Jerusalem, Open City

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

In 1945, after the war, Roberto Rossellini burst onto the international scene giving birth to the neorealist movement. Taking place in Rome, he called his first film in this genre, “Open City.”


After some 100,000 sorties and 60,000 tons of bombs dropped by the Allies, Rome had finally been freed from Axis occupation.


Twenty-two-years later, another religiously famous city became liberated – Jerusalem. Today anyone can move about freely taking in the sights and sounds of the Old City, stroll down Ben Yehuda Street or visit the holy places.


Before the Six-Day War liberated the city, Jews had been banned from their holiest places including the Western Wall. According to CAMERA, during the Jordanian occupation, some fifty-eight synagogues--some hundreds of years old--were destroyed, their contents looted and desecrated. Jewish religious sites were turned into chicken coops or animal stalls. The Western Wall became a slum.


Since the city was reunited under Israeli sovereignty in 1967, Jerusalem has been a city open to people of all religions, with the holy places of all faiths, Jews, Muslims and Christians protected.


Today, the free enterprise that weaves through the narrow streets of the Old City—from shopkeepers to hondlers all bartering and hocking merchandise—is an apt metaphor for a city alive with an exchange of goods and ideas and trades in them.


The old city includes the Muslim Quarter, Christian and Armenian along with the Jewish. Both the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock still stand on the Temple Mount. The Muslim call to prayer fills the air five times a day.


When the city became united, Moshe Dayan spoke these moving words


“This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour—and with added emphasis at this hour—our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples'' holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.”


Less than a year later, Yom Yerushalayim was proclaimed by the Knesset to be a new holiday celebrated on the 28th of Iyar. Five years ago on its 40th anniversary, the fitting slogan was “Something Special for Everyone.” And, it is.


Rossellini’s anti-fascist film, shot amongst the ruins and devastation that inhabited the eternal city, went on to win the Grand Prize at Cannes.


Just as the fascist occupation suffocated Rome, the Jordanian occupation cut off and strangled life in East Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. Appeals were made to the UN and in the international community to declare the Old City to be an “open city”, but alas, there was no response. This condition continued until Jordan lost control in June 1967.


To ever contemplate a divided Jerusalem again let us say, “Never Again.”


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at