At about 4:00 on the afternoon of Friday, May 14, 1948, a small, humble man who chaired the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency in British Mandate Palestine named David Ben-Guriyon stepped before a microphone in the main gallery of the Tel Aviv Art Museum and made a proclamation Jews everywhere had long awaited:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. …[We] hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Yis’ra’el, to be known as the State of Israel.
When he had finished reading, and Rabbi Yehudah Leib Mammon had made his b’rakhah, as the applause slowly died away in respect, the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra on the floor above, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, rose to perform the pulsing anthem of the Jewish State, Ha-Tik’vah (“The Hope” of far too many generations).
As the British withdrew and rolled up their nearly 31-year-old Mandate, Jews rejoiced throughout their new country. There was celebration on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For the first time in 1,878 torturous years the Jewish people now could claim a microscopic corner of the globe as their own — but it was their land, the sacred place wherein their ancestors had made their home for a minimum of 3,200 years.
The next day, six neighboring Arab countries invaded, determined to crush the infant nation before it was born. Ancient racism, scriptural hatred, and years of warm friendship with the Nazis could and would never permit the existence of a Jewish nation within Dar as-Islām.
Yet (unlike feminists), Israel persisted. The marauding, well-equipped, regular armies of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Trans-Jordan — plus the Jihād guerrilla gangs of the Arabs who would later be called “Palestinians” — failed to sweep the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. The pent-up determination of so many centuries had won a cast-out people a nation — with help, some say, from above.
Barely 19 years later, the Muslim world closed in again to avenge their grievous humiliation. Amid calls to hang “the last imperialist soldier with the entrails of the last Zionist” and pave “the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews,” Israel roared forth to crush its enemies as they sipped their coffee and tripled its size in six days.
Most momentously, however, for the first time since 135 C.E., Jews gained sovereignty over the entirety of their 3,000-year-old capital. As fighting still raged, Israeli paratroopers stormed through Saint Stephen’s Gate, meandering their way to the Western Wall: in Jewish hands again for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
On Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim), Israelis remember the unification of their golden capital with flags and cherished songs. None more so than Na’omi Shemer’s beloved anthem Yerushalayim shel Zahav (“Jerusalem of Gold”), written just before the Six-Day War to lament Jerusalem’s loneliness as it sat bereft of her people under Jordanian rule. (A version celebrating the return, composed after the June victory, is what was performed one year ago at the golden jubilee.)
But at that time, Israel’s closest friend and ally, the United States, officially saw the Jews’ ancient capital as “disputed” territory, with “half” of the city — as a matter of future necessity, it has always been explained — apparently belonging to the Palestinians in the hope of the unworkable “two-state solution.”
The Obama administration failed to defend Israel’s right to Jerusalem even when UNESCO passed a resolution effectively claiming that both the city and its Jewish sacred sites were a solely Islāmic inheritance — no less than referring to the Temple Mount and Western Wall itself by their Arabic names.
It was as if the reality of millennia was not allowed in the circles of international policymaking.
Or, in other words, America — Israel’s bosom partner-in-civilization — refused to recognize one of the most basic truths of what the State of Israel actually is: the Jewish people, after centuries as the world’s ever-loathed lodgers, now dwelling at home and possessing normalized sovereignty over it.
Then the world turned upside down and rolled down a cliff.
On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump — the only American president openly compared while in office to a man who reduced 6 million Jews to ashes — told the world that the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, and would move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The president calmly cited the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act and the city’s millennia of Jewish history — not merely tents of what religious Jews believe, but basic, objective reality.
In the face of every species of domestic and international push-back, President Trump did something far more important than even he likely understood.
The fact on the ground was that the alliance between Israel and the United States was quite frankly incomplete up until that point.
It is simply unacceptable for one’s friend to not recognize that one has finally paid one’s mortgage and now owns one’s house simply because the friend believes it somehow unseemly and offensive to mutual acquaintances.
The opinions of the ARAMCO-State Department establishment, Europe, and the Islāmic world are not a substitute for facts.
If any two societies deserve clear thinking, they are certainly America and Israel.
It is that same clear thinking, and indeed only a bit of daring, which has transformed a tiny, despised nation from a poor, agrarian settlement of refugees into an agricultural, medical, and technological giant which spreads its light unto every nation.
Indeed, God forbid we forget that by 2013, Israel’s Jewish population had multiplied ten-ford from around 600,000 in 1948 to 6 million — a Jew to live as a memorial for each one of the 6 million whose ashes still haunt Europe.
Almost none of these achievements could have been possible without Jerusalem. Whether it was for the endless generations that Jews asked in their prayers to one day return or after reunification, Jerusalem has been at the center of so much of Jewish life. Even secular Israelis will certainly attest to the central role of the city in daily life in such a tiny country — whether grumbling about chasidim or shopping on Ben Yehudah Street.
In other words, Jerusalem, in all the way it is experienced, is the material manifestation of the dream which propelled Jews to exist at this moment today. Whether one believes or nor, Jerusalem is concretization of the nation’s identity — even if Tel Aviv is more “with the times.”
And President Trump — a man as flawed as any Moses or David — was the man who had the uncaring courage and bad manners to literally stare the media in the face and say that the United States would at last discard the final official obstacle to its political embrace of Israel.
A process Harry Truman began three generations ago has now come full-circle. As of now, not only does America recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state and has allied itself to it for all political and military purposes, the most central portion of Israel’s symbolic and tangible existence is now fully normalized.
The injustice of the past, mixed with the joy of the present, forms what all must hope is a bond between two societies the likes of which has not yet been seen in history.
Barring any mis-guided resumption of “peace” negotiations, the move of the American embassy shall be seen as the well-deserved rubber stamp upon what one could say is the true beginning of the full alliance between the two nations.
On the (Gregorian) anniversary of the day 70 years ago that David Ben-Guriyon proclaimed that “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people,” Donald Trump’s administration has proclaimed that the United States has done what it should have done that day — recognize not only the body of Israel, but its very heart.
This year in Jerusalem, America and Israel, our alliance born anew, place the golden capstone upon 70 years of Israeli glory.
Next year is for greater things; this year, we rejoice with Jerusalem.