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Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem, capital of Israel, divided during the 1948 War of Independence, was reunited in June 1967. On May 17, 2015 (28 Iyyar) Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of the nation's capital.

Since the time of King David, except for the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, there has always been a Jewish presence in the ancient city of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. From 1948 until 1967, the western part of the city was in Israeli hands, while the ancient, eastern part - apart from a small Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus - was under Jordanian control.

"Peace has now returned with our forces in control of all the city and its environs. You may rest assured that no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions. I have requested the Minister of Religious Affairs to get in touch with the religious leaders in the Old City in order to ensure regular contact between them and our forces, so as to make certain that the former may continue their spiritual activities unhindered."
- Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, June 7, 1967

Brief history of Jerusalem

King David made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom and the religious center of the Jewish people in 1003 BCE. Some forty years later, his son Solomon built the Temple (the religious and national center of the people of Israel) and transformed the city into the prosperous capital of an empire extending from the Euphrates to Egypt.

Exiled by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, the Jews were allowed to return and rebuild the city and the Temple some 50 years later by the Persian King Cyrus.

Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem in 332 BCE. The later desecration of the Temple and attempts to suppress Jewish religious identity under the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV resulted in a revolt led by Judah Maccabbee, who rededicated the Temple (164 BCE) and re-established Jewish independence under the Hasmonean dynasty.

A century later, Pompey imposed Roman rule on Jerusalem. King Herod, installed as ruler of Judah by the Romans (37 - 4 BCE), established cultural institutions in Jerusalem, erected magnificent public buildings and refashioned the Temple into an edifice of splendor.

View from the Mount of Olives - Shai Ginott
View from the Mount of Olives
(Photo by Shai Ginott, The Spirit of Jerusalem)

Jewish revolt against Rome broke out in 66 CE, as Roman rule after Herod's death became increasingly oppressive. In 70 CE, Roman legions under Titus conquered the city and destroyed the Temple. Jewish independence was briefly restored during the Bar Kochba revolt (132-135), but again the Romans prevailed. Jews were forbidden to enter the city, renamed Aelia Capitolina.

After Byzantine conquest of the city (313), Jerusalem was transformed into a Christian center under Emperor Constantine, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the first of many grandiose structures built in the city.

Muslim armies invaded the country in 634, and four years later Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem. Only during the reign of Abdul Malik, who built the Dome of the Rock (691), did Jerusalem briefly become the seat of a caliph.

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099, massacred its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, and established the city as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom. Synagogues were destroyed, old churches were rebuilt and many mosques were turned into Christian shrines. Crusader rule over Jerusalem ended in 1187, when the city fell to Saladin.

In 1247 Jerusalem fell once more to Egypt, now ruled by the Mamluks, until the conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the city walls (1537). After his death, the central authorities in Constantinople took little interest in Jerusalem and the city declined.

Jerusalem began to thrive once more in the latter half of the 19th century. Growing numbers of Jews returning to their land, waning Ottoman power and revitalized European interest in the Holy Land led to renewed development of Jerusalem.

The British army led by General Allenby conquered Jerusalem in 1917. From 1922 to 1948, Jerusalem was the administrative seat of the British authorities in the Land of Israel (Palestine), which had been entrusted to Great Britain by the League of Nations.

Division and reunification

Upon termination of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948, and in accordance with the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, Israel proclaimed its independence, with Jerusalem as its capital. Opposing its establishment, the Arab countries launched an all-out assault on the new state, resulting in the 1948-49 War of Independence. The armistice lines drawn at the end of the war divided Jerusalem into two, with Jordan occupying the Old City and areas to the north and south, and Israel retaining the western and southern parts of the city.

U.N. car arriving at the Israel frontier check post at Mandelbaum Gate in Jerusalem, December 1964 (GPO/Moshe Pridan)

When the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, Israel contacted Jordan through the U.N. as well as the American Embassy, and made it clear that if Jordan refrained from attacking Israel, Israel would not attack Jordan. Nevertheless, the Jordanians attacked west Jerusalem and occupied the former High Commissioner's building. Following heavy fighting, the IDF recovered the compound and removed the Jordanian army from east Jerusalem, resulting in the reunification of the city.

From the IDF website:

"The eagerly awaited command to take the Old City was given at sunrise on the third day of the war, 7 June 1967. The Command assigned this task to the paratroopers, who started with an attack on the Augusta-Victoria hills and the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City. After firing in the direction of the breakthrough path, the Lions Gate, the force from the east advanced forward very quickly and broke through into the Old City. The paratroopers ran towards the Dome of the Rock, located next to the last remains of the Temple, the Western Wall, where, in the presence of the sector commander and the deputy head of the armed services, General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief chaplain of the IDF blew a long blow on the rams horn, announcing the release of the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the divided and split capital of Israel, was reunited."

After the liberation of the city by the IDF, the walls dividing the city were torn down. Three weeks later, the Knesset enacted legislation unifying the city and extending Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part of the city.

The reunification of the city was also a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.

One year later, in 1968, it was decided that the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem - 28 Iyar according to the Jewish lunar calendar - would be national holiday in Israel. On Jerusalem Day we celebrate the reunification of the city and the Jewish people's connection with Jerusalem throughout the ages.
Last modified onWednesday, 21 October 2015 13:51

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