Prime Minister David Cameron is a trusted friend of our community and of Israel. Therefore we can say to him, as a friend, that many in our community will have been concerned and uncomfortable with the language of his answer to a question in Parliament this week, when he referred to what he called ‘the effective encirclement’ of Jerusalem which he found ‘genuinely shocking’.
Jerusalem has been the focal point of the Jewish people for thousands of years, and has had a Jewish majority since the mid nineteenth century, long before Israel gained its independence. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, cannot rightly be described as being under occupation. In 1948 Arab armies attacked the Jewish Quarter and massacred its inhabitants. Jewish people were then barred from the Western Wall and other holy places. The Wall itself was desecrated and synagogues in the Quarter were destroyed. Jerusalem became a divided city and Jews were excluded from the Old City and the rest of occupied Jerusalem.
In 1967 the occupation of Jerusalem by Jordan was brought to an end when it was restored to the Jewish people. In the 49 years since, Israel has ensured that Jerusalem’s religious sites – holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike – are accessible to all. As Mr Cameron will have observed from his tour around Jerusalem, there is no clear line between east and west, north and south. The city is a complex patchwork of neighbourhoods and people of many origins and faiths.
The contrast with other places in the Middle East could not be starker. Civil wars in neighbouring countries and territories have brought death and destruction on their peoples and cultural heritage on an unimaginable and inhuman scale. This can fairly be called genuinely shocking.