JERUSALEM, Feb. 2 (RNS) -- When Dina Bartuv, a 24-year-old economist from Israel's northern Galilee region, attended a massive rally here recently protesting peace process concessions on Jerusalem's holy sites, she came as a religious Jew and a member of a younger Israeli generation that can't even remember when the city was divided.

"I grew up on the assumption that this was one city," Bartuv said."Now, all of a sudden they are talking about giving up Jerusalem, andeverything that we achieved. Why then, did people fight for all of theseyears. Why did Jews pray for 2,000 years for Jerusalem and dream ofreturning here. If we give up Jerusalem, our most holy place, what do wehave left?"

Religious Israeli Jews like Bartuv, deeply angry about the recent negotiationsover Jerusalem, are expected to play a critical role in bringingopposition leader Ariel Sharon to a probable victory in Tuesday'supcoming Israeli elections.

Labor government Prime Minister Ehud Barak, while going further thanany Israeli leader in history to reach an agreement with Palestinians,has also alienated Israel's Orthodox Jewish community more profoundlythan anyone before him.

Their opposition to him goes beyond whatever feelings they may also have that his policies are either the cause of four-months of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets, or the reason Israeli security forces have not been able to better protect Israeli Jews, nearly 50 of whom have been killed, compared to more than 300 Palestinians.

The violence began in September following a visit by Sharon to the Temple Mount, a visit Palestinians say was a provocation -- and religious Israeli Jews was within his legal and religious rights.

The sense of anger and betrayal reaches across the spectrum, fromthe ultra-Orthodox sects, for whom tradition is a more important drivingforce than the trappings of statehood, to the religious nationalists andeven the religiously moderate Meimad Party, which is part of Barak's owngovernment coalition.

"When Barak was elected two years ago, he represented himself as themiddle ground," said Nadav Shragai, who reports on Israel's Orthodoxcommunities for the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. "Now, he hasbecome more left wing than the dovish Meretz Party. He agreed to give upthe Jordan Valley. He agreed to some sort of new arrangement onJerusalem's Temple Mount, and to a division of Jerusalem.

For religious nationalists like Bartuv, there is a deep religioussymbolism attached to the idea Israel might relinquish its most holyshrine, the Temple Mount, site of two biblical-era Jewish temples that in their time were the physical core of Jewish religious life.

"Religiously," she asserts, "I believe that it would lead to a war."

For the black-coated ultra-Orthodox, there is a more practical fearthat the daily pilgrimage to prayers at the Western Wall -- a remnant of the temples' retaining walls -- may become agauntlet if large sections of Jerusalem's Old City are placed underPalestinian rule. The Palestinian security forces are perceived as weakand unable to guarantee Israel's security even in the event of a peaceagreement.

"No one is interested in navigating an obstacle course to get to theWestern Wall," said Jonathan Rosenblum, an ultra-Orthodox commentator."And Barak's plan to divide Jerusalem would transform quite a few of thecity's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods into front-line battlegrounds.

"Barak has broken all the red lines of the religious sector. Andthey have taken it very personally," he added. "That was evident in theturnout at the recent rally on the Jerusalem issue, which generated aturnout of some 300,000 to 350,000 persons, most of them Orthodox."

The Jerusalem issue, as it is called here, raises different concernsfor different parts of the religious public.

"The ultra-Orthodox community, unlike religious nationalists,doesn't necessarily think that on a theological level, Israel has tohave sovereignty over the Temple Mount," he added. "Still, at the sametime, it's quite clear that relinquishing sovereignty over the TempleMount would be a very potent symbol. It would be seen as a statementthat the past has become irrelevant to us.

"And for those of us to see the central problem confronting Israeltoday as a lack of national morale, giving back the Temple Mount woulddestroy, not the ultra-Orthodox, but secular Israel," he said.

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community are also troubled by adeeper breach of trust by Barak, according to Shahar Ilan, author of arecent book on the ultra-Orthodox community, "Haredim, Ltd."

"One of the big problems is that the religious public feels thatBarak just doesn't care," Ilan said. "The concessions that have beendiscussed don't hurt him enough. Jerusalem isn't important to him andhis government. In a sense, for concessions over Jerusalem to win thesupport of a wide sector of the Israeli public, they may have to benegotiated by a right-wing government."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus