Feting Jerusalem

Today, 46 years after reunification, Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000.

June 4, 2013 21:55
3 minute read.
Praying at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day

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 country.

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.

Israelis and Palestinians are also seemingly irrevocably at odds when it comes to Jerusalem.

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 Muslims.”

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 protected.

Israelis are rightly wary of endangering all this.

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