In framing a view of Jerusalem’s future, we would do well to draw upon our divine heritage. Isaiah’s famed vision of Jerusalem at the End of Days, for example, was that “instruction shall come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem … nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”
Why not bring that prophecy to fruition by turning Jerusalem into a place worthy of her name: a city of peace? Wouldn’t it be wise to launch an offensive aimed at transforming Jerusalem into the capital of the world? Surely this would be a way of showing our city far greater respect and showering it with far more love.
The key must be to raise Jerusalem above the arena of national power games and squabbles over the symbols and tools of sovereignty. Wars for control of territory are commonplace in our world. But Israel’s victories in the War of Independence and the Six-Day War have accorded it a power and opportunity that are unique: to declare a place on earth – the Old City of Jerusalem – ex-territorial.
Jewish tradition contains many expressions of the idea that Jerusalem is not confined by the bounds of common territoriality. The Midrash, for example, cites it as the place from which Jacob’s Ladder connected earth with heaven. And the Gemarah (Baba Batra 75) tells us that Jerusalem is named after God and is the place where the commemoration of God’s name – His essence and intent – must be expressed throughout history.
If the purpose of Zionism is to transform the sublime visions of our heritage into reality here on earth, wouldn’t its true fulfillment be the realization of Isaiah’s vision here in this temporal city? Shouldn’t our purpose be to draw to Jerusalem the most spiritual and humanist of institutions? Isn’t it only fitting that Jerusalem be the seat of the U.N.’s cultural bodies, human rights organizations, scholarly forums and workshops of intellectual endeavor? And finally, isn’t it only proper that Jerusalem be the place where members of all faiths convene to renounce their breeding of prejudice, hostility and war, and work to fashion world peace? We do Jerusalem no honor if we insist that it be to us what Belgrade is to Yugoslavia. Jerusalem deserves to be more: a realization of our potential to rise above the narrow sense of nationalism.
This is not a utopian vision appropriate only to the End of Days. Meetings and discussions are already in progress among Jews, Muslims and Christians with the aim of making Jerusalem into the capital of peace and home of a U.N. for all religions. They are drawn together by the hope of converting a problem on which no side can afford to concede – following the traditional model of negotiations as give-and-take, as in “land for peace” – into a solution that leaves all sides feeling they have gained: a win-win outcome.
For Israel this proposal will mean elevating Jerusalem from the capital of a small country in the Levant to the capital of the world. No less important in this idea would be Jerusalem’s role as a bridge between the Muslim world and the West to help defuse tensions that spread well beyond the Middle East. Both the United States and Europe can make meaningful contributions in this sphere. The Pope has repeatedly expressed his desire to have the start of the new millennium mark the end of the historical conflict between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and other Christian denominations will be able to endorse the plan on similar grounds.
This is why contacts about making Jerusalem into the capital of peace have reached and will go on reaching the highest echelons in Jerusalem, Gaza, Washington, Brussels, Rome and elsewhere. We must work to ensure that Jerusalem’s future is built in the spirit of “yeru-shalom,” a legacy of peace.
Menachem Froman is the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa. This article was edited with the help of David Elharar. April 12, 2001