"We Have Returned"--The Reunification of Jerusalem 44 Years Ago Today
Forty-four years ago today, on the Jewish calendar, on the 28th day of the month of Iyar in the year 5771 (June 7, 1967, according to the secular calendar), Israeli paratroopers stood at the foot of the Western Wall--the Kotel Maaravi--in Jerusalem, where no Jew had been permitted to stand since the Jordanian Arab Legion had conquered the Jewish Quarter in 1948. They were dazed, overcome by the realization of what they had accomplished. For the first time in some 1900 years, there was Jewish sovereignty over the Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, and later the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel, rushed to the still unsecured and dangerous site to join the troops and lead them in prayer, and blow the shofar at the Wall. Israelis thrilled to the radio broadcast of the words of the commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade, General Mordechai "Motta" Gur, proclaiming, "Har HaBayit Byadeinu," ["the Temple Mount is in our hands."].
Although the Arab rulers of Jerusalem for the previous 19 years had banned Jews from visiting their most holy site, not once did it occur to Israel to deal similarly with their defeated former Moslem and Christian Arab foes. On the day of the reunification of Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, declared:
"The Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem this morning. We have reunited the divided city of Jerusalem. We have returned to our most holy of places. We have returned, never to be separated from them ever again. To our Arab neighbors we offer even now, and even more fervently at this time, our hand in peace.
"And to the members of other religions--Christians and Moslems--we give you our solemn promise that we will preserve your complete freedom and all of your religious rights. We have not come to Jerusalem to conquer the holy places of others, nor to keep away those of other religions, rather to guarantee its safety and to live with others in fellowship."
To the people of Israel who heard these words, it must have seemed like wakening to a dream, from the horrific nightmares of the preceding weeks. In the month preceding the outbreak of the Six Day War, President Nasser of Egypt had expelled UN peace keepers from the Sinai, closed the Straight of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and formed a military alliance with Syria and Jordan. Syria and Egypt moved thousands of their troops toward their borders with Israel. Arab leaders proudly and publicly proclaimed their intention to finally destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. Israelis and Jews throughout the world felt their blood chill with a dread feeling of deja vu as mass rallies of "the Arab street" in Cairo and Damascus chanted "Death to the Jews." (The photo below right shows Egyptian soldiers at such a demonstration.) On May 18, the Voice of the Arabs radio broadcast from Cairo proclaimed:
"The Zionist barrack in Palestine is about to collapse and be destroyed. Every one of the hundred million Arabs has been living for the past nineteen years on one hope – to live to see the day Israel is liquidated…There is no life, no peace nor hope for the gangs of Zionism to remain in the occupied land."
"As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel….The sole method we shall apply against Israel is a total war which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence".
(As a 16-year old Jewish boy in Phoenix, Arizona, I well remember the fear that a second Holocaust, a second genocide of my people, was about to ensue, only 22 years after the previous one had ended.)
The military situation was so fraught that on May 28, when Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol delivered a live radio address to reassure his nation, listeners thought he sounded frightened.
And suddenly, not only had the danger passed, but with God's hand the Israel Defense Forces had utterly defeated their enemies on every front, culminating in the unification of Jerusalem. In the words of the Psalmist, "When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like dreamers," and, "Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem is built as a city that is bound firmly together.
Perhaps that is why, President Obama, the Prime Minister of Israel is so adamant about never agreeing to a repartition of Jerusalem. We have returned to our most holy of places, please God, never to be separated from them ever again.