Tell Obama about our right to the land
The bits of information leaked here and there about President Barack Obama's agenda during his planned visit to Israel in mid-March suggest that it will not be significantly different from previous presidential visits. The planned conversation will once again revolve around security issues, from the Palestinians and Iran to Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
Existential and security issues will once again dominate the conversation. Even the traditional visit to Yad Vashem — if it occurs — will derive its power from the vision of the State of Israel as a refuge for the surviving remnant.
What will be missing is any discussion of our right to the land. Once an inseparable part of our DNA, such discussions have been almost completely erased from our language. At the same time, such discourse figures prominently and almost exclusively in the conversations that Palestinians and Arab countries conduct vis-à-vis the world. They are not afraid to kiss "Palestinian soil," to wax on endlessly about their past here, to rewrite and falsify their own history and to hold up the keys to the homes where their fathers or grandfathers lived in Safed, Jaffa and Haifa.
Our own language, on the other hand, has become thin and impoverished. Security is important, but it is not everything. It is impossible to base a demand for international legitimacy — not over Hebron on the other side of the Green Line and not over Beersheba on this side — without the Bible, our patriarchs and matriarchs, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the City of David.
Next to Mount Herzl stands the Temple Mount, and next to the King David Hotel, where Obama may stay during his visit, is the City of David, which tells the Jewish story here in the Land of Israel better than any other public relations strategy. The person who walks alongside Obama in the halls of Yad Vashem, exposing him to the horror of 75 years ago, will show him why a strong Israel is not another empty slogan.
But whoever walks alongside Obama in the City of David's Herodian drainage ditch must show him the etching of a menorah, as well as the bell from the robe of the Temple's high priest. He should be read Josephus' description of the final moments of those Jews whom the Roman defilers of the Temple had cornered, and maybe even show him the water reservoir preserved there from the First Temple period. All these sights will show the U.S. president how deep our roots are in Israel and in Jerusalem.
When the president emerges from the dark tunnel and looks around him, someone nearby, perhaps Netanyahu, must point to the Temple Mount and tell him about the greatest unilateral concession that any nation and religion has ever made to another: placing our most holy place — the Temple Mount — under the supervision of a competing religion, Islam, for whom the place is only third in holiness after Mecca and Medina. Even the stories of the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus with their ancient histories, and even those sites of modern Jewish history, are worthy of having a part in this conversation, the conversation of rights.
There are those who will describe this conversation as archaic and irrelevant to our times They are wrong. Our real and pretend friends in the United States need to hear that the historical, religious, legal and emotional connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, Hebron and Beit El is no less powerful than that of the Palestinians. They need to hear that we are not occupiers of this land, that there are Jews for whom this land is sacred, just as it is for the Palestinians. That we too are connected to this land by bonds of love, the Bible, tradition and nature and scenery.
They need to hear that from a moral point of view, there is no difference between a Jewish return to those parts of Israel where Arabs settled 100 years ago and those parts where Arabs settled 200 years ago.
The real argument among Israelis and Jews is about what is practical and feasible, but certainly not over our rights. Our friends in Washington, no less than us, need to hear this, even if they turn up their noses, and even if this conversation flies in the face of realpolitik. Yes, we are hear by right of force, but even before that, we are here by the force of our rights.