As the ideological and political battle rages in the headlines over the “Jewishness” of the Holy Land, I recently found myself walking on a street known as Kaf-Tet B’November, translated November 29, in Jerusalem. Streets with this name exist in most cities across Israel, as the date marks one of the most significant events on the road to establishing the Jewish state.
On this date, 63 years ago at Lake Success, N.Y., the United Nations decided to terminate the British Mandate and partition the land into two independent states; Jewish and Arab. The Jewish leadership in Israel accepted the partition plan, and the U.N. decision was met with joy and celebration by Jewish people around the world. In Rome, the Jewish community held a special prayer at the Arch of Titus, named after the Roman leader Titus, who with his legions exiled the Jewish people from the land of Israel 2,000 years earlier.
In the Middle East, the response was different. The partition plan, or Resolution 181, was rejected by both the Arab states and the Arab leadership in then-Palestine. Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan and India, all voted against the resolution during the U.N. General Assembly. Thirty-three countries, including the United States, Norway, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador voted for the plan.
Earlier this month, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina declared their recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, the territory captured by Israel in the Six Day War during its battles with Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian and Syrian troops.
It is not the first time that such a declaration has been made. In June 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state alongside Israel on two conditions — that the state be demilitarized and that the Palestinian people recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people.
But this is precisely the problem — the recognition and acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state in the Arab world is the underlying reason the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be instantaneously solved through peace negotiations and land deals. As long as the state of Israel is Jewish in its identity, most Arab countries will continue to refuse to accept it. This reality hasn’t changed since Nov. 29, 1947.
On Nov. 27, the Fatah Revolutionary Council concluded its fifth convention with a declaration refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Instead of accepting the Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel, Palestinian and Arab factions are doing everything to redefine and deny Jewish ties to the Holy Land — through education, media propaganda and religious sermons.
The Palestinian Authority published an official report on its website in November asserting that the Western Wall is Islamic property and not a holy site for Jews. The report was taken down after condemnation from the U.S. and Israel, which cited the report as “incorrect and provocative.”
Even more disturbing is the international community’s growing support for these distortions. The Paris-based United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO), declared at the end of October that the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel was not a Jewish holy site, but the Mosque Bilal ibn-Rabah. UNESCO, made up of 193 member states, also demanded that Israel remove from its list of Jewish heritage sites the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where in Jewish tradition the biblical patriarchs were buried 4,000 years ago.
UNESCO states that its main mission is “to build peace in the minds of men and women” and “encourage international peace and universal respect.” It is difficult to understand exactly how this U.N. organization aims to fulfill that lofty goal here in the Middle East if it aims to deny the traditions and beliefs of one people in favor of another narrative. By rewriting thousands of years of age-old biblical history and catering only to the Islamic narrative, the U.N. concept of “universal respect” apparently applies only to specific groups.
A “just and durable peace in the Middle East” will happen only when there is international and local respect and acknowledgment for the roles that all three major religions have played in the region, and this includes the role of Judaism. True peace cannot be built on faulty history in order to suit a political purpose.
As I walked the streets of Jerusalem this Hanukkah and saw the flickering candles in the windows of Jewish homes, I thought back to a time 2,000 years ago, when my ancestors here were denied their rights to follow Jewish tradition by the Syrian-Greeks who then occupied the land. In the state of Israel today, however, freedom of religion exists for every person of faith. It is the one spot in the Middle East where Muslims, Christians and Jews are democratically guaranteed freedom of religion, a truth that many in the international community would do well to remember.
Anav Silverman is a 2004 graduate of Calais High School. She works as an educator at Hebrew University’s Secondary School of Education and writes for the Huffington Post.