It was on this day in 1948 that the independent state of Israel was proclaimed in Tel Aviv and British rule in Palestine came to an end. Immediately, all of its Arab neighbors declared war and vowed to destroy the nation altogether. Arab troops greatly outnumbered the entire Jewish population, but of the 85,000 Jews in Palestine, 30,000 took up arms to defend their fledgling nation. When overt hostilities ceased, the Arabs managed only to retain possession of the old quarter of Jerusalem and the West Bank territories and Israel had a nation again—after 1,878 years of exile.
The last time I was in Israel, I thought of the tortured lives of all the residents of this remarkable land ever since the conclusion of the war that began that day in 1948. I remember looking out as the sun rose over the Kidron Valley in deep shades of scarlet. From my hotel window I could see the Old City begin to come to life, its austere enchantment scarred and fluted with the trampled paths of the aeons.
Below me I saw a small cluster of tourists—an all too uncommon sight in these dire days of Intifada strikes, terrorist attacks, and suicide bombings. They began to walk toward the Jaffa Gate very slowly, as if savoring every precious morsel of time and space. An air of sanctity clothed them. They seemed hushed by awe. It is deep in man to love the place where Divinity has walked. To pray there. To tread these streets and to touch these stones. It offers us a momentary communion. And so the holy sites multiply under our fervor, however tenuous their roots in history.
A few blocks from where the tourists walked, a quiet procession made its way toward the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Monks with long gnarled beards and cloaked in fraying robes held their tapers before them, cherishing their heritage as a fountain in the emptiness. The sweet fragrance of their censers and the haunting refrains of their chants anointing.
Still deeper into the city, beyond the ancient battlements of Suleiman, the Hasidim were gathering for prayer at the Western Wall. They were clearly people in the ebbtide of tradition. A few of the men wore startling robes of fawn, belted at the waist like dressing gowns, but most of them were veiled entirely in dusty black—thin, long coats and wide, perched hats. Their unbarbered beards gushed in all directions. Their sun-gingered ringlets either curled around their ears or dangled like guilt-cords in the sanctuary. Their faces were gaunt with the tautness of the ghetto. With their prayer shawls unfurled, they cried out to Jehovah both together and separately—the irony of which is the essence of the Judaic community and its worship.
And above them, on the wraith of Herod’s Temple—the paved loneliness of a mountain plateau—a ragged line of the Umma walked silently into the shrine of Muhammad’s mysterious transport. Under its vast, empty dome, the pious souls went through their actions carefully. They stood, they touched their foreheads to the ground in prayer, they clasped their hands on their stomachs, and they patted their knees. There was nothing self-conscious in their gestures. Their humility was genuine—expressed in a formal and dignified service unchanged by the passing of centuries.
I saw all this from the vantage of my window and was struck with wonder. Deep within I heard an echo of the ancient cantor’s plea, "Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where all the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, to the testimony of the Covenant, to give thanks to the Name of the Lord. Therefore thrones are set there for judgment, even the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:3-6).
But as I turned form the casement, I realized that the peace of Jerusalem would never—and could never—be realized out of the cacophony of either human ambition or devotion. It would not—and could not—be achieved by the desperate souls below me. Waging peace is always a more treacherous affair than waging war.
In fact, it can only be realized by fealty to Christ, "Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and rulers take council together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the Heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’ ‘I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”’ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:1-12).