Sinai Today: Olympic Games and ‘illegal occupation’ (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By CHIEF RABBI WARREN GOLDSTEIN 07/27/12)
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As the nations of the world gather for the Olympic Games, flags wave
proudly in the wind, representing the more than 200 participating
countries. Every flag represents a country marked by borders which
determine the athletes’ nationality.
Borders create national identity, not only in sports but in
everything cultural and political, and yet they are artificially –
and often arbitrarily – drawn by human beings, dividing one territory
from another, sometimes using natural barriers like rivers and
mountain ranges and often resulting from a quirk of fate.
South Africa is one example: its present borders date back to 1910.
Prior to that European colonialists had dispossessed the indigenous
African population and established the Cape Colony, Natal and the
early Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State.
After the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), these all became one country
called South Africa.
Its northern border is the Limpopo River. If you live on the southern
bank of the river you are South African, and on the northern you are
What does the “South African nation” mean? It’s the same in across
the world. Someone who lives on one side of the Niagara Falls is
American and on the other is Canadian.
What makes these nations different? Who drew up these borders in the
first place? They were drawn up arbitrarily by force of
circumstances; is that enough to form nationhood? Evidently, it is:
So much hinges on a border, which is merely an imperfectly – and
often capriciously – drawn line.
Indeed, the arbitrary nature of international borders has caused many
conflicts. Some of the worst bloodshed in recent history has resulted
from these borders. Rwanda and Iraq are classic examples of how
European colonial powers drew borders on a whim and thereby created
countries, bringing together people of different cultures, religions
and ethnicities and forcing them into a unitary state, the
consequences of which were disastrous.
Among the many national flags at the Olympic Games, there is one that
represents the most ancient of the nations, the only one which exists
with its original land, language, religion and values as it had when
it was born thousands of years ago: Israel. It is also the only
country on earth whose original borders are not artificially nor
arbitrarily created by human beings but delineated clearly in the
Bible, a book which came into the world more than 3,330 years ago,
authored by G-d Himself. As the Torah states (Numbers 34:1-12): “G-d
spoke to Moshe saying... This is the land that shall fall to you as
an inheritance... Your southern border shall be from the edge of the
Dead Sea to the east...
The border shall go around from Atzmon to the stream of Egypt. The
western border shall be for you the Mediterranean Sea... This shall
be for you the northern border... The border shall descend and extend
to the bank of the Kinneret Sea to the east.
“The border shall descend to the Jordan [River], and its outskirts
shall be the Dead Sea...”
In 1947, the United Nations allocated a much smaller portion within
these borders as the area for the modern State of Israel. Since the
Six Day War many countries have declared Israel’s presence in the
West Bank an “illegal occupation.”
One can argue that to achieve peace and for other socio-political and
humanitarian reasons a Palestinian state should be established; but
to call Israel a “colonialist occupier” is absurd.
How is it possible that the only nation in the world whose borders
are not arbitrary, and who has an ancient, unbroken connection to its
land is accused of illegal occupation? It is a particularly bitter
irony when young nations of the world, barely a hundred years old
themselves, accuse the oldest nation of all of colonialism, and deny
its right to exist within its ancient borders.
Modern-born countries, such as South Africa and others, arrogantly
seek to label goods from the “occupied territories,” and yet they
were not even a glimmer on the horizon of human history when there
was already a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Thousands of years
before the United States, or Britain, even existed, ancient Israel
was a thriving Jewish country with great cities such as Jerusalem,
Shiloh and Hebron and many others which the world today classifies as
the “West Bank” but which the Hebrew Bible calls Judea and Samaria.
Since Joshua conquered the land about 3,300 years ago there have been
three Jewish commonwealths and an unbroken Jewish presence in the
Land of Israel.
The audacity of those who contest Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
is historically bizarre and unconscionable. Three thousand years ago
the great capitals of today did not even exist; there was no London,
Paris, Washington or Moscow – but Jerusalem was a Jewish city, and it
was the capital of the Jewish state. Since the Roman conquest of
Israel about 2,000 years ago, Jews mention the destruction of
Jerusalem and the Temple at every wedding and funeral; we pray for
their rebuilding in every prayer service and every time we say Grace
after Meals. If Jerusalem is not the capital of the Jewish people and
the Jewish state, then the very concept of a capital city has no
The Olympic Games officially open on the 27th of July. It is
remarkable that on the Jewish calendar this date corresponds to Tisha
Be’av – the very day which, more than any other, demonstrates the
eternal Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Israel. It is the fast day
on which we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple some
2,500 years and then again, almost 2,000 years ago. (This year, due
to Shabbat, the fast is postponed to Saturday night and Sunday.)
Generation after generation, every Tisha Be’av, Jews mourn these and
other calamities of Jewish history. On this day, synagogues
throughout the world will be shrouded in darkness as the ancient Book
of Lamentations, authored by the prophet Jeremiah, is recited.
The Sages of the Talmud teach us that the pain and mourning of Tisha
Be’av contain the seeds of future redemption.
It is not only a day of sorrow, but also of repentance and
reconnection with the Divine moral mission and destiny of the Jewish
People. There is a well-known legend of Napoleon Bonaparte walking
into a dimly lit synagogue on Tisha Be’av night. He asked why the
congregants were sitting on the floor reciting mournful prayers, and
was told they were mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and their
Temple some 1,800 years before. Reportedly, Napoleon then said that a
nation which remembers and is connected to its historic mission and
destiny in such a way will one day regain its land, Jerusalem and its
Perhaps this year the kings, presidents and world leaders gathered in
London for the Olympic Games will follow in the footsteps of Napoleon
and find a synagogue to enter on Tisha Be’av. Maybe then they will
finally appreciate the eternal Jewish connection to Israel, Jerusalem
and the values of the Torah. Maybe then they too will understand the
Divine mission that has sustained the oldest, most resilient and ever-
vital nation on earth, which has seen so many others burst onto the
stage of history only to disappear forever. Maybe then they too will
glimpse the truth of the world’s eternal nation.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 07/27/12)
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