JERUSALEM (BP)–At least 250,000 Israelis and others gathered around Jerusalem’s Old City walls Jan. 9 to pledge their commitment to the city, at what organizers said was the largest rally here in modern times, CNSNews.com reported.
The demonstration, billed as a non-political rally for a united Jerusalem, was nevertheless intended to send a strong message to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Clinton and the rest of the world: Don’t try to divide Jerusalem.
Clinton recently suggested that the city be divided in order to achieve what has been an elusive Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But Barak, who backed down on promises never to divide the city by offering control over parts of it to the Palestinian Authority, has come under increasing pressure at home not to do so.
Images of Jerusalem projected on the Old City walls and celebratory background music dispelled earlier fears that the three-hour demonstration might turn ugly.
Organizers estimated that as many as 400,000 people packed into the streets surrounding Jaffa Gate, a main entrance to the Old City, to declare their support for Jerusalem remaining united and under Israeli sovereignty, CNSNews.com reported.
Youngsters and adults carried Israeli flags and posters with the rally’s theme, “Jerusalem, I pledge,” and sang together from Psalm 122, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”
Although right-wing politicians attended the rally, initiated by lawmaker and political party leader Natan Sharansky, none were invited to speak at the gathering in an effort to maintain a non-party political character.
But while mention of Barak was virtually absent from the rally, speakers called on Clinton not to divide the holy city.
Former Supreme Court President, Moshe Landau, the evening’s first speaker, challenged Israel’s usual “long memory” as being “a bit weak” regarding Jerusalem.
“We tend to forget what Jerusalem was like before 1967, how the city was divided, and how all agreements regarding freedom of worship were broken by the other side,” Landau told the crowd, referring to the Jordanians, who controlled eastern Jerusalem and the Old City from 1948 to 1967.
He called on Clinton to refrain from making any more “creative proposals” for dividing the capital and handing over sovereignty of the Temple Mount to the Palestinians.
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said that no country in the world wants peace as much as Israel does. “But no nation in the world was ever asked to give up its holiest treasures to placate another nation,” he said in reference to the Temple Mount, where two successive Jewish temples were built but where two important mosques now stand.
“Think about it, Mr. President,” Olmert continued. “For the sake of the Jewish people and for the sake of the city of Jerusalem do not be the first president in the history of America who has proposed dividing the ancient and eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
Jews from outside Jerusalem, as well as pro-Israel Christians, were encouraged to participate in the rally and the cause. Hundreds of Americans, British, French and other Jews flew to Israel specifically to attend.
Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, spoke to the crowd in his personal capacity, after several member organizations disagreed with the participation of the umbrella body in the event.
“I stand here tonight not on behalf of any Jewish organization, but as an individual Jew, representing millions of Jews around the world from Manhattan to Moscow, from London to Budapest,” Lauder said.
“All the world should know that you are not alone,” he added.
Although there was a festive spirit at the gathering, making it feel more like an Independence Day celebration, there was no question in the minds of those among the crowd — many of whom came from all around the country — as to why they were participating.
“I came because if there is no Jerusalem there is no Israel,” said a 52-year-old Israeli man, who did not want to give his name. He said Jerusalem is like “breath” — without it there is no life.
“Without Jerusalem we might as well be in Uganda,” said Deborah, a Jerusalem resident and mother of six. She was referring to an early proposal by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, who suggested in the late 19th century that a Jewish homeland be established in Uganda, rather than the land where the Jews originated.
“According to the Tanach [the Jewish Bible] Jerusalem belongs to us forever,” said Zvi Randleman, father of five, who lives in the Jerusalem satellite community of Ma’ale Adumim.
“Mr. Barak, Jerusalem is not yours to give away,” read the sign held by David Owen of Beersheva. Jerusalem is “our home; our heart,” Owen told CNSNews.com. “It’s our city for better, for worse … . From the time of King David in 1,000 B.C., it’s been our capital.”
“[We came] to support the Jewish people because the city is given to the Jewish people,” said Ria Doekes, a Dutch Christian who runs a small guesthouse in Jerusalem with her husband, Wim. “It’s the city of the Great King,” she added, referring to one of the biblical names of the city.
James and Maby McIntosh, who came from Alaska on a one-month tour, said they were not afraid to be in Israel at this time and they believe in a united Jerusalem. James said he did not put much stock in Clinton’s professed friendship for Israel.
“If he’s the best [friend], I’d hate to see the worst. He just wants a name for himself. He doesn’t care about the people,” he said.
Stan Stone of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey was leading a solidarity mission to Israel that coincided with the rally, so they also came to make a stand for Jerusalem.
Stone said he believes the American Jewish community should back the Israeli government whatever its policies. Nonetheless, he felt he had to put up a “red flag” when it came to Jerusalem.
“Only God can help,” said 18-year-old Yedida, who goes to school in the settlement of Bethel. “That is our salvation, our redemption.”
Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.