Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Freeze Ends. Were We Ever Really Frozen?

The media this evening marked the end of the building freeze in the "settlements" across Israel, celebrated with fanfare and the immediate construction of new buildings. A few thoughts on the freeze:
1. I'm not entirely sure that there even was a building freeze. Really. I work in Orot in Elkana, officially designated as a "settlement." It was clear at Sukkot time last year - a full two months before the "freeze" began, that something was up. I remember quite vividly spending time in Revavah with my cousins, and listening to the pounding of the trucks banging out foundations in the ground. The rule was that any building that had already been started could be completed. This was no more obvious than in Elkana, where a row of absolutely gorgeous homes has been going up for - just about ten months now. They should be ready in a matter of weeks.
In addition, we just spent Shabbat Chol Hamoed with my brother in Kiryat Sefer - yet another "settlement." While the "freeze" did suspend any new work, somehow a sizable number of apartment buildings have gone up over the past few months, including a new building directly opposite my brother's building. Funny thing about this freeze. It seems that the freezer must not have been working all that well.
2. Should there have even been a "freeze" at all? I spent the day with members of the YU Israel Kollel at Ir David (City of David), a powerfully important archaeological site found directly south of the Old City of Jerusalem. I've been there a couple of times, and they're always discovering something new. Today our tour guide led us up the steps that Jews took during Herodian times as they made their way to the Beit Hamikdash to be oleh l'regel. It was pretty amazing to follow in their footsteps on Sukkot, although it would have been even better had we actually been on our way to the Beit Hamikdash. Ir David has quickly become one of the most important tours that Jews today take in Jerusalem.
If I had to sum up Ir David in a nutshell, the Old City isn't really the Old City. It's the Jerusalem that was built after the first one was destroyed. The original, biblical Jerusalem is clearly and obviously located at the site that's now called Ir David, and contains ample biblical, historical and archaeological evidence to demonstrate the Jewish roots in the land that date back thousands of years.
There's only one problem with Ir David - at least some people think it's a problem. It's located in East Jerusalem, just a tiny bit over, on the wrong side of the Green Line. It's in "disputed" territory. But as a Jew, a line on a map drawn by a bureaucrat sixty years ago doesn't hold a candle to the rich, powerful historical hold that the Jewish people have on this land - and have had for ages.
That's the problem with the "freeze." I'm not naive. I know that we've got political and societal issues with the Palestinians that just won't go away. But is preventing Jews from building up a Jewish presence on land that belonged to us since the times of the Tanach going to improve the situation? Some might argue that it would. I would say that they're just denying history.
Much of the areas surrounding Ir David - in fact the vast majority - in inhabited by Arabs. But on the outskirts of the project live a number of Jewish families, and you can make out their sukkot dotting the hill below a massive police presence. Looking at the landscape I asked my son on the tour, "Do you think that the opposite hill we be a Jewish neighborhood in our lifetime?"
"Yes," he told me. "I do."
I agree with him. To quote the great sage Arnold Horschack, "What is, is. What was, was. What will be wa-us, but will be again."

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