Several years ago, when Arab violence and political pressure caused the closing of Rachel's Tomb to visitors on her yahrzeit except for one bus on which I was privileged to be a passenger, a reporter asked how I felt about this limitation, since Rachel's Tomb was supposed to be ours again after the Six Day War. I answered that Rachel's Tomb was always ours, although not always in our hands, but now that it is, we have to be sure that this fact is obvious to all, because a sovereign state's viability is measured by the actions that attest to that sovereignty.
Several days ago, while on a highly informative journalist and public opinion makers' tour of Jerusalem under the auspices of the Sovereignty Movement, those words echoed and re-echoed in my head. After a fascinating and detailed overview at the Mount Scopus lookout and another observation point overlooking the Temple Mount and the entire city with Middle East expert Baruch Yedid, followed by an eye-opening session with Keep Jerusalem NGO head Chaim Silberstein in the Old City, we entered a courtyard in the misnamed Moslem Quarter (once the Western Wall Quarter where close to 1000 Jewish families lived until Arab pogroms caused them to flee).
Suddenly, we were confronted by hostile Arabs – teens and adults, both male and female- shouting, cursing and threatening, yelling at us to get out. We responded, a fracas ensued, police officers arrived, quiet was restored. And I wondered…
Yes, Jerusalem is ours, as is Rachel's Tomb, from time immemorial, but is it really in our hands today? How are we to measure that? What are the dangers, what should Israel be doing about them, and how are we ensuring that the city we prayed towards for 2000 years remains in our hands? Feelings today are not enough, we need governance and facts on the ground.
We won the 1967 war, but we need constant vigilance to protect its results. Isaiah's prophecy did not allude to soldiers alone when he said: "On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night, they shall never be silent (62,6)." Jerusalem today faces manifold dangers from every direction, day and night, and they are revealed in demographics, housing. land acquisition and subversive politics.
We, too, must not be silent
In 1967, there were about 70,000 Arabs in Jerusalem, today there are 380,000. The Arab birthrate, now declining, is only one of the factors in this population growth.
In the Old City and East Jerusalem, there are 227,000 Jews and 354000 Arabs.
The ratio of Jewish to Arab population then was 74-26% in 1967, today it is 60-40%.
Over the last 25 years, 150,000 Jews have left the city.
While much of the city's Arab population lacks Israeli citizenship and cannot vote in national elections, if they are residents they can vote in municipal elections, meaning that if nothing is done to change the creeping demographic change, Jerusalem could eventually find itself with a democratically elected Arab mayor.
While Israel does not have official data on illegal Arab building in the city, according to estimates, there are close to 25 thousand illegal Arab houses in Jerusalem. That does not include those built on privately owned land. Of the up to 1500 illegal buildings built each year, Israel destroys only 83 buildings on average. There are close to 2000 post-appeal decisions to destroy specific buildings waiting to be implemented.
The bright spot: Jerusalem has embarked on a massive campaign to increase housing availability in order to attract more residents (and business), and is in the midst of building entire areas of high rise apartment buildings all over the city. While this is making residents' lives a survival course as there is barely a street that is not torn up for construction, it is also changing the skyline and upsetting those who wish to retain the special historic atmosphere of the city in every older neighborhood.
Historic necessity, however, trumps nostalgia, and we hope the planners are cognizant of the difference between rebuilding an old, dilapidated but beloved neighborhood such as Kiryat Yovel and preserving one that has a biblical or Zionist story to tell future generations. (See this clip from Kan TV, which although in Hebrew, is enlightening visually https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuHZg4d83PU)
The PA has a plan, known as Plan 2030. Its objective? The gradual takeover of Jerusalem - and not only.
Standing at the Mount Scopus lookout, you can clearly see the goal of Arab construction in the outskirts of Jerusalem - in dark red on the map below – the creation of a contiguous strip of Arab construction, from Ramallah to Bethlehem, effectively blocking Jerusalem's expansion to the east. The "Lana" – meaning "ours" – neighborhood is already under construction and the PA plans another 7 such neighborhoods adjoining Jerusalem.
Outside Jerusalem, the PA's 2030 Plan includes the “City of the Moon”, funded by the EU et al, which is to be the largest tourism initiative in the Middle East and is also intended to stop the spread and expansion of Israeli communities outside Jerusalem towards Jericho. In a decision by the PA government, this area is defined as highest priority.
Illegal Khan al-Ahmar near Maale Adumim, whose destruction is postponed again and again by successive Israeli governments, though demanded by the Israeli courts, is called “the gates of Jerusalem" by the PA.
Concerned Israeli experts, like Chaim Silberstein, also have a plan, but the difference is that the government has yet to agree to it and set it in motion. The answer to a Jewish majority in Jerusalem lies in construction and drawing Israelis to the city, but also in the idea of turning Jerusalem into a Greater Jerusalem Metropolis on the lines of New York that includes the "boroughs" of Gush Etzion, Mevasseret Yerushalayim and Maale Adumim, giving their residents the right to vote in municipal elections while retaining local autonomy.
Two Arab areas, Shuafat and Aqab (140,000 residents), would be granted independent local authority status without being part of the metropolis. (There are those, such as Chaim Ramon and Shalom Yerushalmi who would like the two Arab neighborhoods to become part of the PA, instead of remaining part of Israel, but although that plan has demographic merit, it would clinch the abovementioned dangerous scheme for a Ramallah-Bethlehem strip – and de facto divide Jerusalem.)
Quietly, quetly, the Palestinian Arabs are establishing hundreds of organizations and institutions in the Arab areas of Jerusalem, with the Orient House, once closed by Israel, the hub and model.
At the same time, the power struggles in the Arab world are mirrored in the attempts to gain control in Jerusalem.
Turkey, whose prime minister's obsession with a renewed Caliphate has Erdogan funding renovation and supporting hundreds of stores in the "Moslem Quarter," handing out laptops and scholarships to young adults, pushing his school curricula, giving $500 to every family for Ramadan and to the aggressive Murabitun women 'defending' al Aqsa, thereby creating a decided presence in the Arab areas of Jerusalem including paying for massive "Jihad tourism" as the busloads to Jerusalem from all over the country are called. A semi-Turkish flag graced the courtyard where we were confronted, and preventing us from seeing it may have been behind the attack. The nearby restaurant owner had no such qualms, displaying support for Turkey openly and showing us the tunnel from his kitchen leading to the Temple Mount area.
Ongoing power struggles for Temple Mount control continue between the Jordanian WAKF, the Saudis and the Turks. Jordanian representatives gained ground against the Israeli government in the matter of the aborted Temple Mount magnetometers, for example, and a 5th mosque was built on the mount despite Israeli objections, while Hamas influence grows in the eastern part of the city, pushing out the PA in favor of greatly increased radicalism.
One little known incident: The Friday after Operation Guardian of the Walls, the mufti appointed by Abbas was removed by the Arab crowd because of his speech in al-Aqsa. Abbas had instructed him not to talk about what was happening in Gaza, a result of the PA chairman's conflict with the Hamas leadership there.
Writing: These are dangerous times. Come to al-Aksa
Hearing is not believing
Suave, polished and self-assured anti-Israel answers exist for every question, just listen to someone like Samar Sinjilawi, a key operative in Fatah, supporter of Israel-hating Mohammed Dahlan (arch enemy of Mahmoud Abbas). In his talk to the group, he calmly claimed the only choices are between establishing a Palestinian state and turning Israel into a bi-national one.
Left to right: Sheri Oz, Rochel Sylvetsky, Yehudit Katsover, Samar Sinjilawi, Baruch Yedid
Ah, he replied, to questions about whose land this is, the Palestinian Arabs are a nation not because they have their own language, culture and history, but because they feel they are. If Jews want the land because they were here for thousands of years, why is that different from his family being here for several generations? And as for facts, we asked? That question was ignored and although the big lie theory relies on an uninformed audience, he continued in that vein: The number of Arabs in the area equals that of Jews, so let's split the land, Israel killed 69 children in Gaza (ignoring that most were teenage terrorists and 11 killed by Gazan misfiring – and that Gazan rockets sparked the operation), Israel's IDF is no different from terrorist murderers of Israelis, refusing, though pushed to the wall by a French participant, to call them terrorists at all – let alone admit to them being the barbaric ax-wielding murderers of innocents they are.
To anyone familiar with Palestinian Arab propaganda, especially abroad, this approach is not news. Some of the Israelis among us, instinctively polite, wanted to hear him out; most, myself included, carried on a running argument with him, something he would not experience on US campuses, for example, where widely propagated Palestinian Arab lies are considered legitimate "narrative" and Zionists, if given a voice, are on the defensive and shouted down
But - as the song based on the words of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook says, "the eternal Jewish people are not afraid of a long road..." and as the inimitable heads of the Sovereignty Movement, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover express it:
"Jerusalem is the heart of the People of Israel and it is also the focus of the struggle for the Land of Israel. The continuing harm and erosion of Israeli sovereignty in its capital is the main factor in the increasing damage to Israeli sovereignty over the entire Land. The government of Israel must look at the current reality, recognize the data and stop ignoring it and at the same time, lead a Zionist response that will strengthen the Jewish character of the city and its significance to the People of Israel and to the entire world as the eternal capital of the Jewish People”.
Let us all be the Guardians of Jerusalem. Happy Jerusalem Liberation Day!
Note: Special thanks to Shimon Cohen, Ribonut webmaster and veteran Arutz Sheva Hebrew site writer, for his summary of the tour, and to Meir Elipur, Ribonut photographer (as he is for other Zionist organizations), kudos to Nadia Matar, Yehudit Katsover, Baruch Yedid and Chaim Silberstein.
Rochel Sylvetskymade aliya to Israel with her family in 1971, coordinated Mathematics at Ulpenat Horev, worked in math curriculum planning at Hebrew U. and as academic coordinator at Touro College Graduate School in Jerusalem. She served as Chairperson of Emunah Israel and was CEO of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village. Upon her retirement, Arutz Sheva asked her to be managing editor of the English site, a position she filled for several years before becoming Senior Consultant and Op-ed and Judaism editor. She serves on the Boards of Orot Yisrael College and the Knesset Channel.