Monday, November 22, 2010

Putting "Occupied Territories" in Perspective

Yesterday, Israel's cabinet voted to allocate 85 million shekels (ca. $23 million) to upgrade the Western Wall area to better accommodate the nearly eight million visitors to the site each year. If you have not been to Israel, the Western Wall is sometimes referred to as Wailing Wall. It's a holy site for religious Jews because historically it was the closest spot to their former temple where they could go to worship.

The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned Israel's decision, claiming "Israel does not have permission to make changes in the occupied territories, especially in Jerusalem." And perhaps this statement best defines the level of insanity that passes for diplomacy in the Middle East.

Is the Western Wall in the territory captured by Israel in 1967? Yes. Is it occupied territory? Not any longer. Let me explain. The Western Wall is actually part of the retaining wall built by Herod the Great as part of his temple renovations that began just prior to the birth of Jesus. The wall was built by Jewish artisans to help support the buildings that were part of their Jewish temple complex.

Though the Jewish people were expelled from Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and A.D. 135, their heart-song was always to return. And over the centuries thousands did. By the end of the 1800s the majority population of Jerusalem was Jewish. The picture above was taken by G. Erick Matson sometime between 1900 and 1920. It shows Jewish men and women praying at the Western Wall. So many Jews lived in this part of the Old City that it was--and still is--known as the Jewish Quarter.

When Israel became a state in 1948, it was attacked by several surrounding nations. Jordanian forces attacked the Old City of Jerusalem and forced the Jewish inhabitants to surrender. Those inhabitants were then expelled from the Old City, and the Jewish Quarter (including the Western Wall) came under Jordanian Control. I believe at that point it became occupied territory. In the 1967 Six-Day War Israel captured the Old City and liberated the Jewish Quarter.

The Western Wall is a Jewish possession. They built it, they inhabited the area around it until being expelled in 1948, they recaptured it in 1967, and they have every right to maintain and upgrade it to benefit those who visit the site. Don't let the phrase "occupied territory" get applied to this piece of land!

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