A version of this article appeared in Israel Hayom on May 29, 2022.
How are we to understand the meaning of Jerusalem Day, when we commemorate the reunification of our historical capital? In 1997, I served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and I asked for instruction from our foreign minister at the time, Ariel Sharon. He sent me back to the speech our first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, gave to the Knesset on Dec. 5, 1949.
Ben-Gurion was taking a historical decision at the end of the first Arab-Israeli War. He decided to move Israel’s capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ben-Gurion was told by Israel’s closest friends not to undertake this move. According to UN General Assembly Resolution 181, Jerusalem was supposed to be a “separate entity” – a corpus separatum in the language of the UN.
But what occurred in the war was that Jerusalem was surrounded by a coalition of Arab armies and bombarded by their artillery. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City was ethnically cleansed. Its great synagogues, some dating back to the 13th century, were leveled. What the war had proven was that if Jerusalem would not be under Israel’s sovereignty and protection, the consequences would be catastrophic. Ben-Gurion told the Knesset:
Had we not been able to withstand the aggressors who rebelled against the UN, Jewish Jerusalem would have been wiped off the face of the earth, the Jewish population would have been eradicated and the State of Israel would not have arisen.
Ben-Gurion had a message to the world about Jerusalem:
A nation which, for 2,500 years, has faithfully adhered to the vow made by the first exiles by the waters of Babylon not to forget Jerusalem, will never agree to be separated from Jerusalem.
In the last decade with religious sites under assault across the Middle East, another aspect of Israel’s control of Jerusalem has become clear. Only a free and democratic Israel will protect Jerusalem for all the great faiths. From 1948 to 1967, the Jewish people were denied access to their historical capital city. Jerusalem Day is a day in which that wrong was corrected and Jerusalem was made whole once more.