Jerusalem: The Price for Peace?

Sermon given March 28, 1997, by Rabbi Barry H. Block

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Jewish man who preferred to read anti-Semitic newspapers instead of Jewish publications. When asked why, he explained that the Jewish press is disheartening, filled with stories of Jews who have been victimized by persecution. Anti-Semitic journals, on the other hand, instill Jewish pride, since they claim that Jews control the media, the banks, and the government.

Anti-Semites do overstate Jewish power in America. However, our American Jewish community does often speak with an influential voice in Washington. Frequently, though, our Jewish political representatives are more effective because they do not act alone. Instead, they work cooperatively with Christian organizations that share our values and our goals.

Not long ago, prominent, full-page newspaper advertisements were purchased by a group including many of these same national Christian Church bodies that are usually our partners. These ads were about Jerusalem, and the position taken in them was one with which most Jews disagree. These ads proclaimed that Jerusalem must be shared by Israelis and Palestinians. They insisted that no one people may have sole sovereignty over Jerusalem. They urged the United States government to force Israel to accept a negotiated settlement with regard to Jerusalem, in order to achieve peace.

The authors of these ads are usually our friends and our partners. Since their cause is peace, we must certainly acknowledge that they are well-meaning. In this instance, though, they have negated the unanimously-held hopes of Jews everywhere. They have ignored the facts of history. They have misunderstood the meaning of shalom. They are right about only one thing: Jerusalem is the price for peace.

Jews throughout the world share a relationship with Jerusalem that is truly unique, absolutely unlike any other people’s relationship with any other city. Jerusalem is not only a holy city in our faith, as it is in Christianity and Islam as well. It is not only the capital of the Jewish state, like Paris for the French or Mexico City for our neighbors to the south. It is not only the seat of Jewish religious authority, like the Vatican for Catholics. Jerusalem is all of these and so much more. It is the symbol of Jewish unity, the heart of our past and of our future, the emblem of our hope for messianic redemption. Jerusalem is God’s reflection in this world of Divine hope for all humanity, the mundane parallel of a heavenly Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents Judaism’s vision of Paradise.

Too often throughout history, though, the Jerusalem of this world has been far from heavenly. It has been sacked and destroyed by Babylonians and Romans, Crusaders and Turks, and so many others. It was the sovereign capital of Ancient Israel, even as it is the capital of the State of Israel today. Jerusalem has never been the capital of a sovereign Arab nation. From 1948 to 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city. The western, new part of the city was in Israel. The Old City, and the eastern section, were part of Jordan. During those years, Jews were not permitted to visit the most sacred sites of our faith. Many of our holy places were desecrated. The capital of Jordan, then as now, was Amman, not Jerusalem.

The Israeli liberation of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War was a high point in Jewish history. Few moments have ever led to such international rejoicing and Jewish pride. And yet, Israel did not wage an aggressive war to take Jerusalem. That war began because Arab troops were mobilized along all of Israel’s borders: in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan, and in all other surrounding countries. Arab politicians were on television daily, vowing to push Israel into the Sea. Finally, the Israelis launched a preemptive strike against Egypt and Syria. Their weakest neighbor was Jordan. Their dearest prize was Jerusalem. And yet, the Israelis did not attack Jordan. They sent a message to King Hussein, offering to leave Jordan alone, not to fight even for Jerusalem, if only Jordan would stay out of the fray. Stupidly, though, the Jordanians attacked. Israeli soldiers then united our holy city under undivided Jewish sovereignty.

The peace that followed was no true peace, for Jews or for Arabs, as P.L.O. terrorists attacked Israeli civilians, hijacked planes, and murdered Israeli Olympic athletes; and then, in 1973, another war. Ironically, though, a significant degree of peace reigned in Jerusalem for some twenty years.

A city which had been sundered in two was suddenly one city again. Jews and Arabs rode side by side in city buses, bought fruits and vegetables from one another, and got caught in the same traffic jams. Until the Palestinian uprising began in 1986, Jerusalem was a remarkably safe city. To this day, Moslem and Christian holy places in Jerusalem are freely open to all.

A brief Hebrew lesson provides an explanation for the relative peacefulness of this united Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for peace, we all know, is shalom. Shalom, though, also means “wholeness.” If peace is to reign in this world, in any city, in any home, then the world, or that city, or that home must be whole, united, complete. The Jewish people can not be whole without Jerusalem, our heart. Israel can not be whole without Jerusalem, its capital. Jerusalem can not be at peace unless it is whole.

Jerusalem, then, must be one.

Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the Jewish State of Israel.

Jerusalem is not a price that Israel may pay for peace.

Peace, though, does have its price. Israel has paid, in land that is strategically important and in land that is historically dear. And Israel has paid for peace with the blood of too many of her youngest and her best men and women. Israel, no doubt, will pay again, in land to be sure; in principle, no doubt; in blood, please God, no.

But peace can not be bought from one side only. The Palestinians, too, must pay a price for the peace they need and desire. They must truly pay the price of principle which they keep pledging, but have continued to withhold. They must finally delete from the Palestinian Covenant the plank calling for Israel’s destruction. They must pay, and they have begun to, by giving up the hope that all the land they call Palestine will be theirs. And yes, the dream of shared sovereignty in Jerusalem is a price that the Palestinians must pay for peace.

Today, contemplating the harsh words and the bloodshed of recent weeks, we may despair of peace. Handshakes on the White House lawn seem like distant and irrelevant memories. And yet, Judaism urges us to be hopeful and optimistic. The promise of Messianic redemption teaches us that the future may indeed be bright. Courageous men and women have stepped forward, paying tremendous prices for peace in the past. We pray that today’s leaders may rise willingly to make the sacrifices needed for peace in our own time.

Then may the world know what a terrible price Israel has paid for peace.
Then may the Jewish people appreciate the sacrifices that the Palestinians, too, are making for peace.

Then may Jerusalem achieve shalom in all of its aspects: wholeness, well-being, and peace.

Amen.