I was seven years old when the Six Day War broke out in 1967. My family and I lived in Jerusalem, a few hundred meters from the no man’s land between Jordanian and Israeli territory that divided the city. The State of Israel was preparing for an imminent onslaught. As a little boy, I remember helping soldiers dig trenches in our yard and hiding with my brothers under our beds when the war began. For days, our streets were bombed and our neighbors were wounded. Until suddenly the war was over.
My family and I went out to walk the streets of our newly reunited city. I saw the adults around me crying. As a child, I couldn’t understand. Only years later did I realize the source of that outpouring of emotion.
In that moment, we fulfilled a 2,000 year old dream.
We returned to the roots of our history: the City of David, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall. We united east and west, north and south. Jerusalem’s unity has strengthened us all.
Jerusalem today is the crossroads of the modern and ancient: the City of David and the Western Wall Tunnels – alongside the Hebrew University and a thriving hi-tech ecosystem; the Western Wall and the holy sites – minutes from the bustling Mahane Yehuda market, the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Payis Arena and Teddy Stadium; the newly reinvigorated Park HaMesila along the old Ottoman train tracks and Gazelle Valley nature reserve – that stretch alongside Israel’s first light rail line. Old and new, holy and secular, natural sites and technological wonders sit side by side in the city of Jerusalem.
For me, to be a Jerusalemite is to march in the City of David where kings and prophets walked. To buy fruits and vegetables in the colorful Machane Yehuda market during the day and to enjoy the vibrant scene that comes to life there at night. To run the breathtaking Jerusalem Marathon alongside the walls of the Old City. To be with tens of thousands of fellow Jews at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing of the kohanim. To drive with Mobileye founders Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua in the autonomous cars that will first travel Jerusalem’s streets and then spread to the corners of the globe. To work with Beit Hanina community leaders to build the neighborhood’s future. These are unique Jerusalem experiences that cannot be found in any other place in the world.
The heart of the city center is beating once again. Nature reserves and new parks have been opened. Neighborhood infrastructures have been rejuvenated and reconfigured to adapt to the needs of the 21st century. At the entrance to the city, we are building the largest business district in the country, providing employment and livelihood for tens of thousands of people – and these are just glimpses into the revolution taking place in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, with its unique human mosaic, is the largest and most diverse city in Israel. It has a place for hi-tech entrepreneurs, innovative artists, groundbreaking educators and billions of people around the globe who look to Jerusalem as a center of creativity and inspiration.
As a lifelong Jerusalemite, I have seen the city grow and prosper in the past fifty years. I have witnessed the rebirth of an ancient city, the heart and soul of the Jewish people. We are all shareholders of the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. We are all shareholders in this renaissance.
Next year in Jerusalem!
Nir Barkat is mayor of Jerusalem. You can follow him on Twitter, @NirBarkat