May 11, 2007

40th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem

Via Israel HighWay:

Most Jews in Israel and throughout the world barely remember a time when the Old City of Jerusalem and the rest of east Jerusalem were not an important part of the fabric of the city and the country. For 19 years, from the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967, Jerusalem was a city divided by barbed wire and dangerous "no-man’s land" running roughly north to south separating the Jewish people from the Old City of Jerusalem. The Old City, the City of David, was the cornerstone of 2,000 years of Jewish longing for Zion. The long-held dream of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel was finally achieved, but the heart of the land was at once visibly close and miles away.

When Israel was born in 1948, its citizens and armed forces were unable to defend the Old City, and it fell to the Jordanian Legion. Jews were cut off from their holiest sites in Jerusalem, including the Kotel (Western Wall), the City of David just outside the Old City Walls, Mt. Scopus and the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery.

Throughout this time the Jewish character of the Old City was systematically destroyed by the Jordanian government. Thousands of Jewish residents of east Jerusalem and the Old City were driven from their homes. Fifty-eight Jerusalem synagogues, including some that were hundreds of years old, were destroyed or ruined and others were turned into barns for animals or public bathrooms. The entire Jewish Quarter was destroyed, houses were built immediately adjacent to the Kotel and all access to the ancient city was completely denied to Jews. Then suddenly, in the middle of the Six Day War, Israel found itself, unexpectedly, in control of the Old City.

With the news that Israel had taken control of the Old City and east Jerusalem, Israelis from all over the country began flocking to the Kotel to celebrate their young country’s miraculous victory. With Israeli sovereignty in all of Jerusalem, the holy sites of the world’s three great monotheistic faiths were opened to all, as they had never been under centuries of Muslim rule.

Now, 40 years later, many Israelis don’t know an Israel without a united Jerusalem offering free access to the Kotel and the important cultural and historic sites in the Old City. What was once "no man's land" dividing Israeli west Jerusalem from Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem is now home to many landmarks and tourist attractions. One such place is the Haas Promenade, the first stop for many tour groups because of its scenic overlook of the entire Jerusalem panorama.

In recent years, Jerusalem has struggled as a growing and modern city. The city's narrow and winding streets are often snarled with traffic, and the city center, the site of frequent terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, has struggled to keep shoppers and to attract people seeking entertainment who favor the modern indoor mall on the outskirts of the city. However, the city is in the midst of a major building campaign centered around the Jerusalem light rail system which will connect the outlying neighborhoods of the city with the center of town. The light rail, with its signature "Bridge of Strings" at the entrance to the city, will serve as a catalyst for new pedestrian malls, shopping areas and a reduction of traffic in and around the city center.

However, everything is not settled. To this day, 40 years after the unification of the city and almost 60 years after the founding of the State of Israel, the world refuses to fully accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Children born in Jerusalem to American parents are issued U.S. passports with the country of birth left blank. For decades, only two countries, Costa Rica and El Salvador, maintained their Israeli embassies in Jerusalem, and both of those countries announced last year that they would be moving their embassies to Tel Aviv.

The issue of Jerusalem has played a significant role in various diplomatic discussions in recent years and remains a key "final status" issue in the on-again, off-again talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords, the negotiations at Camp David and the other interim discussions have all touched on the future of Jerusalem but opted to postpone the discussion. This year’s controversy over the Mugrabi Gate excavations shows just how sensitive an issue Jerusalem can be. The Mugrabi Gate serves as the entry point to the Temple Mount for all non-Muslim visitors. The bridge was built after the Six Day War to bring visitors to the Temple Mount. Recently it was heavily damaged during torrential rainstorms, and Jerusalem city architects ruled that is must be replaced with a more permanent and safer structure. In February, initial excavations of the site for the new bridge brought a swirl of controversy from the Muslim world, with Muslim and Arab leaders accusing Israel of seeking to undermine mosques on the Mount. Israel defended the decision to rebuild by inviting inspectors from various countries to observe and inspect the area themselves. A UN ruling on the incident cleared Israel of wrongdoing, acknowledging that they had acted with professionalism.

What is the future of Jerusalem? Will it remain the undivided capital of Israel or will the world demand official Palestinian sovereignty in parts of the Holy City? The answers to these questions remain unclear to all; but on this, the 40th Yom Yerushalayim, we should all stop to appreciate the Eternal City.

Take Action:

* Celebrate Yom Yerushalayim on May 16.
- Put an Israeli flag on your window or porch.
- Wear an Israeli flag pin.
* Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Attend a special service at your school or synagogue to mark the miracle of Jerusalem's reunification.
* Write a letter to your congressmen, senator, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that the American Embassy be moved to Jerusalem.

* Watch these video clips on Jerusalem:

- Jerusalem of Gold
- Matisyahu's Tribute to Jerusalem

Click here to listen to a live broadcast of the liberation of the Old City on June 7, 1967.