Yom Yerushalayim began tonight, marking the 47th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, as well as the liberation of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights (and the Gaza Strip but that’s another story) in the 1967 Six Day War. The day is not a national holiday in Israel but it is marked with special ceremonies, prayers and celebrations in schools, municipalities, youth clubs, and of course throughout Jerusalem.
Tonight, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is leading a midnight walk around Jerusalem, ending in a public singalong in the Hinom Valley (Gai Ben Hinom, whence the name “Gehinom” or “Hell”) – a less appropriate site is hard to imagine. 😀
Tomorrow the religious youth movements will join forces for their annual “rikudegalim” – the flag dance, a parade of dancing and flag waving through the streets of Jerusalem, ending at the Kotel.
I celebrated this evening by attending a festive prayer service in our son’s community shul, followed by dancing and singing – and a very festive supper provided by our daughter-in-law. 🙂
One of the most iconic moments of the Six Day War was when Chief of Staff Motta Gur declared over the army radio “The Temple Mount is in our hands!“. That declaration was the signal for an outpouring of emotion and religious awakening that has never really died down to this day.
Sadly, the Temple Mount cannot really be said to have remained in our hands. I have documented on this blog so many instances of the Muslims desecrating Jewish religious artefacts, destroying priceless archaeological finds and generally erupting into violence whenever Jews – Israeli or not – visit the Temple Mount (not to mention the complete ban on Jewish prayer at their holiest site) in blatant violation of all the accords agreed between the Waqf (the Muslim authorities) and the Israeli authorities.
The situation has been deteriorating faster and further in recent months, and now a backlash has begun from the Israeli side, with a new bill wending its way through the Knesset which would allow Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount – something which you might be astonished to discover is currently not allowed:
By law, under arrangements Israel instituted after capturing the area in 1967, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site.
The regulations would reverse longstanding orders banning Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. The rules have garnered backlash over the last several months amid a renewed interest in visiting the site by Jewish groups, which has served to stoke heated tensions at the site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Non-Muslim visitors seen prostrating or praying silently or openly have faced arrest by police for disturbing the peace.
UPDATE: In fact today, once again, the Israeli police took the easy way out and closed the Temple Mount to visitors when Muslims started throwing stones as soon as the Mughrabi Gate (which is the only access point to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims) was opened to visitors. What the police should have done was to close the Mount to Muslims. They are the ones inciting and rioting. They deserve to be punished. The Jews have done nothing. They hadn’t even had the chance to enter the Gate let alone ascend to the Mount.
Jerusalem Post columnist Dan Illouz addresses this issue in his latest column: “Let my People Pray – on the Temple Mount”:
Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish nation has striven to return to pray on the Temple Mount.
In 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, there was great joy at the return of Jewish sovereignty after 2,000 years of being subservient to other nations. Yet this joy was incomplete since most of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish nation, was still under foreign rule.
In 1967, the city was finally liberated. Motta Gur, the commander of the division which entered the Old City, famously said with a voice full of excitement: “The Temple Mount is in our hands! The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
However, ever since these few seconds of excitement, the Temple Mount has been far from being in the Jewish nation’s hands.
For all practical purposes, the Temple Mount is being controlled by the Wakf Muslim religious trust, which forbids Jewish prayer on the site. At the same time, the Wakf actively destroys any archeological evidence of historical Jewish presence on the mount, in order to hurt the Jewish nation’s claim to its holiest of sites.
Today, Jews are often barred from even entering the Temple Mount at all. Those who can enter are followed closely by guards who ensure they do not engage in prayers. If someone dares to pray, he is immediately arrested and barred from reentering the mount.
MK Moshe Feiglin has been barred from entering the Temple Mount. Yehuda Glick, director of the Liba Project for Jewish Freedom at the Temple Mount, a man who has dedicated his whole life to the Jewish nation’s connection to this special place, has also been barred and is currently on a long hunger strike to regain access to the holy site.
In most places in the world, such blatant discrimination would be condemned as anti-Semitic. However, in Israel it is justified. Jews are forbidden from praying in their holiest of sites, and people find this acceptable.
Imagine a small synagogue in Europe that was taken over by the government and where, with no wrongdoing by the Jewish community, the government forbade Jewish prayers. Can you imagine the outrage this would cause? How can one justify not applying the same standard to the Jewish people’s holiest of sites?
The fact is that the only possible justification is fear. The world is afraid of the Muslim world’s reaction to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and is therefore opposing it.
It is precisely the same dilemma which civil rights activist have on many issues: Should their commitment to civil rights dictate their position, or should their fear for violence do so?
In general, human rights activists will reject the idea of letting fear of violence dictate what policy should be. However, when it comes to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, for some reason their position is different.
It is now time for us to unite and scream: Where is our freedom to pray on the Temple Mount? Where are our basic civil rights as human beings? When will we, as Jews, be treated equally to other nations and allowed to pray on our holiest of sites? When will the State of Israel finally ensure that the Jewish nation can really be “a free nation on its land”?
Hopefully, our cries will also be heard, for the sake of justice and for the sake of freedom.
Human rights organizations should join us in this important fight for freedom of religion.
I hope Dan Illouz is not holding his breath waiting for the likes of Human
Wrongs Rights Watch to intervene on the Jews’ behalf.
Talking of prayer, the wonderful website “Israel’s History, a Picture a Day” has a great post for Yom Yerushalayim, with pictures of Jewish soldiers throughout the centuries praying at the Kotel.
On a much happier note, Arutz Sheva has a great article with lots of uplifting statistics about Jerusalem today:
Jerusalem Day, beginning Tuesday night, will be celebrated in Israel’s capital through a series of events featuring top Israeli musicians and various performances.
On the occasion of Jerusalem Day, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat stated “the residents of Jerusalem feel the youthful energy coursing through the city, and are enjoying the great wave of development enveloping Jerusalem.”
Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and other sources were released by the Jerusalem Municipality ahead of the celebrations. The statistics indeed support Barkat’s appraisal of the capital.
While Israeli hi-tech, so central to the nation’s economy, is often linked to the central coastal region, revenue from the industry in Jerusalem is in fact nearly 12 billion shekels (around $3.5 billion), almost as much as the revenue Tel Aviv (6.7 billion shekels) and Haifa (7 billion shekels) combined.
Attracting young people and olim, the happy and hopeful
Jerusalem is also leading Israel in attracting olim (new immigrants). The city absorbed 2,335 new olim in 2013, making 13% of the national total of olim, and over twice as many as Tel Aviv (1,060) or Haifa (1,130).
The capital has also been attracting young people, as 30,000 people young people have moved to the city in the last four years. 51% of those moving to Jerusalem in 2012 were between the ages of 20 and 34.
While the Central Bureau of Statistics reported 88% of Jerusalemites are happy, the Municipality figures found 92% of residents are happy with their lives, as compared to an 88% national average. Tel Aviv came in at 86% and Haifa at 81%.
The last four years have also seen a marked growth in Zionist state and state-religious education systems, with students rising from 58,908 at the start of the 2010-2011 school year to 62,941 in the 2013-2014 school year.
Building was also touted in the Municipality statement, which noted a record number of new projects began in 2013 breaking a 20-year record. In the last three years construction on 15,651 new residential units have been approved throughout the entire city.
Roughly four million tourists stayed in Jerusalem during 2013, outpacing Haifa and Tel Aviv in that category as well.
I have to admit I had no idea that Jerusalem had developed and progressed to such an extent. This is indeed wonderful news for Yom Yerushalayim!
To conclude this Yom Yerushalayim special, here’s a video (via Hadassah) of Shuli Natan, performing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) with the Shomron choirs. Shuli Natan of course is the singer who performed this song back in 1967 on the eve of the Six Day War (and her voice is still beautiful). The song won the Israel Song Festival, and a mere week later, when Jerusalem was miraculously reunited, the song’s writer, the brilliantly talented Naomi Shemer, added an extra verse to the song to bring it up to date.
Watch and enjoy. Chag Same’ach!