Sunday was Jerusalem Day, the day we celebrate the miraculous salvation from the Arab threats of destruction that loomed over us by words and deeds, which was avoided by the stunning victories of the Six-Day War in 1967. That war also returned us to the heart of our homeland, Judea and Samaria, and – above all – brought about the reunification of Jerusalem.
When I meet people from Berlin I always ask them: “East Berlin or West Berlin?” The answer, always accompanied by a chuckle, is: “Well, it’s all just Berlin today”. I agree with them, but then I point out: “Berlin has been around a lot less than Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been the Jewish nation’s political and spiritual capital for over 3,000 years. Berlin was artificially divided into east and west as a result of military occupation at the end of WW II. It was divided for 44 years, and now that’s it’s been reunited you say it’s just all Berlin. Jerusalem was artificially divided into east and west as a result of the illegal, Jordanian military invasion and subsequent occupation of part of the city, causing the division of the city for 19 years. Now the city has been reunited for 49 years – and yet some people still insist on using the archaic terms ‘East Jerusalem’ and ‘West Jerusalem’! Do you see the absurd? Using those terms reveals either ignorance of history – or an anti-Semitic agenda to denigrate the Jewish connection to the Holy City.
The same matter of perception can relate to the Golan Heights. In Syrian hands they served as a base for attacking Israel almost incessantly, shelling the Israeli villages below. Since the Golan was taken in 1967, the Israeli villages below know peace, as do the Israeli and Druze villages on the Golan – in stark contrast to the current events in Syria. On the Golan you find ruins of ancient Jewish towns and villages that have in them synagogues dating back over two thousand years. Only under Israeli rule have the Golan Heights become fruitful, prosperous, tranquil and an area of hiking and picnicing for an entire state. The Golan has been part of Israel for 49 years. If you go back 49 years from 1967 you come to 1918. There was no Syria, which didn’t even exist as an independent state until 1946! So the Golan has been in Israeli hands more than twice as long as it was in Syrian hands. Yet some insist on referring to the Golan as Syrian, even though it has been in Israeli hands longer, even though it was in Syrian hands only because of the infamous Sykes-Picot imperialist agreement.
On Jerusalem Day I guided some of my students on a walking tour on Mt. Zion, at the site of King David’s Tomb (or perhaps more properly the tombs of the latter kings from the House of David). As we arrived we met a group of Muslims from Turkey and a group of Christians from Russia, each group with their own guide. I thought to myself: this site is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet from 1428 until 1948, the site was controlled by Muslims, and neither Jews nor Christians were allowed to visit freely, only Muslims. Since 1948, under Israeli control, the site of King David’s Tomb has been open to people of all nations and all religions.
As we entered Zion Gate into the Old City I recalled that during 19 years of Arab-Muslim rule between 1948 and 1967, – despite signed armistice agreements – Jews weren’t allowed to visit the Old City, its synagogues (which were all systematically destroyed) or the Western Wall. In contrast, for the last 49 years, under Israeli rule, all nations and all peoples can freely visit the Old City of Jerusalem.
Similarly, I recalled that in Hebron, up until 1967, under Muslim rule, Jews weren’t allowed to enter the Tomb of the patriarchs to pray at the site of our ancestors’ graves. Only since 1967, under Israeli rule, is their freedom of access and freedom of religion, except for one place: the Temple Mount. There, despite being in Jewish hands since 1967, out of Israeli high-minded tolerance the Temple Mount has been left to the supervision of Muslim officials, whose intolerance forbids non-Muslims to pray there. But besides that – I’m always proud to see that in the streets of Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, people from every nation and every religion, can walk safely and happily.
It’s all a question of perception of time and space.