The Jewish and Christian holy days of Passover and Easter have passed; Shavuot and Pentecost are coming.
In between, the 28th of Iyar-corresponding to 7 June 1967 and 12 May 2010 – marks the unification of Jerusalem in the hands of the State of Israel.
The city has been occupied over time by the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman and British Empires; occupied occasionally by Egyptians, Crusaders, Mamluks and Jordanians.
But the holidays remind us that Jerusalem has, from the time of the Bible, been the capital of the Jewish people and of no other people.
In 1947, the UN General Assembly partitioned the 23 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine that remained after the creation of the Kingdom of Transjordan into separate Palestinian Arab and Palestinian Jewish sectors, planning to create two new states.
They took a pass on Jerusalem – voting to make it and Bethlehem corpus separatum, an area legally separate from its environs.
“In view of its association with three world religions” it would be “accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control.”
We will never know what “effective UN control” would have looked like.
In May 1948, the Jordanian Legion entered the UN zone, besieged the Jewish residents and annexed the eastern side of the city, which was an ancient Jewish residential area. Did you ever wonder why it is called “Arab East Jerusalem”? It is because they expelled the Jews who were living there and worked hard to erase the historic Jewish connection from the city. They created a wall separating East Jerusalem from the rest of Jerusalem.
In the Ceasefire Agreement of 1949, Jordan promised to appoint a committee to discuss free access of Jews to the holy sites including (but not limited to) the Western Wall and the cemetery on the Mount of Olives. It never happened. Instead, Jordan cut roads through the cemetery and used the tombstones for paving stones and to create latrines in Jordanian army camps. More than 50 synagogues, libraries and Jewish schools were deliberately destroyed or defaced. The Cave of Shimon the Just was used as a horse stable.
Appeals to the UN for “effective control” were not effective.
The wall that split Jerusalem, cutting Jews – not only Israelis – off from their heritage, was as effective as the Berlin Wall. In 1967, after having been warned by Israel, the King of Jordan miscalculated, shelling the west side of the city from behind the UN barrier. In response, Israel responded by making Jerusalem whole again.
It is right and crucial that unified Jerusalem be the capital of the modern State of Israel, precisely because the city holds sites holy to people of the Jewish, Christian and, much later, the Muslim faiths.
Only when the State of Israel has been the guardian of the unified city has it been – as the UN said it intended – a city open to all faiths.
Today, the mosques are controlled by the Waqf, the Islamic religious society. Churches are maintained by various Christian denominations. The Western Wall, the Mount of Olives cemetery and the restored Hurva Synagogue are in Jewish hands. The Government of Israel ensures open access – and only the Government of Israel can be relied on to ensure open access to the Jewish people.
Why, we ask, does the Obama Administration insist that Israel find a way for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of the Palestinian Arabs when it has never been an Arab political or religious seat? What right do the Palestinian Arabs have to occupy Jerusalem as its capital? What is the historical basis of that request?
Religious Muslims should be thankful the Jewish people regard the Muslim right to access to Muslim holy places as an obligation of the State of Israel – when no similar right accrued to the Jews under Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem.
And the United States should regard the reunification of Jerusalem under a tolerant and democratic government to be praiseworthy. There is no greater guaranty of the right of access to all the holy places for all faiths than having the Government of Israel responsible for keeping Jerusalem united and open.