THE PROSPECT of Israel returning parts of Jerusalem to Arab control has sparked widespread dismay in the Orthodox world.
Israel’s Deputy Premier, Haim Ramon, recently suggested that the ceding of all-Arab neighbourhoods in the city to the Palestinian Authority could be on the agenda of the forthcoming Annapolis peace talks.
But Orthodox rabbis have been lining up to condemn the very thought of compromise over the city, whose sanctity to the Jewish people they consider of such transcendent value that it brooks no argument.
Around 100 strictly Orthodox rabbis recited special prayers in the Old City’s Ramban synagogue last month in order to rescind what the influential Charedi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv bewailed as the “dreadful decree”.
Pikuach Nefesh, a rabbinic organisation claiming 1,200 members in Israel and abroad, has also bid them to speak out against Ramon’s proposals. Rabbi Yakov Yosef, of Jerusalem, urging others to join a call for the minister to resign, accused him of attempting “to steal from the people of Israel the remnants of our Holy Temple”.
Rabbi Yosef Gorelitsky, who chairs Pikuach Nefesh, also weighed in: “In addition to the desecration of the Temple Mount, [Ramon’s] plan will lead directly –– Heaven forfend –– to the spilling of Jewish blood throughout the land. Does anyone have any doubt that every centimetre handed over to the Palestinians will become the base for yet more terror?”
Rabbi David Druckman, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Motskin, near Haifa, hoped the government will “wake up and change the direction of the horrendous path upon which it is marching, and take a firm stand regarding the borders of the Holy Land; this is the only way to receive God’s promised blessing of peace.”
Eli Yishai, head of Shas, the Sephardi Orthodox party, and a member of Israel’s ruling coalition, was adamant that “Jerusalem is not for negotiation… He who begins by relinquishing Shu’afat, and Anata [Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem] will end up with a foreign rule over Rehavia [a particularly plush district in West Jerusalem].”
Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a British-born professor at Bar Ilan University, and a resident of the Old City, emphasised the consequences of previous concessions by Israeli governments. The Oslo Accords of 1993 led to the second intifada, and the withdrawal from Gush Katif has encouraged the endless rocket attacks from Gaza, he argued: “Why would a withdrawal from part of Jerusalem be any different?”
Protests have also come from beyond Israel. The leaders of America’s mainstream Orthodox organisation, the Orthodox Union, told Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a letter that they were “mandated to undertake all efforts that are necessary to secure and maintain Yerushalayim as the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel”.
One of the few Orthodox rabbis who could be said to support Mr Ra- mon’s suggestions is fellow MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labour-Meimad), a former Minister for Diaspora Affairs. But even he has reservations about the Deputy Prime Minister’s plans for the Old City and the Temple Mount.
“His proposals mostly repeat those accepted by the government in 2001,” Rabbi Melchior said. “These divide East Jerusalem between Israel and the PA, and place the holy sites under the aegis of the appropriate religious authority, with no national flags in sight. I see no reason why not to continue to accept this now. Obviously there has to be a creative solution for the Old City, a special type of jurisprudence to govern it.”
But other rabbis strike a more ominous note. Rabbi Shimon Naftalis, a Lubavitcher, who professes little faith in politicians, says: “They say one thing today, and another tomorrow. They talk and talk but in the end they give everything away. This is even more true of Likud. Ramon in Kadima is basically a Likudnik. I’m very pessimistic.
“The Satmarer Rebbe [the late Rabbi Yoel Teitenbaum] predicted that the secular Zionist state would fall apart in this manner. I think the Arabs have already won and it’s only a question of time before the state disappears.”
Orthodox rabbis are horrified at a proposal by Israel’s Deputy Premier to cede parts of Jerusalem to the Arabs