Israel has just finished celebrating the 49th anniversary of Jerusalem’s liberation and reunification. As we should all know, during the Six Day War in 1967, Israel defeated the armies of several Arab states for the second time since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The Israeli military captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the Biblical heartland of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria. But I think most people would agree that Israel’s greatest prize in the Six Day War was the reunification of Jerusalem after 19 years of division. East Jerusalem was liberated from the grip of the Hashemite dictatorship and reunified with the Israel-controlled west.
My father, who fought in the Six Day War, has told me stories about the liberation. He still remembers walking through the Old City and visiting the Western Wall for the first time, where he and his fellow soldiers cried like babies, overjoyed at liberating Judaism’s holiest site. He also remembers how his father was able to see friends that he hadn’t seen since the city was divided after the War of Independence. It was truly a joyous time for the people of Israel.
Today, Jerusalem is a modern metropolis mixed in with the ancient parts of the city that date back to biblical times. It’s hard to believe that just a century ago, Jerusalem was a shell of its former glory. In the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, the city was nothing more than a backwater with little commerce and little hope for the future. This began to change when Jews began returning to what has always been their capital. During the British mandate period, new neighborhoods sprang up in the city and modern infrastructure began being built. After the War of Independence, Jerusalem became the capitol of the Nation of Israel for the first time in two thousand years.
Unfortunately, the eastern side of the city would continue to be neglected until its liberation in 1967. My father told me about how filthy the Old City was when it was liberated. There was so much garbage and excrement that you could barely walk through the streets. He even said that the military command issued a warning to soldiers not to eat the produce sold in the markets because it was watered with sewer water. Thankfully, Israel cleaned up the mess that the Hashemites left and turned the Old City back into a thriving center of commerce and tourism, as well as a free place of worship for the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Israel also showed a great deal of moral strength when it liberated eastern Jerusalem. It would have been easy, for example, for the Israelis to destroy the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the other Muslim holy shrines that Arab and Muslim conquerors had built so that Solomon’s Temple could be resurrected in their place. But they didn’t. Instead, they turned control of the sites on the Temple Mount over to the officials comprising the Islamic trust or Waqf and allowed Muslims to worship there freely to this day. Critics of Israel often complain about how the Israeli authorities sometimes prevent some Muslim worshipers from praying on the Mount for security reasons. My response to them is to ask how many Jews were allowed to worship at the Western Wall when it was under Hashemite rule. The answer? Not one!
In fact, inasmuch as Arab residents of Jerusalem complain about being neglected and persecuted by Israel – even to the extent that some have recently taken part in stabbing and vehicular attacks against Jewish Jerusalemites – polls have shown that the city’s Arabs would rather be ruled by Israel than by a future Palestinian state. It’s probably because they know that they have freedom in Israel that people living in the Arab states can only dream of. Unfortunately, however, there are still those in the so-called peace camp that seek to physically divide the city just as it was divided before. As a person who is descended from a family that has lived in Jerusalem for five generations, I can say that physically dividing the city again would be like slicing my heart and the hearts of many others into pieces. It cannot be allowed to happen!