Israel is celebrating on Sunday the 48th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, its eternal capital. The Old City was liberated during the Six Day War in 1967, after 19 years of Jordanian occupation.
After Israel declared its independence in 1948, it was attacked by neighboring Arab countries, including Jordan from the east, which captured the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City. The Jewish residents were forced out, half of the Old City’s 58 synagogues were demolished, and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was plundered for its tombstones, which were used as paving stones and building materials.
On June 7, 1967, one day into the Six Day War, Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem and reunified the city.
Then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared: “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. 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.”
Many Ways to Celebrate
In 1968 the government proclaimed a new holiday—Jerusalem Day, or Yom Yerushalayim—to be celebrated on the 28th of Iyar, the Hebrew date on which the divided city of Jerusalem was reunified.
The day is marked with a range of events. Some are spiritual and include the recitation of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving in synagogues.
Israelis from all walks of life join in street parades and concerts held throughout the city, and notably the Rikud Degalim, the flag dance, during which thousands march with Israeli flags from the new city’s center to the Kotel, the Western Wall, in the heart of Old City.
The mayor of Jerusalem holds a celebratory reception at City Hall, and state ceremonies and memorial services are held for those who died in the Six Day War.
The state also holds a special memorial for the Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia who walked to Israel, as many died on the way with the hope of seeing the holy city of Jerusalem.