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Jerusalem Day: Who Said What (25/05/2017)

One of the most important Israeli national holidays tends to draw a lot of opinions about the status of Israel-controlled Jerusalem. This year was no different.

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A ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem´s reunification during the 1967 Six-Day War (source: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Israel’s Jerusalem Day, which takes place on May 23-24 and celebrates the reunification of the city under Israeli control at the end of the 6-Day War in 1967, passed with many voicing their opinions about the state of the city’s status as Israel’s capitol.

To Israelis and Jews around the world, Jerusalem Day marks the moment when Jews could finally return to their holiest city, not just to pray at the Western Wall, but also to live and build up their new nation on the same site from which the Judeans were exiled by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago.

To others, Jerusalem Day is perhaps the most controversial Israeli national holiday, with many Palestinians seeing it as a celebration of what they call the “Nakba”, or Great Catastrophe, that began when Israel was recognized as a state in 1948.

As such, parades are often countered with protests in the Holy City, and many pundits use the holiday as a window into the complex emotions and ideologies that have defined the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the last 70 years.

At an event in Jerusalem marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the 6-Day War, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told an audience that included members of the IDF units that fought in Jerusalem during the war:

“We gave our all for Jerusalem because we knew that on Jerusalem we must insist", said Rivlin. "We will always insist on Jerusalem. There never has been, there never will be any other reality. Here, in these stones, beats the heart of the Jewish People. Jerusalem is the hearts of the State of Israel, and the Kotel is the heart of Jerusalem.”

Rivlin, who served in the 6-Day War as a reservist, added that the reunification has led to the city being “pulled and pushed, and argued about, here and all over the world”, and that “it is not enough that the city is united if its people are still divided.”

At a separate event, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the United States for adding another “$75 million to the aid package for the missile defense program”, while reiterating: “History has proven that Israel’s security depends on our readiness and our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves against any threat.”

Jerusalem Day at the Western Wall (Hezki Baruch/Arutz Sheva)

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel earlier this week seems to have brought some extra attention to the question of Jerusalem’s status from US Congress.

Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s primary Republican rival in the 2016 election, called on the President to follow through with his promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Cruz said he was “proud” to join Israeli’s in their celebration of Jerusalem Day and that it was time to “formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.”

On top of Cruz’s support, the US ambassador attended Jerusalem Day for the first time (perhaps against protocol). Ambassador David Friedman sat between the Israeli Prime Minister and President at the ceremony opening the day’s celebrations. Friedman has also called for the US and the rest of the world to recognize Jerusalem “as the official capital of the State of Israel.”

Back in Jerusalem, tens of thousands joined the “March of (Israeli) Flags” from the Great Synagogue to the Western Wall, with some Israelis reportedly pounding on the doors of Arab households and posting stickers reading: “The Land of Israel is All Mine.” Protests against the parade took place less than a mile away at the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

There was some violence seen at the protest, which was intended to prevent the March of Flags from parading through the Muslim Quarter, with one American Jewish activist having her arm broken by Israeli police as they dispersed the crowd. 972 Magazine reported that both American and Israeli Jews from groups such as IfNotNow, All That’s Left and Free Jerusalem joined Palestinians to organize the demonstration involving several hundred people.

As of this writing, no British leader has commented on Jerusalem Day, but one British Rabbi did catch plenty of flack over the possibility that he would attend the festivities.

Almost 300 people signed a letter asking former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Sacks’ to abstain from the festivities in Jerusalem, including several of the organizers behind the Damascus Gate protest.

On Tuesday Sacks, who did not partake in the march, published a video on Arutz Sheva 7 explaining Jerusalem’s importance to Jews around the world, noting: “Other faiths, they hold Jerusalem holy, but they have holier places… Jews only had this one city. A tiny city but, somehow, it was the place from which the divine presence is never exiled.”

Sacks added: “(Jerusalem is) one of the very few places in the Middle East, one of the very few places in the world, holy to three distinct faiths, where those faiths pray together in peace. And that’s come only under Israeli rule in the last 50 years.”


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