When US President Donald Trump issued his pronouncement on Jerusalem, traffic here came to a stop, stores were empty and we were all listening carefully. It’s not because we needed the President of the United States to tell us where our capital city is located, but instead reflects the anticipation of righting a 70-year wrong – the insulting situation in which foreign powers, led by the world’s democracies, deny the obvious fact that Jerusalem has been the centre of Jewish life for 3,000 years.
For us, the details are secondary. We can live with a decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv now, or in two years; and are OK with telling the Palestinians that if they ever agree to two states, they can name their own capital. For us, the issue is symbolic and emotional – finally giving international recognition to Zion, the Jewish Bible’s alternative word for Jerusalem, as the core of Jewish civilisation.
In walking the children to school or doing a quick food run, the reminders of 3,000 years of history are hard to miss, including ruins of King David’s palace and Solomon’s Temple. And driving to work or back through the modern city, we pass the contrasting sharp lines of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the Supreme Court Building and the Israel Museum that houses the Dead Sea scrolls.
Like Washington, London or other capital cities, we suffer from road closures whenever a foreign dignitary comes to meet our leaders in Jerusalem, heralded by motorcades with sirens blaring. But all this is a small price to pay for the privilege of living here.
In 1948, when Israel became independent, making Jerusalem our capital was a no-brainer. However, the world powers at the time – led by the US State Department and the British Foreign Office – clung to a formula adopted by the United Nations a few months earlier under the label of “corpus separatum”. Resolution 181, which called for partition into a Jewish and an Arab state, marked Jerusalem and Bethlehem as an international zone belonging to neither.