Op-ed: Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s announced the next school year as The Year of The Unity of Jerusalem; the decision is legitimate: I think it is educationally more important and relevant to visit Jerusalem than to visit Auschwitz. Students will admire the city’s natural beauty but will wonder why its streets are so dirty, and will want to know why it is so poor and becoming more ultra-Orthodox.
Scorn was poured on Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to announce the next school year as The Year of The Unity of Jerusalem. Two phrases that he used inflamed his critics, “our history begins in Jerusalem “and the unity of Jerusalem”. The first expression incriminated the Minister of Education as an ignoramus: Jerusalem did not exist when the Hebrew people took their first steps on the stage of history. The second phrase marks him as a blind man: united Jerusalem exists only in formal speeches of ministers in the Israeli government.
But the decision in itself is legitimate and so is the timing, marking half a century of the conquests made in the Six Day War. It wouldn’t hurt Israeli students to take a few hours, maybe a few days from their busy schedules to visit the country’s capital. It also wouldn’t hurt them to tour it by foot, and to sleep there, something most schools try to avoid in these times of terror. The education system makes great efforts regarding trips to Poland. I apologize in advance if I offend somebody, but I think it is educationally more important and relevant to visit Jerusalem than to visit Auschwitz.
Our history did not begin in Jerusalem, but the yearnings for Jerusalem, for Zion, constitute a key element in our history. There is no Zionism without Zion, no Israel without Jerusalem. David Ben-Gurion, an unmitigated secular, understood this better than anyone. In 1948, when the Arab Legion cut off Jerusalem from the coastal plain, he ordered the IDF to break the siege at all costs. The IDF suffered heavy losses at Sha’ar Hagai and in desperate battles at Latrun, but Jerusalem was to be part of Israel. An overwhelming majority of countries chose not to recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the western part of the city. Ben-Gurion brushed off international pressure and moved the Knesset and government ministries to the city.
Officially, most countries do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty in western Jerusalem even today. When students will tour the city, perhaps a curious boy might ask his teacher: “Why does every capital city of the world have plenty of embassies but not Jerusalem? Why does Israel accept this boycott? What happened to the mighty power of the Jewish lobby? Where did Netanyahu’s friends in the US Congress disappear to, those who love Israel more than the Israelis do? Where did Tzipi Hotovely disappear to?”
When Levi Eshkol’s government was about to annex East Jerusalem, a sketch of a map was given to two generals, Shlomo Lahat and Rehavam Zeevi. The result was miserable: a large area, three times the territory of Jordanian Jerusalem, was annexed to Jerusalem, including neighborhoods of Ramallah, agricultural villages, patches of desert, Bedouin campsites and refugee camps.
This chapter is also good for students to learn. They will learn how successive Israeli governments evaded determining the status of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that were annexed to the city. On the one hand, they made the city a magnet for Arabs of the West Bank: they granted Palestinians living in the city the right to work, freedom of movement, legal protection, social rights, health insurance and social security. On the other hand, they shockingly neglected the infrastructure in the Arab neighborhoods, the education system, and law enforcement. Jews could return to their properties in East Jerusalem; Arabs were unable to return to their properties in West Jerusalem.
Students will admire the natural beauty of the city, but will find it difficult to understand why its streets, even its most prestigious, are so dirty. “It’s because of the population”, the teacher will explain, and then they will discover that, indeed, the demography of Israel’s capital is totally different from that of Israel as a whole.
Jerusalem is poor; Jerusalem is becoming more ultra-Orthodox. “Who is responsible?” the students will ask. “Who is to blame?” The teacher will answer them: “It depends on whom you ask. The ultra-Orthodox would say that is what the Almighty decided, the secularists would say that is what the Israeli governments decided. They sent the national-religious sector to the settlements, the seculars to Mevasseret Zion, Ma’ale Adumim, Modi’in and Tel Aviv. They left Jerusalem to the poor – the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.
“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him, ” said Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Before Bennett comes to praise Jerusalem, he needs to check if the government he is part of is not burying it.