Jerusalem Day Western Wall 521.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Forty-six years ago today Israel embarked on a war against the combined armies
of its Arab neighbors – Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In the months leading up to
what would be later known as the Six Day War, Israel’s leaders did everything in
their power to avoid a military confrontation.
However, Nasser’s decision
to expel the United Nations Emergency Force and mass Egyptian troops in the
Sinai; his closure of the Straits of Tiran; his instigation of Arab war pacts
and public commitments by Arab heads of state to eradicate Zionism; and the
Soviets’ behind-thescenes warmongering all contributed to a bellicose atmosphere
that forced Israel to act preemptively.
By the time the fighting was
over, Israel was in possession of huge tracts of land – the Sinai Peninsula, the
Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Much of this newly acquired
territory – particularly in the West Bank – was resonant with Jewish history.
Relief at being saved from destruction at the hands of Arab soldiers, combined
with the sudden and unplanned expansion into geographical sites right out of the
Bible, sparked a heady exuberance that spread throughout the
However, nothing could compare to the excitement generated by
the reunification of Jerusalem. For the first time since Jewish sovereignty came
to a brutal end nearly two millennia earlier, the Jewish people gained control
over their holiest city, and Jerusalem was once again reunited. Images of
then-chief-of-staff Yitzhak Rabin, defense minister Moshe Dayan and Uzi Narkis,
the commander of the forces that liberated Jerusalem, are iconic in Israel’s
short history, as are pictures of the shofar-blowing Rabbi Shlomo Goren at the
Western Wall and on the Temple Mount.
In the days and weeks that followed
Israel’s miraculous victory, tens of thousands visited the Western Wall. The
liberation of Jerusalem contrasted sharply with the 19 years of Jordanian rule,
during which Jewish residents were driven out and Jewish places of worship were
closed or destroyed. Even the various Christian denominations had operated with
limited liberties under the strict control of Muslim authorities. And the
excitement surrounding unification, combined with the wariness at sharing
control over the city, remains strong today.
That seemed to be the
sentiment reflected in a survey commissioned by The Jerusalem Post from pollster
Rafi Smith of Smith Consulting. Though a strong majority continues to support a
two-state solution, most Israelis reject the idea of transforming Jerusalem into
a shared capital for both Israelis and Palestinians. Of 500 respondents, just 15
percent said they were in favor of Jerusalem becoming the capital not only of
Israel but of a future Palestinian state. In contrast, 74% of Israelis polled
rejected sharing the capital.
The poll is yet another reminder of the
yawning gaps separating Israelis and Palestinians. Not only are the sides split
on the issue of the “right of return” for millions of Palestinian “refugees”;
but also on the question of recognizing settlement blocs and communities such as
Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel; and on security arrangements.
Palestinians are also seemingly irrevocably at odds when it comes to
This past weekend, during a meeting with Arab residents of
Jerusalem in his office, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that
“without Jerusalem being the capital of the Palestinian state, there will be no
political solution.” Abbas added that “east Jerusalem is the essence of the
State of Palestine. It is the hearts of all Palestinians and Arabs and
As we mark the 46th anniversary of the outbreak of the Six Day
War, it is fitting to be humbled by the tremendous challenges we face and the
obstacles to peace that remain to be overcome. But we should also be proud of
our tremendous achievements.
Today, 46 years after reunification,
Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000. Once
referred to by writer Cynthia Ozick as a “phoenix city” with a “history of
histories” where “no one is a stranger” – Jerusalem has never before in its long
life flourished so astoundingly.
Never have so many Jews lived in
Jerusalem in relative harmony and security alongside a diverse non-Jewish
population. And never before have the religious rights of all been so carefully
Israelis are rightly wary of endangering all this.