Why — and whose — Jerusalem?

Several covens of Jew-haters, ranging from the Middle East to the more troubled and confused of American campuses like those at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), recently marked their “Nakba Day” to protest that a Jewish country ever was created in the Middle East. Today, Jerusalem Day, is my chance to respond by affirming the Jewish claim to an eternally undivided capital city of United Jerusalem.

Ever since I learned to pray, I learned about Jerusalem. In time, as a little boy, I learned to pray three times every day in my “Sh’moneh Esrai” prayer (the central prayer in every formal Jewish service) for the return to and the rebuilding of united Jerusalem. It is the same prayer that my paternal grandfather recited in the late 1800s in Southern Poland and that my maternal grandfather recited then in Russia. The same prayer that their grandparents recited before them, and theirs before them. It did not matter to them that it seemed hopeless in those centuries, long before anyone even had fabricated the apocryphal notion of a “Palestinian People,” that Jews ever might return to the land of Israel, which Rome had re-named “Palestine.” It did not matter that the notion of Jews ever returning to hoist a Star of David atop a hill in Jerusalem was a craziness relegated to children and the ostensibly insane. They prayed fervently for the Jewish return to Jerusalem all the same. It had been handed down to them to pray for Return from the day the Romans had exiled the Jews, and my grandparents and parents handed it down to me, as I have handed it to my son who spent this year studying something about Judaism while based at a seminary in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem which Israel liberated on this day in 1967.

Since childhood, every time I have eaten a meal with bread, I have recited prayers of thanks for the food — and for the rebuilding of united Jerusalem. If I eat a cookie, I follow with a prayer of thanks — and for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Nor am I unique. For 2,000 years and more, Jews throughout the world have cried for Jerusalem and laughed for her. As much as I deeply love America, am truly devoted to her as an American patriot who takes immense pride in the American exceptionalism that has made the United States the greatest country inthe world, living out her Manifest Destiny, I have never met an American who can tell me the day on the calendar that the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. Indeed, does anyone deny that more than 99 percent of Americans have no idea that the White House ever was set on fire? Americans have no idea that the Madisons had to escape with their lives and with what little they could salvage — some Gilbert Stuart paintings, some basic art. No ice cream. My fellow Americans have no idea that the White House was burned down in war.

But I know that it was on the Ninth Day of Av that the Babylonians burned the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it was the very same day that Rome burned the rebuilt Temple. I know it. My son knows it. A dear friend of mine, an evangelical pastor, knows it. It was taught to me from childhood. It is in the Bible, the day that Jerusalem burned and the Temple was set ablaze.

This is where honesty begins in any dialogue between and among the parties to the Middle Eastern conflicts. It may sound militaristic to some, strangely uncompromising to others. Too bad. Really, with all due respect — just too bad. My claim to Jerusalem is eternal and unyielding — a claim to a Jerusalem indivisible and united — because no one in my family line, going back to the beginning of the exile two thousand years ago, ever yielded our claim to Jerusalem.

We were driven out by Babylonians, and we outlasted them and returned. We were exiled by Romans, and we outlasted them and returned. They built an Arch of Titus in Italy to glorify in taking down our Jerusalem, and we have outlived Titus and Titus’s family line and their whole empire. And we have returned.

For two thousand years, we have married and have broken glasses under wedding canopies all over the world to remember that Jerusalem once had fallen, the Temple shattered, even as we also recited a blessing at every such wedding moments earlier under that same canopy affirming an undying and unyielding expectation that the day yet would come when, once again, the sounds of Jewish joy and gladness, the celebrations of Jewish grooms and brides, again would be heard in Jerusalem, her outskirts, and throughout the cities of Judea throughout the West Bank (long before the ridiculous sobriquet “West Bank” was fabricated).

No one compromises on capital cities. America moved her capital around — from Philadelphia to New York to Washington, D.C. — but she never offered to split it with George III or Jefferson Davis. Yes, of course, our Presidents had enough respect and common decency not to talk during the playing of “G0d Save the King.” But he was not going to get one inch of our capital city, not even if he did burn down the White House, because our flag continued to wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave. No one agrees to divide a capital city. No one offers to split Damascus or Tripoli or Cairo or Baghdad for peace. No one offers to split Paris or London or Madrid or Prague.

Even the experience with Berlin is instructive. The world forced onto the Germans the division of Berlin — veritably shoved it right down their throats. It barely lasted half a century before the wall came down and the city was reunited. No one divides capital cities. In the end, Mr. Gorbachev had to stand by helplessly as the people of Germany, tired of waiting, tore down that wall.

We owe no apologies, no explanations. From 1948 to 1967, King Hussein of Jordan wrongfully occupied East Jerusalem. He made no effort to treat it as New Amman. Nor did any Arab ruler in all of history before him ever act to make Jerusalem a capital. When the Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964 — three full years before the 1967 Six Day War — to destroy Israel, all of the “West Bank” was in Arab hands, and Ahmed Shukairy or his successor, Yasser Arafat, could have acted to establish Jerusalem as a capital city. They never bothered. Rather, they wanted Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Jerusalem simply was not and never has been all that central to Arabia or Islam. Rather, Muslim prayers are directed toward Mecca and Medina. By contrast, praying from my locus in Southern California, I face east toward Jerusalem.

There is a corruption in the dialogue when I am challenged to speak “honestly” in defense of my right to see Jerusalem remain the eternally indivisible capital of Israel and the Jewish People. The Jews came back to Jerusalem with no less right than did America march to Washington, D.C.

If there is something wrong with entering a city by liberating it in battle, then it was equally wrong for any Arab conqueror before Israel to have entered the same city. But if a military victory places Arab negotiators at the table and drives out the British, who drove out the Ottomans, then a Jewish army’s successful victory in a war of self-defense trumps all other secular-based claims to “right over might.” Because, despite any revisionist attempt to rewrite what happened in 1967, the fact remains that Israel was not looking to expand her borders but to live.

As it happened, the Arab world just could not leave good enough alone in 1967. Gamal Nasser, president of Egypt, had to commit an act of war and blockade the Straits of Tiran. He had to ask the United Nations to remove its peacekeeping force from the Sinai so that he could invade Israel and drive the Jews into the Sea. The U.N. just had to comply instantly without batting an eyelash. Syria just had to join him. King Hussein of Jordan just had to send his armies to join them, too. They could not just leave good enough alone. They had to create a three-front war, seeing an Israel that was only nine miles wide, smaller than New Jersey. They just could not resist the ongoing temptation to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. And Israel also could not resist — the temptation to live.

Today is a day to recall how the contemporary dialogue over Jerusalem even came to begin. It began because Jews and our institutions and landmarks had been driven out by marauders. And the Arab world, primarily the Jordanians, aimed to eradicate what was left. There were synagogues in Jerusalem — the Ramban Synagogue, the Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, shuls all over East Jerusalem — that Jordan razed to the ground when they occupied the land from 1948-1967. They converted one venerable synagogue to a cheese factory, another to a stall for goats. They uprooted tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used them for pavement, for construction, even for latrines. They banned us from the Western Wall. They illegally occupied Jerusalem during those 19 years, and America never recognized their right to be there.

Jerusalem belonged to my ancestors. It belonged to my grandparents in Poland and Russia. It belongs to me. It belongs to my kids and theirs. Neither Barack Obama nor his Jewish donors nor his lemming Jewish voters can change that. Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, could not change that. Benjamin Netanyahu, even if he were to shift 180 degrees tomorrow, cannot change that. Hillary Clinton’s demands that Jews freeze all Jewish construction in Jerusalem cannot change that. Nothing can change that. Jerusalem belongs to those who never abandoned her through two thousand years in exile.

Nor can a United Nations vote in September change that. In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly foolishly and hatefully voted to ban Zionism, calling it “racism.” Algerians who persecute Berbers, Egyptians who persecute Coptic Christians, Shiites who persecute Sunnis, Sunnis who persecute Shiites, Lebanese who persecute Maronite Christians, Saudis who won’t even let women drive a car — all agreed: Zionism had to be banned. One man who sat in the chamber that day, with his pencil raised maximally above his upwardly outstretched arm to vote in favor of Zionism, is the only one who is remembered today, thirty six years later. All the others, aside from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have evaporated from history and memory — even as half a million more Jews now live in Judea and Samaria today than did then. Thirty-six years from now, most of those voting in the United Nations this September also will be gone, evaporated, while united-and-undivided Jewish Jerusalem and its greater environs, including those cities of Judea and Samaria, will continue to grow to be more Jewishly populous than ever.

And that’s the way it is as I celebrate this 44th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem.