An apocryphal story is told of Napoleon Bonaparte entering a darkened synagogue and observing weeping Jews, sitting on low stools. Asking what misfortune had occurred to cause such behavior, he was informed that it was the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.
On that day, as Napoleon learned, Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the fall of the Fortress of Betar. The day, marked with a 25-hour fast and a public reading of the book of Lamentations, signifies not only the loss of Judaism's singular holy site but the end of independent political sovereignty and the eventual expulsion, a second time, into exile.
On hearing that story, Napoleon exclaimed: "A people that cries these past 2,000 years for their land and temple will surely be rewarded."
Today, the 9th of Av, there are many new threats to Jerusalem, including the recent diplomatic dissing of Israel by the U.S. Fortunately, the words of President Obama and other U.S. officials have served to reinforce a consensus among Israelis that Jerusalem must remain exclusively under Israeli control and that even communities of Jews living outside the former Green Line, the armistice line drawn after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, must remain a part of Israel.
A liberal Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress, recently conducted a panel discussion based on the premise that the Old City of Jerusalem is the main impediment to solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. The group's plan recommends that Israel and a future state of Palestine appoint a third-party administrator that would run and police the city. An audience member who asked why the status quo could not be retained was informed by a panelist that that "would be too intangible."
We have to hope Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than to upset the status quo. As longtime diplomat Dennis Ross informed us in his book, "The Missing Peace," the only new idea Yasser Arafat raised at Camp David in 2000 was that the temple didn't exist in Jerusalem, claiming it had been located in Nablus. Her husband, then-President Clinton, was astonished at this. Instead of "Holocaust denial" we were given "temple denial."
U.S. policy toward Jerusalem has long tended toward the "denial" side of the equation. If an American living in Jerusalem gives birth to a child in either West Jerusalem or post-1967 East Jerusalem, for example, her progeny is not recognized by the U.S. as being born in Israel. The birth certificate and passport will list only a city name -- Jerusalem -- as the place of birth.
This rule follows the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, which notes: "For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank ..." The "logic" for this is that Israel is considered by the United States to be "occupying" territories -- including Jerusalem -- whose final status must be negotiated.
As State Department spokesman Ian Kelly admitted on June 22, before being reined in, the recent Obama administration fixation on a "settlement freeze" also targets neighborhoods in East Jerusalem whose Jewish population's "natural growth" is to be halted.
And there is more State Department trickery. Births of children of American citizens in any of the Arab towns or Jewish communities outside of Jerusalem and beyond the Green Line will have their birthplace noted, as per the above-mentioned regulations, as the "West Bank." Is the "West Bank" a state? Is the State Department engaged in creating new states?
This is an illogical and quite unreasonable bureaucratic situation. On the one hand, the State Department has fashioned a new "state" while, on the other, it is ignoring Israel's status in its own capital.
The "West Bank" never existed as a geopolitical entity until April 1950, when Jordan annexed the area. That annexation, incidentally, was considered by all the world -- except for Britain -- as an illegal occupation. Yet the U.S. has established the "West Bank," with the stroke of a pen, as if it were a state entity.
If the U.S. insists on using boundaries dating to 1948, shouldn't it also use the place names in use at that time? "Judea" and "Samaria" were both names written into the U.N. partition resolution. A baby born to U.S. citizens in Shiloh, for example, should therefore be registered as having been born in "Shiloh, Samaria."
Today is a day of lament for a long-ago event seared into the collective memory of Jews the world over. But the contemporary pressures the Obama administration has brought on Israel have created another lamentable situation between the two nations. This year, the ancient fast days will also provide an outlet for contemporary frustration over issues of sovereignty, political independence and security.