This article was originally published in the October 2005 issue of Moment.
It was Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. The Shabbat rush filled the aisles at my supermarket. We were less than a week from the deadline for all Jews to leave Gaza and four communities in northern Samaria two days from Tisha B’Av, the fast day in remembrance of the destruction of the two Temples, and many other more recent tragedies that fell on this day. My shopping cart filled by rote while I spoke to two friends about what might happen and how we came to this perilous moment for the unity of the nation. We did not speak about the dangers that may lie in wait from Hamas, now declaring triumphantly that it is they who forced the Zionists from their homes. Our immediate fears had more to do with sinat chinam (baseless hatred) of Jew for Jew, said to be the cause of our being thrown from our land 2,000 years ago.
I returned home thinking about children in Gush Katif being told by parents that they should resist expulsion from their homes by an illegitimate government acting undemocratically. Will this generation of settler children grow up believing that the rest of the country is morally inferior to them, and will the children in anti-settler families of the Israeli left abhor those who stood their ground during almost five years of attacks because they resisted expulsion? How will Israel put itself back together? Which bruises will heal and which will leave scars? Where are the leaders for a nation in pain?
Regardless of the outcome of Israel’s withdrawals, in the months and years ahead one must be ready and well-equipped to argue for the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel. Arafat began a drumbeat of denial of Israel’s history that continues unabated. The so-called Palestinian narrative that declares that they are the rightful heirs to all the land and Jews are colonialist interlopers who never built a Temple in Jerusalem challenges us to respond. Without rejecting Palestinians as part of this shared land, we must assert the international decisions that led to Israel’s rebirth as a modern state, as well as our three millennia of history in the land.
Coincidentally, during the same days as the disengagement trauma, a remarkable discovery of Israel’s ancient history shared space on the front page of The New York Times. Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar has been excavating a rare piece of available land in the ancient City of David. Her dig is on top of the northern end of the spur that extends south from the Temple Mount where once stood the First Temple, described in the Bible as built by Solomon. What widened the eyes of critics and supporters alike are the remains of a huge structure containing pottery dated by Mazar to the 10th and 9th centuries B.C.E. Scholars date the reigns of David and his son Solomon to the 10th century. Sparse 10th-century archaeological evidence in Jerusalem previously allowed distinguished archaeologist Israel Finklestein to speculate that Jerusalem at that time was little more than a hill-country village.
Denying Finklestein’s conclusion, Jane Cahill writes in Biblical Archaeology Review that “virtually every archaeologist to have excavated in the City of David has found architecture and artifacts dating to the United Monarchy” (the 10th century). But Mazar’s find may be the ultimate refutation of the hill-country village theory. She says that there is “a high probability” that she has found David’s palace and hopes that further excavation and intensive study of her pottery evidence will substantiate that this building is the one described in the Hebrew Bible as built with the help of King Hiram of Tyre who “sent envoys.. .with cedar logs, carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a palace for David” (2 Samuel 5:11). If it is substantiated as a 10th century structure, or even if it is found to be the earlier Canaanite “Fortress of Zion” that David conquered, Mazar’s find is remarkable. While it would be irresponsible for archaeologists to use the Bible as a literal guide book it is also irresponsible to avoid the Bible as a fragment of potential historical truth.
Understanding the historical reality of our past is an element in Israel’s survival kit. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza will certainly not stop the efficient Palestinian propaganda machine. It will continue to seek Jewish soft spots by trumpeting Israel’s illegitimacy and the triumph of the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian lies are proof that history matters. Our responsibility is unapologetic truth telling, complete with uncertainties, to ourselves and to the listening world. The ancient and continuous Jewish history of Jerusalem is a good place to begin.
Top photo: David in his palace. Credit Wikimedia Commons.