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Sarah: Good afternoon and welcome to another topical and timely EMET webinar. Today is a very important day in the Jewish calendar. It is the 28th of Iyar and it is Yom Yerushalayim. Yom Yerushalayim is a day of profound significance for the Jewish people. On this day in 1967, the city of Jerusalem was reunited after 2000 years. For the first time since the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, Jews were able to access the Western Wall, their holiest site.

It is critical to understand the primacy of Jerusalem for the Jewish people. Jerusalem is deemed holy by all three major faiths but holds a profound and unique significance for the Jewish people. Muslims pray facing Mecca and Medina. In addition to Jerusalem, Rome and Bethlehem are holy cities for Catholics and Christians. Jews pray facing Jerusalem only. Through our darkest days in exile, we were sustained by the thought of our return to Jerusalem under our own national sovereignty.

I was a young girl when the soldiers of the IDF broke through the gates of the Old City. I remember my excitement when Rabbi Motta Gur proclaimed that the Temple Mount was in our hands. Jerusalem is the eternal symbol of our national sovereignty, of our spiritual homeland, and of our country’s capital. As the poet Yehuda Amichai said, “Jerusalem is our port city on the shores of eternity.”

I now have the honor of introducing our esteemed guest, Dr. Efraim Inbar. Dr. Inbar is the director of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the director of international diplomacy for the Shalem Center. He was the founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a position he held for over 23 years. Dr. Inbar was a visiting professor at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and Boston University. He was also a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a Manfred Worner NATO Fellow. He was president of the Israel Association of International Studies. Dr. Inbar has written five books and is a member of the academic committee of the Israel Defense Forces History Department.

It is my pleasure to turn the podium over to Dr. Efraim Inbar to discuss the strategic significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people.

Dr. Efraim Inbar: Thank you, Sarah. Shalom from Jerusalem. When meeting with other Jews, we often start our discussion by referring to the Torah portion of the week. This week we start reading a new book, the Book of Numbers or Bamidbar. In the preface, Netziv, head of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, wrote a famous commentary called Haamek Davar. The commentary discussed how God no longer led the people of Israel in a miraculous way after they entered the land of Israel. At that stage, there was less divine intervention and Jewish history began to run its natural course. From that point on, it was the deeds of the Jews making the difference. This is definitely a Zionist outlook and one I do not see expressed in many yeshivot in Israel today.

The Zionists demanded Jewish action to change the course of Jewish history. Indeed, the Zionist movement achieved spectacular success through hard work and sacrifice. We established a state in our historic homeland. This is where the majority of Jewish people now live. Our generation has the privilege of seeing a flourishing state of Israel. We signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and we signed the Abraham Accords with other Arab states. These accords are still intact, despite the war in Gaza. Nowadays, we even talk about normalization with Saudi Arabia.

As believing Jews, we know we need divine assistance but we do not rely on miracles. We have an obligation to act wisely in ways that promote our redemption. We are proud of our ability to meet tremendous challenges. Nevertheless, we feel that we live in a miraculous era, particularly on this day that commemorates the unification of Jerusalem. On this day, Israel’s paratroopers entered the Old City, and Motta Gur, their commander, called out, “the Temple Mount is in our hands.”

My platoon was in the regular Nahal Brigade. I remember vividly how we reacted when we heard on the transistor radio that Jerusalem was liberated. We started singing and dancing and we were full of joy. Jerusalem touches every Jew. Since time immemorial, Jews have prayed towards Jerusalem and have asked for our return to Zion. Every Passover, Jews recited, “next year in Jerusalem”, without a clear plan of how to get here. At every Jewish wedding, the groom said, “if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” The Yerushalayim of the past, was one of prayers and rituals. It was mostly an abstract notion of a celestial entity. In contrast, today we have a terrestrial Yerushalayim under Jewish sovereignty. It is a real city. People live here. They have specific municipal needs, a problematic ethnic composition and a complicated political and security situation.

On Yom Yerushalayim, we are lonelier than on any other day of the calendar. This is because no-one celebrates with us. On Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Ha’atzmaut, leaders of the world send their greetings to Israel. This is not the case on Yom Yerushalayim. Every state has the right to designate a capital city. It is extremely disappointing that this right is denied to the Jewish state. Few countries in the world are ready to recognize even West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The international community refuses to accept Israel’s sovereignty in the eternal city.

Yom Yerushalayim validates Balaam’s prophecy that we are “a people that shall dwell alone”. The struggle for Jerusalem and for Har haBayit, the site of the divine spirit, is not over. Those advocating for dividing or internationalizing the city should remember the Jews prayed at the Temple in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago. At that time, their nations were no more than a collection of barbarian tribes. Moreover, there should be no negotiations with the Palestinians on final status issues as long as the Palestinians continue their campaign to deny the existence of Jewish links to Jerusalem. No one who condones such a rewriting of history can be a partner for peace. The denial of Jewish roots in Jerusalem by the Palestinians is a recipe for continuous conflict.

We need Jerusalem to fulfill our religious journey and to connect to our ancient history. Jerusalem is essential for us to pursue our Jewish destiny and preserve our physical existence. Jerusalem is critical for the security of the State of Israel. It is of paramount strategic significance. Israel’s control of Jerusalem provides strategic depth to the densely populated coastal plain and provides vital links to the Jordan River, our eastern security border. Ideas about dividing Jerusalem or allowing Arab control in part of greater Jerusalem, jeopardize Israel’s future. Greater Jerusalem is an Achaemenid point for controlling and maintaining security in the Land of Israel, west of the Jordan River.

Jerusalem serves as a main junction between the east towards the Jordan Valley, the south, and the north. Jerusalem controls the south-north axis along the watershed line of the Judean central mountain ridge. It is also located in one of the few lateral axes that make it possible to travel by vehicle from the Jordan Valley westward to the mountain ridge of the Judean mountains and the Mediterranean. A cursory look at the map shows clearly that Jerusalem is the only intersection along the mountain ridge of the Land of Israel that has a Jewish majority.

Most Jews live on the coastal plain and the emergency warehouses are concentrated there. In an invasion from Jordan, forces from the coastal plain would have to make their way to the Jordan Valley. They could only do so in relative safety if there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. From a strategic standpoint, the corridor from Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim, and from there to the Jordan Valley is especially important. Israel’s eastern border is the most important since it is the closest to the main concentration of the Jewish population. The aerial distance from the Jordan River to Jerusalem is less than 18.6 miles or 30 kilometers. The distance to Tel-Aviv is about 50 miles and 80 kilometers.

The majority of Israel’s population lives in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Haifa triangle. That area contains most of the country’s economic infrastructure. It is much closer to the Jordanian border than to the Egyptian, or even Syrian, and Lebanese borders. Over 60% of Israel’s Jewish residents live in the coastal strip between Hadera and Rehoboth. This narrow strip is an extremely dense urban area, by any international standard. Its narrowest width, between Netanya and Tul Qarem, is only 9.3 miles or 15 kilometers. This coastal strip is dominated from the east by the slopes of the mountain of Samaria in Judea.

Many of Israel’s strategic assets are located in this narrow strip along with the dense population concentration. These assets include Ben Gurion Airport, Ashdod Port, power stations, banking headquarters, vital military bases, the main headquarters of the security branches, the IDF, Mossad, and the Shin Bet. These vital assets can be observed from the slopes of the mountains that overlook the plain from the east, particularly the mountains of Samaria. They are also within range of short-range rockets and can be easily accessed by motorized commando forces and even infantry units. Israel lacked territorial depth within the 1967 borders. This is a basic condition for defensive warfare. After October 7, ideas of returning to these indefensible borders, should be considered a great hazard.

Given Israel’s geographic vulnerability, David Ben Gurion employed a national security paradigm of rapidly transferring the war into enemy territory. This implied an immediate transition from defensive to offensive operations. Unfortunately, in recent years, Israel has moved away from an emphasis on preventive attacks. If Israel retreats to the 1967 borders, the coastal strip will revert to its previous status. It will return to becoming a territory lacking the depth required for defensive warfare. Once again, the IDF’s forward line of deployment will extend along the foothills of the mountains. If Israeli forces have to neutralize a threat from the West Bank cities, they will encounter major difficulties in launching the mission from the coastal plain. Mobilization areas will be exposed to monitoring and fire from the mountain slopes. Moving along hilly routes in a dense and hostile urban area will be dangerous since the enemy will hunker down in tenacious defense. This is what happened in Lebanon and in Gaza. Control over Jerusalem alleviates these defensive challenges to a great extent.

The Jerusalem Corridor provides a wedge in the midst of the mountain ridge. It served as the base for the main offensives during the 1967 war. It facilitated Israel’s capture of the Ramallah and Hebron areas to the north and south of Jerusalem respectively. Controlling the Jerusalem area also enabled the forward thrust of Operation Defensive Shield in March 2002. This put an end to the terrorist waves coming from the Palestinian Authority at that time.

Jerusalem is a center of gravity of Israel’s defense systems. This means that dividing the city is not feasible. In a divided city, it would be impossible to protect the urban seam lines crossing back and forth between the two political entities. In addition, Jerusalem’s role in the defense of the coastal plain will be seriously compromised. The greater Jerusalem area must be controlled by Israel. If not, the narrow coastal strip dominated by the mountain ridges to the east is not defensible. I invite you to attend a geopolitical tour conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. This will allow you to observe the situation with your own eyes. We are the only think tank that advocates for a united Jerusalem.

Control over greater Jerusalem is essential for us to maintain our intelligence-gathering capabilities. The altitude of the greater Jerusalem area provides the IDF with intelligence advantages to the east, south and north.  Dividing the city will jeopardize, and potentially disrupt, our intelligence gathering capabilities. There are claims that planes and satellites can offer intelligence facilities in place of those situated on mountains. These claims are only partially correct. Limited intelligence-gathering tools can be placed on planes and satellites. However, these do not compare to those established on mountains. There are ways of shooting down planes and there are technologies for attacking satellites. It is much harder to topple a mountain.

As discussed, continued rule over a united Jerusalem, provides us with clear strategic advantages. Above all, Israel demonstrates its resolve and fortitude by retaining the area in the face of demands for division from the Arab world and the international community. This is a crucial element in international relations, particularly in the Middle East. It tilts the balance of power toward the Jewish state. Continued Israeli control of Jerusalem highlights Israel’s ability to withstand international pressure. The international community’s apparent displeasure over Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem has not led to any serious sanctions. Of course, there have been many anti-Israel resolutions and condemnations from the UN’s morally bankrupt institutions. The Arabs’ inability to change the status quo through military force, compels them to take diplomatic routes. Nevertheless, Israel continues to hold all of Jerusalem and other territories.

Continued Israeli rule over Jerusalem creates legitimacy for the changes in the 1967 borders. This is exactly what happened when President Donald Trump tabled his peace plan. The United States recognized that facts on the ground could not be eliminated. This contributed to the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Territorial concessions in Jerusalem will be inevitably interpreted as Israeli weakness and a victory for Islam. This will encourage radical elements in the Muslim and Arab world to keep eroding the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Concessions in Jerusalem will likely be perceived as the beginning of a decline in Israel’s strength.

In general, Israel’s continuous control of territories, and especially Jerusalem, contributes to the peace process. This process is built primarily on sustaining the existing power balance, with Israel strong and the Arabs weak. This is why we currently have to destroy the military power of Hamas. If Israel is weakened and the Arab states are strengthened, there will be no reason whatsoever for the Arabs to come to terms with the existence of the Jewish state. Ben Gurion’s saying from 1968 is still relevant. I quote, “Without a large growing Jewish settlement in the Jerusalem area, to the east, north, and south, peace will not come to the city of Dali”.

The demographic domain presents another existential challenge. The problem relates not only to the 60 to 40 percent proportion of Arabs to Jewish residents in the city. The city is inhabited by an increasing number of ultra-orthodox Jewish residents and a diminishing number of secular Jews. In other words, the modern Zionist majority among the capital’s Jewish residents no longer exists. Secular Jews are leaving Jerusalem in part because they do not feel comfortable with the increasing ultra-Orthodox presence there. Ultra-Orthodox residents contribute significantly to keeping a Jewish majority in the city. They have many babies and have other merits as well. However, they are not perceived as sharing Zionist vision and they do not carry the defense burden of securing the state of Israel. We are in the midst of a political campaign to try and enlist a larger proportion of the Haredi, the ultra-orthodox population, into the IDF.

Around 70% of Israeli Jews agree that Jerusalem should remain united and Israel should retain control over the Temple Mount. However, in the long run, the demographic prominence of the ultra-orthodox population might erode the current consensus. If Jerusalem is seen primarily as a city of ultra-orthodox Jews and of Arabs, the struggles ahead are less likely to elicit support from the wider Israeli population.

Israel’s government should offer incentives encouraging young people to move to Jerusalem after completing their military service. Massive building in all parts of the city should accompany such an effort. The objective would be to restore a clear modern Zionist majority to the city. The national religious sector is probably the most idealistic segment of the population in Israeli society. They are the easiest to mobilize for national endeavors. They too need to change their priorities and award Jerusalem precedence over other parts of the Land of Israel.

Unfortunately, the religious Zionist party is wasting its energy on hills in Judea and Samaria. These hills have little strategic significance. They should focus on Jerusalem instead. Jerusalem is the highest prize possible. We need a significant influx of Zionist Jews into Jerusalem. It is not enough to pray facing Jerusalem or remember it at our weddings. We need action. It is imperative that Jerusalem be placed at the top of our priority list. Failing to do so weakens Israel and amounts to strategic blindness. Jerusalem is central to our destiny. Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and it is charming and energizing.

I am a Jerusalemite. I was married here and my children were born here. We have eight generations in the land of Israel and I am passionate about my city. At the same time, I understand that the whole world scrutinizes Jerusalem, particularly when the Jews rule over it. We have to be careful and not get carried away by our sentiments. Prudence is required. We believe in the beginning of redemption. However, we should not forget that the superpowers of the time destroyed the city on two occasions. That said, the prophecy of Zechariah, chapter 8, seems to be realized as Rabbi Akiva anticipated, “Once again, men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem. Each of them with a cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

It behooves Israel’s government and the Jewish people to make Jerusalem its top priority. The incalculable strategic significance of Jerusalem eclipses that of any other city, town, hill in Israel. Jerusalem is the eternal city. It is the city of David and the place where the future of the Jewish state will be determined. At this stage, we should thank God and hope we will be able to keep the city united so we can celebrate Yom Yerushalayim for many years to come.

Sarah: Beautiful, very comprehensive, and very profound. We have time for several questions. I would like to ask you a few.

The Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995 provided for the relocation of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It took until 2018 for the US embassy to be relocated. I remember the condemnation from the international community the day after. Members of the State Department predicated the Arabs would protest the move by rioting in every city capital. The US stood by its decision to move the embassy and the predictions of chaos were proven incorrect. Efraim, does the success of the US embassy relocation teach us anything about how Israel should display strength and resolve as it conducts its own foreign policy? How can Israel show strength at a time when there is rioting in Judea and Samaria, a war in Gaza and a very fraught situation with Hezbollah in the North?

Dr. Efraim: First of all, we should be aware there has been a greater acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital since the US moved its embassy. After the US transitioned its embassy to Jerusalem, the Czechs and the Hungarians followed and I think the Poles are considering doing the same. We have other consulates here too. The EU is basically an anti-Israel institution and it is not in favor of it. However, there are European states that ignore the EU.

I would like to tell you a story. I often go to the eastern part of the city to speak to people there. After the US embassy moved to Jerusalem, I met with a leader of one of the Arab neighborhoods. He told me the US embassy move signaled Israel had the support of the greatest power on earth. He said he now understood Jerusalem was not going to be divided. In this case, at least, an Arab representative recognized Jerusalem was going to remain under Israeli rule based on the actions of the US.

All polls show that a great majority of Arabs in Jerusalem are in favor of retaining the status quo and of remaining within Israel. There are growing numbers of Arabs in Jerusalem learning Hebrew. There are growing numbers of high school kids in the Arab sector choosing schools with an Israeli curriculum. Actually, we do not have enough classes for them. If anyone wants to donate $1 million, we will build an additional class for them. The Arabs in Jerusalem are fully integrated into the economy. They perform every job possible from doctor and pharmacist through menial worker. They earn exactly the same as Jewish Israelis and there is no discrimination.

So, there is a slow process of Israelization of the Arabs in Jerusalem. They do not necessarily love us, but we do not need love, we need people to abide by the law. Generally, the Arab sector is divided into three groups. About 70% of people are not political, like in every other place in the world, 15% support Hamas, and 15% are nationalists. Hamas, by the way, is cooperating with the municipality because they think in the long run it will disappear.

So, Jerusalem is an issue. In the past, I think Israeli governments have been reluctant to raise the issue more forcefully. I think that we need to do it but maybe now is not the best time. However, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should be a regular point of discussion with world leaders.

I see there is a question from Larry Feingold in our audience. Are there any Israeli leaders urging modern Orthodox settlers to settle in Jerusalem? Shalom Larry. The answer is no. I am very frustrated by this fact and I hope this will change.

Sarah: Are you aware of any efforts by Iran, its proxies, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, to buy plots of land within Jerusalem and Arabize it?

Dr. Efraim: The Palestinian Authority has a presence in the city. They terrorize the Arab citizens and this is the main reason they do not participate in municipal elections. We have a Turkish presence in Jerusalem as well. Turkey spends a lot of money via PICA, their agency for foreign aid in the city. You will see pictures of Erdoğan hanging up in many places in East Jerusalem. They like him and believe he is championing the Palestinian cause. The EU supports many causes in East Jerusalem, and all of them try to undermine Israeli sovereignty. There are UN actors operating in Jerusalem as well and UNRWA is one of them. I am hoping though that UNRWA will be prohibited from operating in the city going forward because it works to perpetuate the conflict through its education system. So, there are many nefarious actors in the city. We are a democratic country and we cannot expel them as long as they operate legally. I will probably be publishing a longer article about these actors soon and I will provide more detail about how they try to undermine Israeli sovereignty in the city.

Sarah: Many of us have been studying UNRWA’s textbooks for years. Are there efforts in the Knesset to eliminate and replace these UNRWA textbooks? We know that they are replete with anti-Semitic hatred. They extol the virtues of martyrdom and they encourage the destruction of the state of Israel.

Dr. Efraim: There is always a struggle to expel foreign agents who are not allowed to work in the city. We have an agreement with the PA, but the PA are not gentlemen who adhere to their agreements. So, it is a continuous struggle.

Unfortunately, we are losing the demographic struggle. In 1967, 27% of the population of Jerusalem was Arab, now Jerusalem is around 40% Arab. It is ridiculous for Palestinian authorities to accuse Israel of Judaizing Jerusalem when the opposite is happening.

Sarah: There have been some comments from our audience about the cost of housing in Jerusalem, and how difficult it is for young families to move there. Secular and modern Orthodox people cannot afford to rent or buy homes in Jerusalem. Is there anything that can be done about this?

Dr. Efraim: It is very true that housing in Jerusalem is more expensive than in most parts of the country excluding Tel Aviv. One reason for this is that American Jews are buying homes in Jerusalem for the holidays. Of course, increased demand increases the competition for affordable housing. I think the government should try to build cheap housing for young couples. I am not an expert on this area, but I am sure there are ways to encourage young people to stay in Jerusalem. For example, the students studying at Hebrew U could be encouraged to stay in town after completing their studies. Jerusalem has a good technological base. Many foreign firms establish research centers in Jerusalem because the Hebrew University is a good university. However, Jerusalem is a poor city because of the ultra-orthodox who do not work and who are an economic burden on the city.

Sarah: Right. So, one of our readers or listeners wanted to understand the distinction between the modern orthodox attitude regarding Jerusalem versus that of the ultra-orthodox.

Dr. Efraim: I think both the modern orthodox and ultra-orthodox appreciate Jerusalem and both would like to live here. The big difference is political. The modern orthodox understand it is important to maintain Jerusalem as a capital of Israel and they are not ready to make any concessions. On the other hand, I could envision the ultra-orthodox entering into a coalition with Arabs participating in the municipal elections. I am not sure this would be best for the city, but this is a political possibility. So far, the Arabs do not participate in the election although the last election was the first time an Arab list tried to run for the municipal council.

Sarah: The issue of Jerusalem was not a part of the Oslo Accords. It was postponed given its complexity. Do you think secular Israelis and left-wing Israelis would still be willing to divide Jerusalem?

Dr. Efraim: The taboo against the division of Jerusalem was violated by Ehud Barak. In 2000, at Camp David, he indicated he was willing to divide Jerusalem. As a result of this, there was an increase in Israeli secular leftists believing that dividing Jerusalem is necessary for the sake of peace. For them, peace is more important than Jerusalem but not for me. However, their numbers are small and the majority of Jews in Israel are ready to fight for Jerusalem. If you weighed some kind of messianic peace against control of Jerusalem, most will be in favor of fighting for Jerusalem. However, attitudes can change. This is why I believe we need a demographic shift in Jerusalem.

Sarah: I am speaking from Israel. Wherever I go here, I see people wearing the map of Israel around their necks. They are all wearing the metal necklaces for the hostages and I see Israeli flags everywhere. It seems to me that the patriotism and the sense of resolve and unity among Israelis is much greater than among Americans. It appears people here recognize Israel is fighting an existential war and they know who their enemies are. I think the sense of patriotism and nationalism is much higher here than in the United States, despite the fact that this war has dragged on for almost five months. Would you agree, Efraim?

Dr. Efraim: Listen, there was a massive failure on October 7th. The state failed us. Having said that, Israeli civil society has demonstrated great fortitude and ingenuity. Civil society filled the void left by the state’s failure. It is remarkable what regular civilians have accomplished and I am not just referring to them taking their pistols and going to fight on the front on October 7th. The spirit amongst the reservists is high. The war has dragged on for eight months already and Israeli society is still willing to continue to fight for victory.

Victory is well defined as the destruction of Hamas’ military capabilities. We understand it is important to restore our deterrence. Many see this war as the war of independence. Many Israelis are ready to fight the next war in Lebanon if necessary. It is true that the hostages evoked great emotion among many people. As such, the argument to stop the war in order to save the hostages fell on willing ears. I personally do not agree that we should stop the war but I am not going to argue with the families of the hostages. They have every right to demand the government bring back the hostages. Of course, this weakens Israel’s position vis-à-vis Hamas to some extent.

The protests for the hostages are legitimate protests in a democratic country. We all understand the hostages are not living in five-star hotels in Gaza. What happened to them is terrible, and affects many Israelis who feel that we are failing good Israeli citizens. Many of those kidnapped were pioneers along the border. They were doing their best to make the land of Israel bloom and they made important contributions to the state of Israel. I have my own views, but I understand that others have different and legitimate opinions.

Sarah: I think this generation of Israeli reservists and active-duty soldiers are among the best that we have ever had. I am closely related to one of them and I am very proud of him. I know this has been a very long hard slog but people do not seem to have lost their resolve. They know this is an existential war.

I cannot thank you enough, Efraim. This has been really brilliant and comprehensive. We appreciate everything that you do and have done for the state of Israel and for Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

Dr. Efraim: Thank you. All the best from Jerusalem.


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