Jewish dreams of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital go back thousands of years
In the Second century AD, Jewish rebels who had stunned the Romans and liberated a portion of Judea, overstruck imperial coins with images and a message of their own, “Year One of the Redemption of Jerusalem.”
The Roman emperor Hadrian had planted the seeds for the rebellion with his ambitions to remake Jerusalem, including the planned construction of a Temple to Jupiter on the site of the old Jewish Temple.
The leader of the Jewish rebellion, Bar Kokhba, was fired by a vision of a united Israel with Jerusalem as its capital that had been the exception during the prior millennium, thanks to the depredations of the Assyrians and Babylonians, among others. But such was the power of the national idea — and his messianic zeal — that Bar Kokhba ventured all on regaining it.
And lost. Not for nearly another 2,000 years would the vision come to fruition. At a ceremony in 1982 burying bones of some of those long-ago rebels with military honors, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared, ‘’Israel and Judea are reborn. We have redeemed Jerusalem.”
King David conquered the city in 1,000 BC and made it the capital of the kingdom of Israel. His son Solomon built the First Temple. “He who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a desirable city in his life,” declares the Babylonian Talmud. “He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.”
But Jerusalem would repeatedly be captured and the Temple destroyed (first by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and then by the Roman Emperor Titus).
The story of the Jewish people is one of loss, memory and faithfulness and persistence. Psalm 137 recounting the Babylonian captivity avers, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
The Jewish people never forgot. In one of the miracles of our age, after long centuries of exile punctuated by genocide at the hands of the Nazis, they re-established Israel in 1948, and then gained control of all of Jerusalem in 1967 (prior to that, when Jordan held East Jerusalem, Jews couldn’t visit the Western Wall).
The notion that the City of David isn’t the capital of Israel was an impolite fiction, honored by the United States and the West for fear of provoking Arabs hostile to the very idea of the Jewish state. Its prime minister, parliament and highest court are based there, and it’s unimaginable that Israel would ever agree to any peace deal that didn’t recognize it as the capital.
The tired, conventional arguments against it haven’t held up well in the wake of President Trump’s decision to move our embassy. The Arab street hasn’t exploded. The West Bank has been relatively quiet. Arab capitals haven’t erupted in outrage.
The flashpoint has been in Gaza, the terror statelet ruled by Hamas. Israel pulled out of Gaza more than a decade ago and has been rewarded with constant attacks emanating from a territory where the infrastructure of mayhem and destruction — rockets, tunnels and the like — is the only growth industry.
Hamas has goaded rioters to storm the Israeli border, defended by Israeli soldiers who fire on them if necessary to protect local communities (more than 50 were killed on Monday). This isn’t “the caravan” that arrived at the US border with peaceful migrants seeking asylum, but a violent provocation that is a function of Hamas’ commitment to Israel’s destruction.
For now, that poisonous ambition looks more fantastical than ever. Trump’s move is an acknowledgment of reality.
It is also a symbolic statement of permanence, that Menacham Begin was correct when he said at the ceremony for the Bar Kokhba rebels 36 years ago, “Glorious fathers, we are back and we will not budge from here.’’
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