Why Jerusalem Day should be celebrated by the Palestinians and the World

It is puzzling as to why Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem in June of 1967 is treated as a day of mourning in the Palestinian world. I use the term liberation for a reason here, and would argue the term commonly used, reunification, undermines the true nature of the event.  I am not going to argue here if there really were a historical Palestinian people, that debate is too complicated because there were Arabs living in a land called Palestine prior to 1948 and next year as the State of Israel turns 70 would be a more appropriate time to address this. What I am contending today is that without the acts of a group of brave soldiers in early June 1967, there would never have been the opportunity for, let alone a prolonged 50 year discourse about the “State of Palestine”.

Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that “history is written by the victors” and while the sentiment is very much true, there is enough historical documentation that exists today that show just how life was for the average “Palestinian” prior to 1967. From 1948 through early June 1967 it was The Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan, now known simply as Jordan, that occupied the land East of Jerusalem.  In fact the term West Bank is actually an Arab term “Aḍ-Ḍiffah l-Ġarbiyyah” that refers to the land they occupied after the first Arab-Israeli war that was west of the Jordan River.  In 1950 when Jordan formally annexed the land, King Abdullah the First granted Jordanian citizenship to all who lived in this area. So, these residents were Jordanian, not Palestinian and made no fuss about being Jordanian either.

Now, logic would hold in this day and age that it is a government’s responsibility to provide basic necessities for their citizens, and as Jordanian citizens the Arab population living in the West Bank should have benefited. However, the truth of the matter was Jordan considered these citizens to be second class. Just over 50% of the population had running water or electricity. The most peculiar part was Jordan kept most of the population (as of 1950 their own citizenry) in refugee camps set up after the first Arab-Israeli war, and relied on the United Nations to administer them.

It is not a shock to understand why the West Bank Arabs, while citizens of Jordan were not treated with the same rights as their East Bank brethren. The minority Hashemites who ruled Jordan (they were actually from Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia) were far outnumbered by the indigenous people, it is a fact that by the time the Six Day War came about, 47% of Jordan’s population lived in the West Bank and accounted for almost 30% of its GDP. Simply put, Jordan made it a policy to subjugate in order to ensure their own survival as a Hashemite run monarchy.

Under Jordanian rule the holy sites scattered throughout the West Bank, sites revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims were trashed and disrespected. Non-Muslim cemeteries were uprooted and turned into parking lots. The Western Wall, the holiest site at the time for the Jewish People was turned into a garbage dump.  Jewish tombstones from the Mount of Olives were used for construction, with the bones literally being discarded and the holes used as latrines for Jordanian soldiers. All but one synagogue out of more than 30 in the Old City were destroyed. Christians too had few rights, with small quotas of pilgrims allowed to visit Bethlehem on Christmas or the Via Dolorosa on Easter. Christian charities were prohibited from purchasing land, Christian schools were forced to teach in Arabic as well as teach the Koran to their students and were not allowed to openly practice outside of their strictly, Muslim governed institutions. Even the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and proclaimed as their “third holiest site” was in fact turned into a Jordanian Army base – seriously.

Throughout the entire rule over the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Jordan, there was no mention of a Palestinian state. There was no mention of Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state. In fact, newly crowned King Hussein of Jordan in 1953 declared East Jerusalem to be the alternate capital of the Hashemite Kingdom, a right the same exact man gave up at the end of July 1988 when Jordan formally relinquished claim to the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now, understanding the demographic makeup of Jordan, and knowing Israel was administrator of the West Bank since 1967, this move simply was a way to legally revoke Jordanian citizenship for a population that Jordan feared would overtake the Hashemite rule.

So, here we are today in 2017 and celebrating 50 years of the liberation of Jerusalem. Since the brave men of the 55th Paratrooper Brigade broke through the walls and claimed the Old City of Jerusalem sovereign Israeli territory, several amazing things have happened.  Israel handed the “keys” of Judaism’s holiest of holy sites, the Temple Mount, to the Jordanians almost immediately after seizing it. Churches once laid fallow were rebuilt and reoccupied with Christian pilgrims from around the world and from all denominations filling them and worshiping freely by the millions. Many Arabs in East Jerusalem enjoy Israeli citizenship and many more are applying as the stigma of being Israeli subsides and out of sheer practicality.  

Jerusalem was in fact liberated in June of 1967 and over the course of the 50 years that have followed, it is more free, more open and more tolerant than at any other point in history.  Churches own land, a lot of it. As do people and organizations of other faiths. The original U.N. partition plan called for a “corpus separatum” or an “internationalized” Jerusalem – I contend that under Israeli sovereignty the city has never been more international in its multi-millennium history.

As for the State of Palestine, there is much hope that one day this could truly be a reality, however without the Six Day war and the liberation of Jerusalem, it would not even be an option today.  

Just one last thought to discuss among yourselves: Is it a coincidence that the flag of the Palestinian Nation is the Jordanian flag, sans the star?

About the Author
Jay Engelmayer is a 49 year old husband and father of four. Professionally his focus has been digital marketing and business development for commercial products. A proud and unapologetic American-Israeli Zionist, he enjoys cooking and yelling at television screens. Some consider him argumentative in nature, although he prefers "purposeful cynic" when describing his disposition. Living in Israel, he hails from New York City and is glad he left before it became the 1970's redux it is today.