By Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post
Amid all the talk in recent weeks regarding the future of Judea and Samaria, there is a critical issue that has been largely overlooked, one which goes to the very core of our national and historical identity as a people.
If the conceptual maps being bandied about in the media regarding the extension of Israeli sovereignty and the borders of a possible Palestinian entity are accurate, then the Jewish state may be poised to turn its back on priceless parts of our ancient patrimony.
As Yediot Aharonot reported on June 16, under the terms of the Trump administration’s peace plan, Israel would be required to transfer hundreds of important Jewish religious and historical sites to Palestinian control in what would amount to one of the largest acts of self-inflicted perfidy in history.
The list of sites, which was compiled by the Shomrim al HaNetzach (Preserving the Eternal) organization, is staggeringly long and stunningly painful. To anyone with even a modicum of Jewish historical consciousness, the very thought of relinquishing these sites should arouse nothing less than outrage and indignation.
They include Hasmonean palaces and other sites associated with the Maccabees and the Hanukkah story, a Jewish cemetery near Jericho dating back more than 2,000 years to the Second Temple period, and even the tomb of the Biblical prophet Amos near Tekoa in eastern Gush Etzion.
What nation on earth would even consider foregoing such tangible parts of its heritage?
Indeed, the very last verse of the book of Amos (9:15), contains a divine promise and assurance to the Jewish people, “And I will plant them on their land and they shall not be plucked again from off their land which I have given to them, says the Lord your God.”
These words gave comfort to the Jewish people throughout their long sojourn in exile over the past 19 centuries. In what universe of twisted logic does it make sense to raise a Palestinian flag over the burial site of the Hebrew prophet who uttered them?
Other Jewish landmarks on the list slated to be abandoned to the mercy of the Palestinians include Tel Hebron, the site of the biblical city itself, where our patriarch Abraham lived and where King David ruled over Israel for seven years before moving the capital to Jerusalem.
Then there is Sebastia, outside Shechem (Nablus), which served as the capital of the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes of Israel, and which is home to the remains of the palace of Omri, one of the kings of Israel from more than 2,800 years ago.
It also just happens to be the largest heritage site in all of Judea and Samaria and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel.
Even symbols of Jewish heroism and determination which became seared into our collective consciousness would not be spared were the plan to be adopted in full.
Among them are Tel Beitar, where Bar Kochba and thousands of his men perished at the hands of the Romans on Tisha Be’Av in 135 CE in their last stand against the emperor Hadrian.
Other sites which date back to the Israelite conquest of Cana’an would also fall under Palestinian control, such as the altar built by Joshua on Mt. Ebal after the capture of the city Ai.
The book of Joshua (8:30-35) relates how the altar was built “according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no iron tool had been used.” Upon its completion, sacrifices were offered and then Joshua read the Torah to the entire people of Israel in a national ceremony.
What does such a site have to do with the Palestinians? Why would anyone think it right or just or moral to cast it aside?
INDEED, NO self-respecting nation would forgo such precious sites. They are tangible evidence of our ancient connection to this Land, a bond that predates the founding of Islam by more than 1,500 years.
As if to assuage Israeli concerns, the US plan seeks to assure us that all such sites will be respected. On page 14 of the Trump plan, it states, “Freedom of access to all religious sites of all faiths in both states should be agreed to and respected by the parties. The State of Israel and the State of Palestine should enter into an access agreement to ensure freedom of access to and prayer rights at all religious sites within the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.”
Given the Palestinian track record since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which has included torching Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem, vandalizing the Temple Mount and burning down synagogues in Gaza, does anyone truly believe they would be reliable custodians for Jewish historical and holy sites?
Whatever one thinks of the Trump plan, or of the idea of creating a Palestinian state, it is simply inconceivable for the Jewish state to turn its back on Jewish history and hand over sites to our foes where the kings of Israel once ruled and the Hebrew prophets prognosticated.
To pillage our past in such a way would to be undermine the very foundations of our reborn presence in this Land. Israel cannot and must not under any circumstances lend a hand to such self-humiliation regardless of what the world might think.
After all, when our ancestors were cast out of this land by the Romans and scattered to the four corners of the earth, they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning.
Did our people yearn for the hills of Judea and the vineyards of Samaria for 1,900 years only for us to willingly dispense them like unwanted chattel? Most certainly not.
As David McCullough, one of America’s leading historians, has noted, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” If that is true for a nation that isn’t even three centuries old, then how much more so is it applicable to one that has walked this earth for more than three millennia.
We have every right to insist on retaining control over the historical and holy sites that bear witness to our past and instill in us hope for the future. This is our sacred obligation to our ancestors and our hallowed duty toward the generations yet to come. And we must not falter in upholding it.