Today, Israel celebrates 48 years since the reunification of Jerusalem during 1967’s Six Day War. The day was declared a religious holiday by the Chief Rabbinate in recognition of the miracles that took place during the war.
In 1948, the Jordanians conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem, including its Old City, forcibly expelling its Jewish residents. For the next 19 years, Jews were denied access to the Western Wall (Kotel), one of the Jewish nation’s most holy prayer sites. The Jordanians destroyed 48 of the 49 historic synagogues within the Old City and desecrated ancient graves located on the Mount of Olives by using them as latrines.
In 1967, Israeli paratroopers liberated the eastern half of the city, making their way to the Kotel at the base of the Temple Mount. Their experiences have inspired song and literature, and a photograph of forces standing at the Wall, taken mere hours later, is one of the city’s most famous images.
The success of Israeli forces during the Six Day War can only be attributed to the help of God. Among the miracles which took place during the brief conflict, an IDF ammunition truck, parked outside a building in Jerusalem overnight, was hit by an enemy shell. Had the shell exploded, the loaded truck would have, too, taking out the buildings in the surrounding area and killing all the Jewish residents. Miraculously, the shell neglected to explode.
In an effort to maintain a stable status quo, the Israeli government decided to hand over control of several religious sites, including the Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples once stood, to the control of the Muslim Waqf (religious authority). This has caused no end of tensions, as Jewish access to the nation’s holiest site is severely restricted.
Despite a court ruling to the contrary earlier this year, Jews (and other non-Muslims) are typically prevented from engaging in any form of prayer or religious activity on the Mount. One group of activists has taken it upon its members to harass any visitor they perceive as a religious Jew as a way of “protecting” the site from Jewish influence. Muslim riots are a routine occurrence.
Excavations undertaken under the Dome of the Rock without authorization, ostensibly to change the carpets, have raised concerns the Waqf is again trying to destroy evidence of a Jewish historical connection to the site.
Not satisfied with the current arrangement, last month, in a move to further limit Jewish access to holy sites, Jordan proposed a resolution to the UN to have Islamic rights over the Al-Aqsa Mosque expanded to include “the entire sacred complex surrounding it”, such as the Mughrabi gate, the most important entrance to the Mount for non-Muslim visitors. The resolution also included statements condemning Jewish excavations elsewhere in the Old City and accused Israel of hindering Muslim and Christian access to al-Aqsa. The resolution passed.
Conflicts notwithstanding, a number of celebrations are planned throughout the city and the country. In a beautiful act of unity, many state religious and secular schools will take part in a program called “The Tribes of Israel Together”, in which they meet for joint learning, singing and prayer services. According to The Jerusalem Post, schools in some 100 communities across the country are slated to participate. Many cities also host parades to mark the occasion.
Jerusalem itself hosts an annual Flag March, part of which passes through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, following the route paratroopers took to liberate the Kotel. Two NGOs petitioned Israel’s High Court to have the route changed, claiming it caused incitement. Police representatives told the court they would enforce a zero-tolerance policy for hateful and racist slogans by participants, and would have officers on hand to document incidents and make arrests. Petitioners also claimed the parade disrupts the lives of residents, who would be forced as a result to stay home. The High Court rejected the petition, and the parade is set to follow its traditional route.