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Jerusalem – in whose hands is it?

On Sunday, May 29, 2022 Israel commemorated Jerusalem Day, marking 55 years since the Israeli forces (IDF) liberated the Old City from the 19-year Jordanian occupation of 1948-1967. Jerusalem has been celebrated by Jews as their capital and most singular city for more than 3,000 years, ever since King David proclaimed it the capital for all 12 tribes of the Children of Israel. Jerusalem Day celebrates the unification of the city after the ouster of the British-led Jordanian Legion, which had gained control of Israel’s holiest site, the Temple Mount and surroundings, during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence against five invading Arab armies hoping to “Drive the Jews into the sea…”

While some may think that the Old City (incorrectly described as part of a non-existent “East Jerusalem”) was always the separate Muslim sector of the city, that’s entirely incorrect. In the mid-19th century, the Jews became the majority population of the city. Nearly all its residents, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and Christians, lived within the Old City walls. In the latter part of the century the overcrowded conditions in the walled area led to the first building projects outside the walls.

During the time of the British occupation and Mandate, roughly from the end of WWI to 1948, Britain restricted Jewish settlement throughout “Palestine,” including in the Old City. After Israel declared its independence, the nascent state was attacked by five surrounding Arab countries. The Jordanian Legion conquered the Old City and expelled the Jews and razed all the Jewish holy places. Israel regained its territory in the Six Day War of 1967. So, only a 19-year hiatus forms the basis of the argument for “Arab East Jerusalem.” 

President Isaac Herzog said in his Jerusalem Day speech at Ammunition Hill, site of one of the most crucial and toughest battles of the Six Day War, “Jerusalem is the city where the Israeli spirit and the Israeli sense of responsibility are tested. Jerusalem and our existence are one. It is from Jerusalem that we receive our historical right, our identity, our heritage…. We must emphasize and make as clear as possible: Jerusalem, whole and united, is the capital of Israel, a symbol of Israel’s statehood and sovereignty, and thus shall it be forever.”

On June 7, 1967, Paratroop commander Motti Gur declared Israel’s triumph, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” But is it? An Israeli flag was placed atop the Dome of the Rock soon after the conquest, but Israel’s Defense Minister, the legendary General Moshe Dayan, immediately ordered that it be taken down, deeming it an insult to the Muslims. Shortly after, he ceded control of the Temple Mount, our holiest site where two Jewish Temples stood, to the Muslim religious authorities, the Waqf. From that time, Jews were prohibited or highly restricted from access to the Temple Mount, which the Muslims then “discovered” was their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina. NOTE: Jerusalem had been a backwater for the Muslims up until then. It was never an Arab capital city. Perhaps most telling, during the entire 19-year period that Jordan occupied the Old City, only Jordan’s King Abdullah (the present king’s great- grandfather), and no other Arab leader, came to pray at the Al Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall, once called the Wailing Wall, is actually a part of King Herod’s retaining wall to enlarge the Temple Mount and was built in the 1st century BCE. It isn’t the holiest site of the Jews, but is adjacent to it.

This year more than 50,000 people (some say 70,000), mostly religious younger people, and families with kids, participated in the Flag March on two separate paths towards the Kotel – the Western Wall Plaza. One path came through the Jaffa Gate and the other one via the Damascus Gate, the main entry for Jerusalem’s Arab population. The former route was mostly families or women and children, while the latter was younger and much more boisterous, with epithets shouted between the marchers and Arab onlookers and some violence, resulting in scores of relatively light injuries and arrests. Still, given the large attendance and the relatively sparse violence, the March was considered a success.

NOTE: The Flag March emphatically shows Israel’s sovereignty over all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and especially in Jerusalem. All of it is the Jewish homeland since antiquity, based on the Bible, based on Jewish aboriginal (original inhabitants) status here, based on various international agreements such as the San Remo Resolution of 1920 and the United Nations charter, which affirmed the League of Nations declaration of the right to a Jewish state west of the Jordan River, and by the plain right of conquest, the most common authority for nations of the world. If a peace treaty is ever signed with the Palestinian Arabs, it will be overwhelmingly based on Israel’s terms because of Jewish sovereignty.

It should be remembered that last year’s Jerusalem Day celebration was a fiasco. Hamas threatened rocket attacks on Israel if the traditional marchers’ entrance at Damascus Gate was not changed. The previous government under Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly acquiesced and rerouted the march. Then, the march was cancelled altogether due to fear of an attack from Gaza. Nevertheless, on Jerusalem Day 2020 Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem, surprising our government, which reacted strongly and devastated Gaza over a period of about a week, surprising Hamas even more. This year, Hamas made the same threats but feared to act on them because it still hasn’t recovered from last year’s 11-day Operation, Guardian of the Walls. (By the way, Israel was strongly criticized for its lawful defense of its territory, as usual.)

It should be noted that this year more than 2,000 police were concentrated in Jerusalem for the event, which certainly helped to keep the violence to a minimum. Also, that 2,600 Jews ascended the Temple Mount on the day, the most ever. The celebration ended at the Kotel, with thousands of celebrants crowded happily into the Plaza. Israel’s government, which looked impotent last year, made the correct decisions this year. That, coupled with the increasing cooperation with Israel’s Abraham Accords partners – and non-partner Saudi Arabia – are continually sidelining the Palestinian Arabs and their corrupt leaders – Hamas and the Palestinian Authority-PLO. 

The way Israel confronts its enemies is of paramount importance. As we should have learned decades ago, trying to placate enemies only emboldens them. Proactively using our strengths, military, economic, and humanitarian is the only way for Israel’s continued success. Whether the Palestinian Arabs want to get real about coexisting with Israel is more their problem than ours. It’s their path to choose, while Israel grows bigger, more powerful, and more significant each year.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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