Jerusalem Day commemorates the day Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, at the end of the Six Day War. This was a momentous event and signified a stunning victory over the armies of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. It also represented the return of Jewish prayer rights to the Western Wall, part of the retaining wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Under foreign occupation, Jews had been barred from their holiest sites in their holiest city, a crime that went largely unacknowledged at the time.
Jerusalem is a holy city and it ought to be a symbol of peace and coexistence in the region. This potential role for the city can be seen in such recent developments as the Abraham Accords and Israel’s rapidly developing ties with a vast range of countries, including Muslim-majority states like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Unfortunately, there are those who would like to turn this important day into one of tension and strife. This is a recurring theme that begins in the lead-up to the day each year. As in years past, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has put out warnings and threats against the flag march that takes place every year. The terrorists claim, absurdly, that this is a “religious war” waged by Israel against the al-Aqsa Mosque. This Hamas disinformation, used to incite and inflame tensions, is part of an ongoing effort by the terrorists to exploit the day and try to provoke violence.
At the same time, there are also misguided Israeli youth who use the day to chant racist and hateful slogans as they march through parts of the Old City, harassing locals who have shuttered their businesses along the parade route from Damascus Gate to the Western Wall. This, too, is utterly unacceptable.
Jerusalem Day: Commemorating peace but flaming tensions
While Jerusalem Day begins with the kind of peaceful commemoration and symbolism that represents the best values of our country – including a commemoration on Mount Herzl for Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel and a procession throughout the city ending in the Old City – the day has the potential of descending into clashes that mar the celebrations.
While some voices call for rerouting the flag march to reduce tensions, others see concessions and rerouting as appeasing the inciters, infringing on Israeli sovereignty and enabling further demands from Israel. The question is whether rerouting represents capitulation to threats and tacit acknowledgment that Jerusalem is divided, rather than it being the unified city that the day is meant to celebrate.
We cannot bridge some of the controversies that will always underpin the day: Terrorist groups and extremists will always try to exploit these events, and benefit and gain power from tensions and chaos.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that our democratic society is a tolerant one. Days before Jerusalem Day, there were scores of protesters at Tel Aviv University commemorating the “Nakba” – the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth, in the Palestinian narrative – while waving Palestinian flags. If Palestinian flags can be waved in large numbers in Tel Aviv, it is only natural that the Israeli flag can be waved in the Old City of Jerusalem. That is how democratic countries work: We protect the rights of all and we don’t allow threats to decide how the majority may live.
It is our hope that this Jerusalem Day will pass without incident. We should show support for our law enforcement authorities, who shoulder the challenging burden of managing security in the city.
At the same time, the day should remind us of the need to invest in our capital, which means investing in all of its communities and ensuring that residents of eastern Jerusalem also have security and basic services. Jerusalem is a city that faces numerous hurdles, from poverty to education and the need to retain educated young people. We have not fulfilled the unification of 1967 if we cannot provide the services that all of the city’s residents deserve.
With all eyes on Jerusalem during today’s events, let us redouble our efforts to bring peace, coexistence and equality to our beloved capital.
Happy Jerusalem Day!