By Ben Barber
The ink was not yet dry on President Trump’s declaration that he would move the U.S. embassy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem when the stones, knives and teargas began to fly.
Close to 20 Palestinians have already died in the predictable reaction of riots and stone throwing. Arabs and Muslims across the world view the Trump move as an insult because they claim Jerusalem as their capital.
On Thursday Dec. 21, about 130 countries voted in the UN General Assembly to declare Trump’s declaration null and void.
It all seemed so intentional. Usually the riots erupt around the Muslim world after gradual escalation of violence as Palestinians – whipped up by outrage and powerlessness – take to the streets.
This time, Trump and his team seemed intent on showing the back of their hand to the Arabs – specifically those who lack money and oil.
As I watched the latest round of battle over Jerusalem, I recalled hitchhiking in June 1967 up from the Lod airport after catching the first civilian flight into Israel from Cyprus since the war began five days earlier.
I recalled vividly the last day of the Six Day War. The seeds of today’s struggle were planted back then when the Israelis -- bombed and strafed from East Jerusalem by Jordan’s Arab Legion- struck back with paratrooper battalions, fighting in the night to dislodge 19 years of entrenched military fortifications.
I joined throngs of Israeli civilians and troops walking across the old no-man’s land of barbed wire and smoking earth between Israeli West Jerusalem and the Arab controlled Old City in East Jerusalem.
For 20 years since the British ended their mandate of Palestine in 1947, Jews had been barred from the Western or Wailing Wall, built by King Herod around the time of Christ from massive 10- foot long stone blocks.
The first Israeli paratroopers to smash through the Lion Gate and enter the Old City and could not even find their way to the wall, which was hidden behind Arab slums and iron gates.
An old Arab man they encountered showed them a key and led them to the neglected, fenced off street holy to Jews for 30 centuries. “I knew you would return,” the Arab told the Israeli troops, according to Steven Pressfield’s book “Lion Gate”’.
After I visited the Wall, with occasional gunshots reminding us that the war was not 100 percent over, I left the throng and made my way along stone streets to the main shopping street leading from the Jaffa Gate down to the Temple Mount with its two sacred shrines: Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
I came upon an open café where Palestinians stood slack jawed in shock. They saw hundreds of Israelis walking on streets that had been barred to the Jews for two decades. I sat down and asked for a coffee and sesame bun. I sat at the rear of the café. The passing Israelis regarded me, the shopkeeper and waiter with suspicion.
Most of the Palestinians I saw that day were stunned, hostile, sad, and bewildered. For years they had been told by their leaders that the Jews would soon be swept away by he powerful armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser had in May of 1967 launched a huge military buildup a plan for war, forcing Israel to prepare to fight for its existence.
Nasser expelled UN peace monitors in Sinai and deployed more than 100,000 troops close to the frontier with Israel. They advanced tanks, artillery and warplanes. He installed large guns at Sharm El Sheikh to block all shipping to and from the port of Eilath, Israel’s only direct outlet to the Indian Ocean. The blockade of an international shipping lane was in itself a cause of war.
Nasser also forged a military alliance with Arab states Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They all pledged to join him in the destruction of the Jewish State.
Israel warned Jordan’s King Hussein that if he stayed out of the fighting, Israel would not attack his forces in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. He was warned that if he attacked Israel -controlled West Jerusalem, he would lose everything – the Old City with its Muslim shrines and the West Bank. Nasser told him not to fear – that with the Soviet weapons and advisors they would crush the two million Jews in Israel.
But the opposite happened.
In a surprise strike June 5, Israel’s air force destroyed in three hours 400 Egyptian planes on the tarmac. Nasser boasted that the opposite had happened and Israel’s air force had been neutralized.
I was that day camping in southern Turkey. A local carpenter told me what he heard on the radio—Egypt bombed Tel Aviv. It is being destroyed.
My cousins in Jerusalem spent the first two days of the war listening to the same lying propaganda. Was a second Holocaust about to take place they wondered.
The newly recalled Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided to let the Egyptian boast. If Russia and America learned that the Arabs were routed they would intervene and demand a halt to hostilities. But Dayan looked to the future and wanted to achieve the decisive victory needed to dissuade Arab states from future attacks.
That week in June of 1967, the Egyptians lost Sinai; Jordan lost Old Jerusalem and the West Bank; and Syria lost the Golan Heights from which they had for years shelled Israel in the valley below.
After the war ended, elder statesman David Ben-Gurion and many others called for giving back the conquered territories. They saw no good would come from Israel occupying land with more than a million Arabs. But those in power refused to give back the territories. Except for Sinai, which was returned to Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat as part of a peace treaty with Israel that has stood the test of time nearly 40 years. Those early years after the Six Day War were peaceful. We could rent a car in Jerusalem and drive through Ramallah and other Palestinian cities, stopping for hummus and pita and olives in outdoor cafes. Palestinians could drive from Easr Jerusalem and other Palestinian towns to the sea shore in Tel Aviv.
But terror attacks emerged as the way to drive a wedge between Arabs and Jews and soon contacts between Israelis and Palestinians were cut off. It was no longer safe for Israelis to visit the West Bank. And the settlements built by Orthodox Jews in the West Bank added to the sense of occupation.
A retired senior Israeli General recently spoke in Washington saying that he feared for the future of Israel if it did not agree to a two state solution to the occupation. Otherwise, in a matter of a decade or two there will be more Arabs in Israel than Jews.
The problem with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is that it offered nothing to the Palestinians. And that is not just a Christmas present that is needed. It is speaking with the language of respect and honor that mean so much to the Palestinians.