“No!” Shlomo cried triumphantly. “I looked for the Wall. It’s not there! He gives you guided tours around Jerusalem, this Perowne, in his book. He shows you the—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He shows you the Dome of the Rock. Which the Muslims built where our Temple used to be, so we wouldn’t build it again, ever. But our Wall, our Western Wall? Not there! As if King Hussein dropped a bomb, and—poof!—it’s all gone.”
— Outtakes of a UFO Investigator, chapter 5
Shlomo–Danny Shapiro’s friend at the hotel where he stays upon arriving in Israel in 1966, as described in this latest episode of Outtakes of a UFO Investigator–isn’t being entirely fair. Stewart Perowne’s book The Pilgrim’s Companion in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, published two years earlier, does mention the “Western Wall” of the ancient Temple Mount, which for centuries was Judaism’s holiest spot on earth. On pages 112-113, Perowne speaks of a lawcourt, “now closed to the public,” from the windows of which “there is a fine view of the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’, actually part of the western wall of Herod’s Temple, to reach which we can either leave the Haram [the Islamic name for the Temple Mount] by the little door to the south of the Gate of the Chain, or, leaving by the latter, take the first turn to the left from David Street.”
And that’s it. Perowne’s guide book for the Christian pilgrim in the Holy Land, which rhapsodizes for pages on end about the glories of Christian and Muslim Jerusalem, says not another word about the Wall. Nor does Perowne let out a whisper of what the city meant to generations of Jews. (After Biblical times, that is; he has plenty to say about the Old Testament.)
Which is exactly what the Old City of Jerusalem was, for the 19 years it was under the control of the Kingdom of Jordan. Up until the Six-Day War of 1967, the border between Israel and Jordan ran from north to south right through Jerusalem. The western part of the city was Jewish, the eastern part Arab. “The Old City of Jerusalem,” wrote Zev Vilnay in the 1966 edition of his Israel Guide, “is held by the Government of Jordan. To enter the Old City you need a permit from the Israeli District Commissioner of Jerusalem who gives it in accordance with the instructions of your consul. Each permit has to be acknowledged by the Jordan authorities, who have never accorded it to anyone of the Jewish faith.”
Not, “who have never accorded it to any Israeli.” That would make sense–Israel and Jordan were in a state of war, though normally without any guns going off. But anyone who was Jewish, even citizens of a country friendly to Jordan (like the US), was barred from entering Jordan, from coming anywhere near the sites that for us were most holy, whether in a religious or a secular-historical sense.
Didn’t matter if we might sympathize with the Arab side of the conflict, or might be potentially brought into sympathy. (We called it the “Arab” side then; the word “Palestinian” didn’t take on its present meaning, at least in the US, until the late 1960s.) We were Jewish, therefore banned.
And therefore invisible. Wandering through the markets of the Old City in the mid-1970s, a few years after all of Jerusalem came under Israeli control, I found a map of the city from before 1967, issued by the Jordanian Tourist Authority. The map is undated, but from the golden color of the Dome of the Rock it’s clear it must be 1964 or later. I’ve posted it here. (And click here for the full map, in black and white.) On the western edge of Jerusalem are a few patches labeled “no man’s land.” Beyond them–nothing.
You wouldn’t even imagine that on the other side of that thick green line lies another city, another Jerusalem. A Jerusalem filled with human beings, who just happen to be Jewish. Who therefore oughtn’t to be there. Who therefore aren’t really there.
(Who used in those years to go up to the roof of the Notre Dame de France Monastery, just by the border, with cameras and binoculars, to look across the border at the part of the city where our early history lay, where we didn’t expect we could ever go. I visited Israel for the first time in 1964, the same year Perowne’s book came out. I was up there, gawking and snapping pictures with the rest.)
Forty-six years ago today, the whole situation changed. The Six-Day War–Egypt, Syria, and Jordan allied against Israel–began on Monday, June 5, 1967. On Wednesday the 7th, Israeli paratroopers captured the Old City. I heard about the event in an odd way. A friend and I had driven up to Montreal for the “Expo 67” World’s Fair. That Wednesday afternoon we were visiting the “Pavilion of Judaism,” attending a model synagogue service conducted by a Montreal rabbi. The rabbi interrupted the service with an extraordinary announcement: that for the first time in 19 years, Jews had prayed at the Western Wall.
My friend and I looked at each other. “Looks like Israel’s taken the city,” we both said.
A few weeks before the war, the late Naomi Shemer wrote the iconic song “Jerusalem of Gold” for Israel Independence Day 1967. In language taken from the Biblical Book of Lamentations, the song’s original words grieved the loneliness of “the city that doth sit solitary / With a Wall in her heart.” (Referring to the sacred Western Wall? Or to the boundary wall that divided Jerusalem in two?)
“The market square is empty,
And no one visits the Temple Mount
In the Old City …
And no one goes down to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho.”
After the war the song seemed prophetic. An extra stanza was added–“We have returned … to the market, to the square, the ram’s horn is blown on the Temple Mount in the Old City … we will again go down to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho”–and “Jerusalem of Gold” became wildly popular among Israelis, among Jews around the world. As it remains to this day.
Deservedly so. It’s a fantastically beautiful song, both as poetry and as music. But at the same time its message is deeply disturbing. Think about it.
“The market square is empty”? “No one visits the Temple Mount in the Old City”? When those lines were written the markets of the Old City were filled–with Arabs. The Temple Mount (called by the Islamic name “Haram”) was thronged–by Muslim worshippers. Plenty of people went down to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho. They just weren’t Jewish. Didn’t they count?
Looks like the Arabs–let’s call them by the present-day term, “the Palestinians”–weren’t the only ones blind to the human reality of the undesired Other.
Posting last November about Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel, I wrote: “Abusing what’s holy to other people is the worst kind of karma. It comes around sooner or later to bite you in the behind.” Same goes for denying other people’s equal humanity.
They did it to us; we’ve done it to them. The Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem lasted 19 years. The Israeli occupation has gone on for more than twice that, and although many recognize it as an evil no one has any very good plan for bringing it to an end without exposing Israel to mortal danger. Seeing the Other as something more than a demon or a menace might be a start. But how do we go about doing that?
I wish I had an answer.
by David Halperin
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