Forty-eight years ago, on the 28th day of Iyar (May 17 this year), Jerusalem was united under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in many centuries. But the national holiday in Israel to mark the historic event – Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day – has lost appeal both here and in Israel, outside of the religious Zionist community.
Those who recall the Six-Day War of 1967 understand why it is often referred to as a miracle. Despite threats from Egyptian President Nasser to drive Israel into the sea, the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria were vanquished by the outmanned Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s declaration on the day Jerusalem was reunited bears repeating today, at a time when Israel is accused of being the party resistant to peace with its neighbors:
“This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem,” Dayan announced. “We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour—and with added emphasis at this hour—our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples' holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.”
Less than three months later eight Arab heads of state met at the Khartoum conference and issued a statement that included “The Three No’s”: no peace, recognition or negotiations with Israel.
Jerusalem’s fate remains a key issue today in the ongoing stalemate over peace, and supporters of Israel may differ on strategy, tactics and red lines. But it should be known why Jerusalem Day is observed in many communities with prayers of thanksgiving – even as it underscores how divided Jews and others are over its significance.