May 16, 2007 Israel celebrates the 40th anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day; the commemoration of the unification of Jerusalem after the 6-day war of 1967.
In 1947, the UN decided to create a Jewish and an Arab state out of the Land of Israel of which Jerusalem was to remain neutral, belonging to neither state. That couldn’t be realised exactly as planned.
When the British mandate ended on 15th May 1948, Seven Arab states waged war on Israel that ended in dividing Jerusalem. The East of Jerusalem, including the Old City, occupied by Arabs, belonged to Jordan while the West of Jerusalem was in the state of Israel. The borders were strict, no going and coming between these two peoples.
The matter nonetheless remained unsettled for Jerusalem was an organic, inseparable part of Israel in the Jewish conscience, belief and history. And Jews have always demonstrated against loss of Jerusalem in history.
Some refused to eat meat or drink wine when nothing of it could be sacrificed no longer nor poured on the altar as libation, after losing Jerusalem and the Temple. Even in times of joy a Jew would not forget the lost Jerusalem. In the house, he would leave a patch of wall unfinished, at the wedding a groom’s forehead would be dabbed with ashes, the jewellery of the bride removed, and a cup broken. Jews are enjoined, “If I forget you, Jerusalem,” Rabbi Yehudah Prero said, “let my right hand forget its skill.”
A Jew cannot make a home outside Israel, not matter his success in Diaspora he remains a slave; subject to immoral influences. The land of Israel is the holiest of all lands, and the city of Jerusalem the holiest in Israel. Only when in this holy land can a Jew be faithful to the Torah.
Owing to this passion, such division of the City was unbearable and tension was already growing between Israel and Arabs states like Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, to mention some. War was in sight. Israel pre-emptied this situation and launched an attack on 5th June 1967; a war that lasted six days ending in Israel’s capture of the East of Jerusalem.
The Commander’s Speech of victory to the soldiers at the Temple Mount leaves no shadows of that Passion:
”…For 2,000 years, the Temple Mount was off limits to the Jews. Until you, the paratroopers, came and returned it to the bosom of its people. The Western Wall, towards which every Jewish heart beats, is again in our hands…. To you has fallen the great privilege to complete the circle, to give back to the people its eternal capital and its sacred centre….Jerusalem is yours – forever.”
The Israel government was quick to effect the unification. The municipal area extended and Israel law applied in the whole City. Jews acquired houses in the newly conquered land. The garbage that had accumulated at the Western Wall, including the house around, was quickly cleared.
The situation was quite delicate owing to different interests involved in the city.
Firstly, for Jews, Israel is a land given to them as chosen people with Jerusalem as the citadel of God; his presence assured by the Temple.
Then Arabs had lived here hundreds of years but all of a sudden became foreigners in the land they had known as theirs. The Arab Muslim world was also concerned about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, which stands on the Temple Mount.
Christians too needed assurance, would they continue to have free access to their Holy Places; respecting the existing rights?
Then, an international community. When Israeli Parliament declared Jerusalem, the undivided, eternal capital of the State of Israel in 1980 thirteen national embassies in Jerusalem closed as the declaration was against the UN resolution.
However, the Israeli Government pledged commitment to make Jerusalem open to all members of different religions. “In all these arrangements there is, of course, nothing that alters in the slightest degree any of the existing rights in the Holy Places, which the Government of Israel will respect in full”.
So Jerusalem Day, celebrated on Iyar 28, 8th month of the Jewish calendar, commemorates the re-possession of the entire city.
On this day “k’eir shechubra la yachdav” slogan is chanted that means “The city which was reunited”, based on Psalm122:3 “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself”. Even the festival Hallel, rarely used in Jewish liturgy, except at Passover and Independence day, is recited on this day because of the importance attached to Jerusalem, more than Israeli’s political power over the rest of the land of Israel.
Crowds march around the city singing, dancing, and waving flags walking through the Old City to the Western Wall where speeches and festive dancing continue.
This is a triumphal achievement for Jews. During the 19 years between the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, Jews could not dare set foot in the Old City, no access therefore to their shrine. Only one possibility was open for them.
They used to climb the Mount Zion or the cemetery on Mount of Olives in order to set their eyes on the Temple Mount.
Then, is it not just plain that Jerusalem Day is actually a Jewish feast?
Well, today a Jew or an Arab can walk on the streets of East or West of Jerusalem, though their relationship still leaves much to desire.
Besides, thousands of pilgrimages: Jews, Christians and Moslems pour into the city each day, free to worship and visit their Holy Places.
If all that is the fruit of the unification, then, Jerusalem Day should be a celebration for many other people than Jews alone; and therefore a reason enough to be interested in the well-being of this Holy City.
Therefore, if I do not pray for your peace Jerusalem, indeed, let my right hand forget its skill.
By Evans K. Chama (c) 2007
A Missionary of Africa, studying theology in Jerusalem