest, most abundant roots of any people in the land, whether the mainstream media, UN, EU, NGOs, Arabs, Muslims, Anti-Zionists or Anti-Semites want to believe it or not.

So, where do Jews get their title deed to the Land of Israel? From the Bible, archeological proof, and even the Qu’ran. And from modern international law via the San Remo Conference in 1920, and subsequently the United Nations in 1947. Many Arab nations were also created around this time to give expression to their indigenous rights.

Interestingly, the Supreme Muslim Council — led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni, Hitler’s ally and one of the Arab world’s most vicious anti-Semites — published yearly guide books from 1924 to 1950 stating that the Temple Mount’s al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) “identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”

Despite being persecuted, tormented, conquered and dispersed from their nation-state numerous times throughout history by many, including Greeks, Romans and Ottoman Turks, there were always Jews living in the land of Israel. Israel was never ruled even one day by an Arab state.

In January 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the Levy Commission to study the legal status of Israeli building in Judea and Samaria (i.e., “the West Bank”). In sum, it found: “Our basic conclusion is that from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of ‘occupation’ as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria spanning over decades.”

However, this Commission’s work has been marginalized by the Israeli government in an appeasement to the sensitivities of the “international community” who do not recognize the sovereignty of Israel over the land. This, of course, includes the areas to which Jews are told they have no rightful claim and yet are in the cradle of Jewish history: the Old City of Jerusalem, The Temple Mount and Kotel; Hebron, where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is located; Shilo, where the Tabernacle stood; Joseph’s Tomb; and Rachel’s Tomb among many other sites.

Who are the “Palestinian Arabs?” The vast majority are not native to the land, and in fact cannot even trace their lineage back more than four or five generations. Most came from foreign regions only when the Jews started to rebuild and reclaim the land and make it flourish as an economic powerhouse starting at the turn of the 20th century. Until the formation of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in 1964, those Arabs who lived in Israel, Gaza and Judea and Samaria (i.e., the “West Bank” which was illegally annexed by Jordan in 1950) referred to themselves not as “Palestinians” but as Syrians or merely Arabs. These Arabs are little different in culture, religion and language than those from neighboring Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The term “Palestinian” to them and the world, before the re-establishment of the State of Israel, meant “Jews.” In fact, the Arabs of the Palestine Mandate already have a state: Jordan. Jordan comprises 78% of the Palestine Mandate, which was designated by the international community to be the nation-state of the Jewish People. Jordan has a population which is 2/3 Palestinian Arab. Moreover, the Arabs have rejected a state of their own, with a capital in eastern Jerusalem, the “West Bank” and Gaza six times since 1937.

Ryan Bellerose Native Canadian Zionist

Ryan Bellerose, Native Canadian Zionist.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things which should be evident to us. Ryan Bellerose is a gentile from Canada. He is of mixed Native and European ancestry. He is an advocate for indigenous people, including the original inhabitants of Canada from whom he is descended. And he is also an advocate for Jewish Israelis, the indigenous people of Israel. He is the co-founder of Calgary United with Israel. According to him: “Everything that makes Jews Jewish — their spirituality, their traditions, their culture, their language, everything — it stems from Israel.” He elaborated further (“Unassailable” in Israellycool, Feb 14, 2016):

The reason Jewish identity is so integral to this struggle is simple – the other side is claiming that Israelis are not indigenous, that they are “white colonizers” who stole “Arab ancestral lands.” Now this claim is patently ridiculous to anyone with a 3rd grade education and a commensurate reading level, but sadly often the Jewish people’s own actions and reactions suggest that they themselves are not quite decolonized enough to claim their birthright and heritage. Many of them still see their identity through a white European lens, rather than a Middle Eastern lens, and this leads not only to massive confusion but lost opportunities such as at the Temple Mount and now in Judea and Samaria.

I have documented Jewish indigenous status beyond any reasonable doubt. I have given you the language and hopefully the knowledge to defend the position, but YOU must internalize your identity. YOU must decide to decolonize and then YOU must decide what that means to YOU and your people.

It’s really simple – you are Jews, your culture is ancient, your traditions date back three thousand years and your spirituality is intertwined with both. Only you can decide what you should be keeping and what you need to lose, but ask yourself, what would my ancestors say? Would they say ‘You needed those things in diaspora, but now you are home again and it’s time to evolve and become who you are meant to be’ or would they say ‘Stay as the diaspora made you out of necessity?’ I believe you are meant to be a ‘Light unto the Nations,’ to show us the way that indigenous people are supposed to evolve while maintaining the core of your identity. You have fought so hard to stay Jewish – literally hundreds of generations have lived and died to bring you to this point. Your ancestors fought, bled and died for you to remain Jews and even more recently for you to be able to go home as Jews to your ancestral lands. They didn’t do that so that you could be the end of it. They did it so that you could be the beginning, the beginning of a brave new world, one that is unassailable.

Now be invulnerable in your identity, then be invincible. THAT is your birthright. Unassailable.

As Ryan has noted, this is about our very identity, not merely about religion and spirituality. And it is a powerful story and example to all indigenous people.

We should be proud and act proud of the nation-state of the Jewish People and all its accomplishments, as it shares with the world its humanitarianism and high-tech know-how in medicine, biotechnology, agriculture and water reclamation. Israel is our ancestral homeland. We do ourselves no favors if we don’t treat ourselves with respect and instead, act wishy-washy and laissez-faire with regard to our rights. If we forfeit the language, we forfeit our heritage and our history—and deserve to.

Note: Ryan Bellerose will be speaking in Philadelphia on June 20.

Redefining the Israel-Arab Conflict

The conflict between Israel and the Arab world must be redefined, British author Melanie Phillips told a gathering at a Maple Glen synagogue sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America.

There is no solution because the problem is misstated. The two-state solution is not axiomatic. Why are they fighting? It is not because of the absence of a Palestinian Arab state. The Arab world wishes Israel’s destruction, which is why this is the conflict that never seems to end.

Melanie Phillips Group Photo

ZOA Philadelphia ED Steve Feldman
ZOA Philadelphia Chairman Gene Shusman
British author Melanie Phillips
ZOA National President Morton Klein
ZOA Philadelphia President Lee Bender
William Wenger, ZOA host at Cong. Beth Or


[Read more…]

13 Toxic Terms Used to Describe Israel

Jerusalem_map_Green_Line

Israel’s “1967 borders” were not created in 1967, and were never considered international borders.

— by Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin

Media coverage of Israel is laced with toxic terms that delegitimize the Jewish State. The good news is that these misleading terms weren’t written in stone 3,300 years ago, but are post-Israel independence creations. The bad news is how extensively anti-Israel imbalance has permeated Mideast reporting in recent decades.

Israel’s enemies appreciate the power of anti-Israel word choices to shape public perceptions. We Jewish supporters of Israel unthinkingly use these poisoned pejoratives — “West Bank … East Jerusalem … 1967 borders … Jewish settlements … etc, etc” – ourselves. This article is a plea to individually and institutionally take the lead in challenging the media’s loaded lexicon of toxic terms, first by our own pro-Israel pundits and advocates, and then by the media and public at large.

Here’s what’s at stake: Scholars say “history is what historians say it is,” but the reality is that history is what the bulk of the world’s ordinary people believe that it is. If we forfeit the Arab-Israeli conflict’s public perception-forming word choices, we forfeit our people’s history.

So here’s a baker’s dozen of poisoned pejoratives in the mainstream media’s loaded lexicon for Arab-Israeli conflict reporting. Cease using these terms. Badger pro-Israel writers and advocates to cease using them. And then, together, let’s lean on the mainstream Western media to clean up its language of Mideast reporting.

  1. “West Bank”
    Too often, Israeli spokesmen believe that “West Bank” is merely shorthand for what we all know is really Judea and Samaria. It is not. Media claims that “Judea and Samaria” is simply the “biblical name for the West Bank” stand history on its head. The Hebrew-origin names “Judea” and “Samaria” were used through 1950, when invading [Trans]Jordan renamed them “the West Bank” in order to disassociate these areas of the Jewish homeland from Jews. This term is not shorthand for “Judea and Samaria.” Under this formulation, Jordan is the “East Bank” of the original Palestine Mandate, which was designated as the homeland for the Jewish People.
  2. “East” Jerusalem or “traditionally Arab East” Jerusalem
    From the city’s second millennium BCE origins until 1947 CE, there was no such place as “East” Jerusalem. The 19 year period between when invading Jordan captured part of the city in 1948 and was ousted by Israel in 1967 was the only time in history, except between 638 and 1099, when Arabs ruled any part of Jerusalem. Palestinian Arabs have not ruled an inch of it for one day in history. In the past three millennia, Jerusalem has been the capital of three native states – Judah, Judæa, and modern Israel – and has had a renewed Jewish majority since 19th century Turkish rule. Eastern Jerusalem is just an area of the city that Israel reunified in 1967. Use the term “eastern” Jerusalem, to designate that it is a neighborhood of an undivided city. Of course, this is the area at the heart of the Jewish ancient homeland, the Old City and Temple Mount.
  3. “The UN sought to create Jewish and Palestinian States”
    A benchmark clearly revealing the extent of this language deterioration is the United Nations’ own Palestine partition resolution of 1947. The U.N. there didn’t refer to “the West Bank,” but to “the hill country of Samaria and Judea,” the Hebrew-origin names by which the land of Israel’s hill country had been known from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. The U.N. didn’t attempt to divide Palestine between Jews and “Palestinians,” as the media sometimes puts it – akin to dividing Pennsylvania between Jews and “Pennsylvanians,” but, in terms used over and over, into “the Jewish State” and “the Arab State.” And that 1947 U.N. resolution didn’t call Palestinian Arabs “the Palestinians,” but referred to Palestine’s Jews and its Arabs as “the two Palestinian peoples.”
  4. 1948 was the “Creation and Founding of Israel” and “The War that Followed Israel’s Creation”
    Israel wasn’t “created” and “founded” in 1948, artificially and out-of-the-blue. Israel attained independence that year as the natural fruition into renewed statehood of a people that had twice before been independent in that land, after centuries of hard work to re-establish a Jewish State in this historic homeland. Israel did not choose its 1948 War of Independence (not “of Creation and Founding”). War was forced upon it by the Arab states, which rejected UN partition and tried to push the Jews of Israel into the sea. It was a homeland Jewish army, Haganah, which became the IDF, that threw back that multi-nation foreign invasion.
  5. “Palestinian Militants”
    No they’re not. They’re mass murderers and terrorists who prey on civilians using rockets,missiles, mortars, bombs, guns, knives, car rammings , etc.
  6. “Palestinian Refugees of the war that followed Israel’s creation”
    The invading Arab states bent on Israel’s destruction encouraged the Arabs (472,000 – 650,000) who fled tiny Israel to leave temporarily while they drove the Jews into the sea. The media constantly ignores the indigenous Middle Eastern Jews (c 850,000) who were expelled from vast Arab lands and Iran, with barely the clothes on their backs and were forced to leave behind property and businesses for which they were never compensated. Many had family roots dating back hundreds, even thousands of years. That Israel absorbed the bulk of these Jews, while Arab “hosts,” including in Arab-administered areas of Palestine itself, isolate the Arab refugees’ descendants in Western-supported “refugee camps” does not convert the Arab-Israeli conflict’s two-sided refugee issue into a “Palestinian” refugee issue. Had the Arabs accepted the UN partition plan that included a western Palestine Arab state, instead of conducting war to destroy the Jewish one, there would have been no “Palestinian” refugees. If there is going to ever be any settlement of this issue, the plight of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands must be taken into account.
  7. Israel “Seized” Arab Lands in 1967
    It did not. The 1967 war, like its predecessors, was a defensive war forced upon Israel. Israel’s neighbors did not want to compromise; they simply wanted to destroy the Jewish State. The newly obtained Israeli territory was meant to provide a security barrier and ensure this could never happen. Moreover, these parts of the Palestine Mandate were not “Arab lands” to which Jews had no historical or legal claim.
  8. Israel’s “1967 Borders”
    The 1949 Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement expressly declared the “green line” it drew between the two sides’ ceasefire positions as a military ceasefire line only, without prejudice to either side’s political border claims. The post-’67 war UN Resolution 242 pointedly did not demand Israel retreat back to the 1949 ceasefire lines.
  9. “Israeli-Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem” and Gaza
    That the media insistently calls Israeli presence in the heart of Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria “Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” does not make it so. Israel has strong legal grounds for its presence there. “Occupation” is an international law term referencing foreign presence in the sovereign territory of another state. The land of Israel’s last sovereign native state before modern Israel was Jewish Judæa. The land ratio of Arab lands to Israel is 625-1, and 22 states to one. The vast majority of Arabs in Judea and Samaria are ruled by their own government, the Palestinian Authority. Gaza is also bordered by Egypt, and not one Jew or Israeli lives in that territory, which is ruled by Hamas.
  10. “Jewish Settlers and Settlements” vs. “Palestinian Residents of Neighborhoods and Villages”
    A favorite media news article contrast is referencing in the same sentence to “Jewish settlers” in “settlements” and “Palestinian residents” of nearby “neighborhoods” and “villages.” Jews are not alien “settlers” in a Jerusalem that has had a Jewish majority since 19th century times or in the Jewish historical heartland of Judea and Samaria. Where Jews live are towns, villages and cities, not “Jewish settlements.” Palestinian Authority President Abbas has repeatedly stated that no Jews will be permitted to live in a future Palestinian state on these lands: that is racist and apartheid. Yet, Arabs live in Israel and participate in its democratic culture, serve in the Knesset, Supreme Court and other institutions, enjoying the same rights as citizens as all Israelis, including health care and education.
  11. Israel’s insistence on “Jewish State” recognition is “a new stumbling block”
    New since Moses’ time! The Jewish homeland of Israel, including continuous homeland-claiming Jewish presence, has always been central to Jewish peoplehood. In 1947, British Foreign Secretary Bevin told Parliament that the Jews’ “essential point of principle” was a sovereign Jewish Palestine state (and that Arabs’ “essential point of principle” was to prevent it). Prime Minister Netanyahu has enunciated a fair formula: Israel is prepared to recognized a Palestinian Arab state if they will recognize that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People.
  12. “Palestinians accept and Israel rejects a Two-State Solution”
    Wrong on both counts. Both the U.S. and Israel define “Two States” as two states for two peoples – Jews and Arabs. The Arabs insistently reject two states for two peoples. Many Israelis, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, support that plan – conditioned on an end to Palestinian terror. The Arabs continuously and consistently deny Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish People, no matter where its borders are drawn. The Arabs have rejected a state of their own, living side-by-side with Israel, six times since 1937.
  13. “The Palestinians”
    The United Nations’ 1947 partition resolution called Palestine’s Arabs and Jews “the two Palestinian peoples.” Nothing is more self-delegitimizing and counter-productive to achieving peace based on Arab recognition of Jews’ right to be there, than that Jews should go around calling Palestinian Arabs “The Palestinians.” In 1947, the U.N. called Palestine’s Jews and its Arabs “the two Palestinian peoples,” and even the Associated Press has acknowledged that during the Mandate Muslims, Christians and Jews living there were all called Palestinians. Arabs living there abhorred being called “Palestinians” as that term was commonly meant for the Jews. The P.L.O. was not even formed until 1964. Palestinian Arabs have no distinguishing language, religion, or culture from neighboring Arabs, and have never been sovereign in Palestine, whereas the Jews, with a presence stretching back three millennia, have had three states there, all Jerusalem-based. During the 1948-67 period that Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria, Arabs could have established a state in that territory. But that was not their intention, which was to destroy Israel. Instead, always refer to them as “Palestinian Arabs.”

Finally, and very significantly, it is our duty collectively and individually to be ambassadors for the truth, and to help win our future by helping win back our past. It should go without saying that the safety and security of the Jewish community is bound inextricably to a strong Israel. Emphasize Israel’s positives as it strives to engage in tikkun olam (repairing the world). Israel is “the Start Up Nation,” a small nation that has made a huge difference, sharing with the world its accomplishments and inventions in high-tech, bio-medicine, and agriculture. It engages in humanitarian missions worldwide as a first responder, is a beacon of Judeo-Christian values, is a democracy that respects civil rights, women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights, is an asset and ally of the U.S., and an oasis in a hostile, totalitarian Arab desert. These, in short, reflect our Jewish values. Remember: if you forfeit the language, you forfeit our heritage and history.

Lee S. Bender, co-President of ZOA’s Greater Philadelphia District, and Jerome R. Verlin, a recent vice-president, are co-authors of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-to-Z, Pavilion Press (Philadelphia) 2012. They have written numerous articles and are launching a Facts on Israel website and app devoted to countering anti-Israel media bias.

Missiles Fired at Israel Set Back World Progress

At only 67, Israel is the most reliable, capable, predictable, democratic and unreserved ally of the U.S. This is in direct contrast to the violent, unreliable, turbulent and generally anti-U.S. Arab street.

Amb. (retired) Yoram Ettinger recently wrote about Israel’s importance to the U.S. in his blog:

Israel is the most battle-tested, cost-effective laboratory of the US defense industries, sharing with US manufacturers thousands of upgrades and modifications, enhancing the US global competitiveness, exports, research and development and employment. Israel is to the US defense industry what triple-A tenants are to shopping malls: increasing value and drawing clients – a mega-billion dollar bonanza. (April 22, 2015)

Some 280 global high tech giants (mostly from the US) have given kudos to Israel’s economy, in general, and Israel’s brain power, in particular, by establishing research and development (R&D) centers in the Startup Nation. Thus, Intel operates four R&D centers, Microsoft – 2, IBM – 3 R&D centers, etc. (June 5, 2015)

[Read more…]

Book Review: Islamo-Fascism and the War Against the Jews

Islamo-Fascism and the War Against the Jews: The Black Book of the American Left Volume 4 is indispensable for anyone who cares about the so-called “War on Terror” and identifying who the real enemies are of the United States and Israel — and nothing less than our Judeo-Christian culture and values are at stake. David Horowitz is an unfairly maligned writer by the mainstream press, liberal-leftists and academia in particular, but he is fearless, daring to go right into the “belly of the beast” and speak at dozens of college campuses about topics that opponents cannot refute on the merits, resorting to name-calling, and lying about his facts, sentiments and record instead.

This quick reading volume, which contains many short chapters and speeches on Islamo-Fascism, The Middle East Conflict, and the Campus War on the Jews, will horrify readers unfamiliar with how academia perverts the very essence of what the university should stand for: freedom of expression and the open market of ideas. Instead, Horowitz shows how he is consistently vilified and misportrayed- to the point he needs armed guards to even enter assembly halls because of the threatening behavior of Muslim student groups in particular, and even some Jewish ones, who only want to shut him down and brand him a racist hater. Why? Because he challenged them to confront the jihadists (he is not afraid to use proper identifiers), who are in a disturbing alliance with anti-American radicals, who cannot stand his use of concepts to counter their empty cries of “Islamophobia” when he points to Islam’s oppression of women and homosexuals, its true goals of Islamizing the world, creating dhimmis (second class citizens) of Jews and Christians, and ultimately to destroy our freedoms and democracy. Their plans to destroy Israel and deny Jews a sovereign state of their own are shown as naked anti-Semitism. And Israel is merely the canary in the coal mine.

Horowitz is a rare, brave and original thinker, and unlike most of his critics, he has the street “cred” to prove it: he himself became a leading Marxist “theorist” in the early 1960s and one of the founders of the New Left. It was after Vietnam, however, that he began to re-examine the damage these views had inflicted upon the country and realized that the Left had left him. But you cannot afford to leave him. This book deserves a serious read by any honest broker.

The Most Significantly Forgotten Component of Israeli-Arab Relations

Mount of Olives cemetery

The Mount of Olives cemetery.

The Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim in Hebrew) in Jerusalem has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years.

Approximately 150,000 Jewish people are buried there, including some of the greatest Jewish leaders, prophets, and rabbis of all time. Thus the Mount of Olives is by far the largest and most important Jewish cemetery in the world.

The Mount of Olives is mentioned in the visions of the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah. Jewish tradition relates that the beginning of the resurrection process will take place on the Mount at the end of days. Many Jews believe that those buried on the mount will be the first to arise for everlasting life with the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews of Jerusalem customarily sent soil from the Mount of Olives in bags to Jewish communities in the Diaspora, and Jews outside of Israel would spread this soil on the graves of their beloved. In sum, it has been a religious and historic shrine for Israel and the Jewish People for thousands of years.

Jeff Daube, director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Israel co-chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim, said that the “Jewish significance of the Mount of Olives cannot be overstated”:

It is the greatest repository of Jewish history in the world, represented by the leaders and scholars buried in its more than 3,000-year-old cemetery:

  • three ancient Jewish prophets and a prophetess;
  • numerous sages;
  • chief rabbis of Israel;
  • an Israeli prime minister;
  • many Zionist builders and defenders of Israel, such as the founder of Hadassah Hospital; and
  • illustrious Jews and countless others from around the world whose final request had been to be buried in Judaism’s holiest cemetery.

It sits directly across from Judaism’s holiest site over all, the Temple Mount.

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The graves of Israel’s former prime minister, Menachem Begin (right) and his wife Alizah.

 

The Mount of Olives is also central to Christians: Several key events in the life of Jesus as related in the Gospels took place there, including the description in the Book of Acts, as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

Because of its association with both Jesus and Mary, the Mount has been a site of Christian worship since ancient times and is today a major site of pilgrimage for the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. It is home to significant sites, including Church of All Nations, Garden of Gethsemane and the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalene.

However, in addition to being a functioning cemetery and site of pilgrimages, the Mount of Olives is also a place where daily Palestinian Arabs commit physical attacks, rock throwings and firebombings, terrorizing Jewish mourners and visitors, impeding burials thus forcing relatives to miss the funerals for their loved ones, and destroy gravesites.

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Reps. Eliot Engel (left) and Jerrold Nadler (both D-NY) holding a stone thrown at them.

 

The Mount of Olives is at the heart of the dispute for Israeli sovereignty, as well as the Jewish People’s tradition, history and most sacred real estate. The Mount and cemetery are involved in the territorial dispute between Israel and the Muslim nations as well as the Palestinian-Arabs, because Islam rejects Jewish sovereignty and Arabism rejects Zionism. Moreover, the Palestinian Arabs have demanded that Israel withdraw from the Mount of Olives, or give up control over it, claiming it is part of their “occupied territory.”

The Mount of Olives is one of three peaks of a mountain ridge that extends 2.2 miles just east of and adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City including the Temple Mount, and across the Kidron Valley, in the area called the Valley of Josaphat. Mount Scopus is the northern peak at 2,710 feet, Mount of Corruption is the southern peak at 2,451 feet. The ridge acts as a watershed, and its eastern side is the beginning of the Judean Desert. It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. The southern part of the Mount was the necropolis of the ancient Judean kingdom.

cemetery-16Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan illegally controlled eastern Jerusalem, Jewish access and the continued burial of Jews on the Mount was prohibited, despite Jordan’s explicit commitment in the Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Agreement of 1949. Moreover, the Jordanians destroyed and desecrated the cemetery, and 38,000 of its tombstones and graves were smashed and/or used for making of latrines and roadways.

Since Israel reunified Jerusalem in 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War, burial ceremonies have renewed and large sections of the cemetery were rehabilitated. Israel also guarantees free access to all for religious purposes: something the Muslim-dominated Arabs did not do.

Q: What is the Mount of Olives’ significance for Israeli sovereignty?

JD: While residents of Jerusalem are entitled to safe and secure access in all areas of sovereign Jerusalem, depriving Jews on the Mount has special significance. Despite the fact that the Mount had fallen behind the 1948 ceasefire line, the April 1949 Israel-Jordan Rhodes Armistice Agreement recognized its special status by stipulating, in Article VIII(2), that not only should visitors to the cemetery be accorded free access, but use of the cemetery for burial purposes should continue in force. The exact opposite happened, as we know, under the Jordanian occupation, which also permitted the desecration of tens of thousands of graves.

Given the realities of the Mount under Jordanian occupation, post-1949 it needs to have Israeli sovereignty asserted in order to prevent a repeat of the depredations. Moreover, from the point of view of geostrategic importance, Israeli control is needed to forestall Palestinian Arab attempts to form a north-south corridor of massive illegal construction from Ramallah to Bethlehem.

With facts on the ground, which the Arabs are steadily pursuing virtually unchecked, they could severely undermine Israeli sovereignty not only in eastern Jerusalem, but extending well beyond to the Adumim bloc further east. The Jewish presence on the Mount, together with the adjacent City of David and Emek Tzurim National Park, constitute a natural barrier to those efforts.

Kahlberg stoning.1

A mourner injured after rock-throwing attack.

Q: What is the security situation: Is the Mount being protected from Arab vandals and terrorists sufficiently?

JD: The security situation has improved — at least as I write, though conditions as we have observed are in continual flux. There are more police, both uniformed and undercover, than in years past. The Zionist Organization of America’s Israel Office has been instrumental in that process.

Actually, we’ve accomplished quite a bit more, having worked with the cabinet secretary and director general in the Prime Minister’s Office on a strategy to effect greater well-being for Arab residents, and security for Jews, throughout all of eastern Jerusalem. Known as The Mandelblit Plan, this new carrot and stick approach, by means of a 300 million shekel budget addition, may be responsible for certain changes we’ve already observed.

During the summer and into September, October and early November, the situation had been especially horrific. Now, with the increased police presence, the number of attacks is down to five or six per day. This still is too high. Many of the attacks involved stonings, firebombings or shooting fireworks. Kindergartens and burial processions are sometimes the targets. Luckily nobody has been killed, but Jewish visitors have been seriously injured; if not for the lucky breaks, the outcomes would have been far worse. We continue to advocate for a policy of zero tolerance.

The violence, as described, relates directly to the sovereignty issue again. The Arab agenda is, “If we can terrorize visitors and residents so they no longer frequent an area, we can wrest control by default. If we can wrest control, we can undermine sovereignty.”

Q: Are Jews visiting the area safe?

JD: That depends. A visitor is relatively safe in the area facing the Temple Mount. If you venture to the back two or three areas, which we sadly call the Wild East, you should either go with your own protection – many are carrying pepper spray if not licensed guns – or with an armed escort provided by the government.

Q: Are graves being desecrated?

JD: They were being badly desecrated until 2013. With the installation of 137 security cameras and a police substation, both of which we had lobbied hard for, we thought we had the desecration under control. There was a marked decrease in 2013 going into the first half of 2014.

As eastern Jerusalem was roiling during the Gaza war, and subsequently into the Fall of 2014, we also saw a sharp uptick in smashed and defaced gravestones. Not coincidentally, the desecration was accompanied by the toppling or burning of cameras.

Q: What role does or has the Mount been playing with regard to any “peace process” negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs?

JD: With Israel having agreed to make Jerusalem’s disposition a subject of final status negotiations, per the Oslo Accords, it has become more difficult in the interim to assert sovereignty, and take the steps needed via the rule of law.

Another example of this is the de facto-permitted illegal construction of a Mount mosque extension abutting the cemetery, Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s grave in particular, despite a Jerusalem municipality stop-work order. The Israel Office had been monitoring and complaining about that over a protracted period, but the situation has reached the point of being too late to oppose further.

The Holy Basin, with the Mount spanning its eastern rim, is especially exposed to microscopic international scrutiny. Every action, or inaction, attracts international censure and sanctions. In order to regain control and restore order, Israel must declare that since the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in material breach of the very same Oslo Accords — signed agreements that were witnessed by the U.S., European Union, Russia et al — it will once again resume full assertion of sovereignty in all of Jerusalem.

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Q: What can American Jews do to help secure the Mount and protect it?

JD:

  • Join ZOA Israel’s efforts in partnership with the ICPHH (International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim.
  • Contact U.S. government officials to take steps if an American is killed or seriously injured. U.S. law mandates official follow-up, including prosecution of perpetrators.
  • Contact the Government of Israel to let its representatives know you are concerned about the violence, along with the desecration and vandalism. You might imply that increased personal security on the Mount would have a salutary effect on tourism.
  • Contact ZOA’s office in Israel if you want to help us create a ferment of Diaspora opposition to the status quo. After all, the Mount is a part of the entire Jewish people’s heritage. We, in Israel, are merely your trustees.

Q: Is any legislation pending in the U.S.? Israel? The U.N.?

JD: In Israel, we arranged for the translation into Hebrew of an Illinois statute on cemeteries desecration and a Florida statute on rock throwing (researched by ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice head, Susan Tuchman), and shopped both, more stringent approaches, around the Knesset.

In addition, we initiated many a discussion about penalties for parents when the culprits are under age, and minimum sentencing for older culprits, to strengthen the deterrence factor. All was received favorably. However, government-sponsored legislation waiting in the pipeline was derailed with the disbanding of the Knesset, so we’ll have to revisit that after the elections.

We are very close to Member of Knesset Miri Regev, who as chair of the Knesset Interior Committee was spearheading efforts along the lines we proposed. Her high standing within Likud pretty much assures she’ll be back in that role soon. We also are already discussing parallel legal strategies with new candidates on the scene.

ZOA Israel has been working on the desecration issue with U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY). Her Protect Cemeteries Act, which we had helped bring to the attention of Meng’s colleagues to help it pass, has applicability to this particular problem. The implications of that bill, now a law, for penalizing any country that fails to protect its cemeteries is connected in a thorny way to the Jerusalem sovereignty question.

My office is also working with U.S. State Department officials to get the attacks entered into relevant reports for 2014 (on Terrorism and Human Rights Practices), which we had achieved with State’s countries report on International Religious Freedom in previous years. We’re pursuing a course of getting the attacks labeled as anti-Semitism, as well, because Christian groups on the Mount tend not to be victimized the way Jews are.

While not a matter of legislation, we are asking State Department’s Consul General and officials to elicit condemnations from local Arab leaders and from the PA itself, both of whose incitement is highly correlated with the violence and desecration.

LB: We must all treat the Mount of Olives with the reverence and importance it deserves — strategically and religiously — or ignore it and give it up at our peril.

Stopping Radical Islam: An American Muslim’s View

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser gave a fascinating and encouraging talk on a cold, rainy Tuesday evening before an audience of 120 at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. “Stopping Radical Islam: An American Muslim’s View” opened with introductions by the Israel Consul General of the Mid-Atlantic region, Yaron Sideman, and StandWithUs directors Ferne Hassan and Yossi Puder. Internationally recognized political Islam expert Dr. Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which advocates for the preservation of the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution and counters the ideology that fuels radical Islamists. He is the author of the book A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faithand has been featured in several documentaries, including Islam v. Islamists, and The Third Jihad. He has been published extensively in national news media and appeared on national broadcast and cable TV and syndicated radio programs. He regularly testifies and briefs congressional staff members and caucuses on the threat of radicalization within the American Muslim community.

Islam v. IslamistsThe Third Jihad

Dr. Jasser’s family story is instructive. He spoke of being a first generation American of Muslim Syrian parents who fled the oppressive Baath regime in the 1960s. His family believed in the ideals of this country, where they could practice their faith freely. He was raised to serve and consequently went on to earn his medical degree with a U.S. Navy scholarship. He was the past president of the Arizona Medical Association, and now teaches and advises on medical ethics. He proudly wears a U.S. flag pin on his jacket lapel.
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