Heralding Israel's heritage

The nation must defend its historical ties to the land against those who deny them

March 05, 2010|By Aron U. Raskas

Jerusalem — JERUSALEM--The Israeli government adds two culturally rich, millennium-old historic sites to a list of national treasures, and riots break out, followed by international condemnation. Yet, it is precisely this cynical, albeit predictable, response that demonstrates why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to add the Tomb of Rachel and the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs to Israel's National Heritage Sites.

There is no nation with firmer roots in a land than the Jewish people in the greater land of Israel. Yet, that great heritage has been under assault by Arab protagonists and their pusillanimous patrons for the longest time, and this has intensified in recent years.

As the Arab people began to recognize their inability to defeat the Jewish people on the battlefield, they began to cleverly craft a strategy of burying Israel's legacy in the arena of world opinion. This strategy seeks to eradicate the Jewish connection to the land and erode the support for Israel's legitimacy and very existence. Indeed, the increasingly global campaign to delegitimize Israel has been bolstered significantly by the reticence of past Israeli governments and other Jewish opinion leaders to assert the great Jewish legacy in this land.

The arrogation to itself of the "Palestinian" mantle was the first formidable success for the Arab population that shared with the Jewish people the land that came to be known as Palestine. Likewise, 50 years ago, there was nary a reference to a "West Bank" until that term was introduced by Palestinian Arab propagandists to eliminate further references to the time-honored titles of Judea and Samaria, as the land had been routinely referred to in maps, travel guides, newspapers and even U.N. resolutions.

The continuing threats and acts of violence each time Israel seeks to take a step that reflects its great historic ties to the land are specifically calculated to deter just such steps. Thus, the true reason for the 1996 Arab riots was to prevent Israel from opening a Herodian Tunnel that demonstrated to the world that the Jewish Temple reached well into what has only in more modern times been referred to as the Muslim Quarter. This too was the basis for riots in 2000, when Ariel Sharon dared to walk on the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif, and assert the inalienable right of Jewish people to cleave to that holiest of sites.

In a similar fashion, Palestinian Arabs have sought to eradicate signs of Jewish heritage throughout the land. Brutal excavations on the Temple Mount by the Islamic Waqf destroyed Jewish archaeological treasures of great significance. Likewise, as Israel relinquished control of territories to the Palestinian Authority in 2000, Palestinians savagely destroyed Joseph's Tomb in Nablus and a 1,500-year-old synagogue in Jericho under the watchful eyes of Palestinian police. The most recent hysterical protest over Israel simply naming two ancient sites as significant to the Jewish people is simply the thin end of a wedge designed to create yet another chasm between the Jewish people and their historic ties to the land.

Mr. Netanyahu was correct when he observed that for "a people that doesn't remember its past, its present is uncertain and its future is unclear." Yet, the far more troubling paradigm is that a world disabused of a nation's rich historic past might ultimately deny that nation's claims to its land.

A nation that declines to assert its historic truths does not deserve its place among the community of nations. And a government that cowers in the face of its enemies' condemnations and muzzles its historic claims in response has abdicated its basic obligation to defend the rights of its people.

Mr. Netanyahu -- beginning with his decision to open the Herodian tunnel in 1996 and continuing with his recent emphasis on teaching Jewish values and history, and the public assertion of Jewish ties to important historic sites -- has correctly recognized the critical need to trumpet the historical narrative of the Jewish people in their land. The raw nerve that he exposed in doing so only demonstrates just how important this is.

For Israel to survive, it must continue to carry this message to the world at large, precisely because its enemies seek to prevent it from doing so.

Aron U. Raskas, a Baltimore attorney currently residing in Jerusalem, has held leadership positions in several prominent U.S. Jewish organizations. His e-mail is aronuraskas@gmail.com.

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