As Jerusalem marks the 53rd anniversary of the city’s unification in the Six-Day War, the municipality continues to grow and prosper with a record number of residents – Jews and Arabs – who enjoy the freedom of access to their holy sites.
Jerusalem. The holy city. The city of peace.
Thousands of years old. Steeped in history, spirituality, and significance. It is seen as the center of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The Old City, rooted for thousands of years atop the Judean mountains, is home to some of the holiest shrines to all three faiths: the Western Wall and Temple Mount of the ancient Jewish Temple, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Al Aqsa Mosque beside the Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe the Muhammad ascended to heaven.
As Israel marks the 53rd anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, it is worth looking at the significance of the city going forward.
In 1947, the Jewish population in the Land of Israel agreed to the UN Partition Plan to create two states, Jewish and Arab, with Jerusalem having the status of an international open city administered by the United Nations. Despite the international community offering Arabs a Palestinian state, they refused and instead launched a war to push the Jews out.
The armistice at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 left Jerusalem’s Old City in the hands of the Jordanians. Jews who had lived there for centuries were evicted. The damage wrought by Jordan was brutal and well-documented. Dozens of synagogues were destroyed or damaged, cemeteries bulldozed and tombstones used as paving stones.
Even worse, Jordan violated the terms of the armistice agreement and banned Jews from access to holy sites, while limiting access to Christian holy sites and driving many Christian residents from the city.
But in 1967, Jordan fatefully joined an Arab-initiated war and in six days Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan. For the first time since Arab armies occupied the Old City in 1948, the pilgrimage sites were open to believers of all faiths and Jews could access their holiest site, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
Since coming under full Israeli control, the city has grown and prospered despite Palestinian terror campaigns, the failed Arab boycott and diplomatic efforts to deny the fat that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
From a population of 157,000 in 1944 (97,000 Jews, 60,600 Arabs) the Jewish population swelled to 195,700 in 1967, while there were only 67,000 Arabs.
That changed drastically when Israel took over in 1967. Not only did the Israelis institute a policy of religious freedom for all, Jerusalem grew and prospered to the point that in 2020 the bustling city is Israel’s largest with a population of 943,800, of which 579,000 are Jews.
How Jews and Arabs Thrive in Israel’s Capital
In contrast to the population stagnation under Jordanian rule, the Arab population of Jerusalem soared to its present 364,000 – six times the number who lived there at the time of the Six-Day War. The numbers speak for themselves and destroy the Palestinian lie accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” in the city – never before in history have so many people, Jews and Arabs, lived in Jerusalem.
Unification of the city under Israeli auspices also brought an end to most of the duplication of services. There is one city hall that looks after streets, sewers, social services, schools, parks and community centers. There is no more border or minefields separating neighborhoods.
The united city of Jerusalem continues to prosper, despite the gloom-and-doom pronouncements on both the right and left claiming that diplomats “must act now because the window for a peace agreement is closing:
- In 1998, former head of IDF Intelligence Maj. Gen. (res) Shlomo Gazit wrote, “The political window of opportunity that had been opened in Oslo in 1993 has a limited time frame.”
- In 2001, White House spokesman Jake Siewert said, “I think everyone understands that we have a very narrow window of opportunity here.”
- In 2004, the prime minister of Israel wrote to President George Bush saying at the time the political situation was “opening a genuine window of opportunity for progress.”
- In 2009, the Christian Science Monitor ran the headline, “Window closing for a two-state solution in the Middle East.”
- A few years later in 2013, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said, “I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting” as he launched his own peace effort.
- Years after Kerry failed, in 2018, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Edward Djerejian asked again “whether the window on a two-state solution is closing.”
Clearly, the window appears to be stuck.
In 2015, the left-leaning Ir Amim organization said “In the absence of such a (two-state) solution, Jerusalem’s political status as the capital of Israel can be expected to continue to go unrecognized by any country except Israel.”
The two state solution remains elusive, with a key factor being the internal Palestinian split between Fatah headquartered in Ramallah and Hamas, the Iran-backed terror organization that controls Gaza with an iron-fisted military dictatorship after kicking Fatah out in a bloody 2006 military coup. The two sides’ differences remain not only irreconcilable, but Hamas has not hidden its goal of eliminating Fatah by force.
Jerusalem: Israel’s Capital
Nobody sees Hamas ever changing its ideology nor its policy of total rejection of any kind of peace with Israel. No diplomats are talking about a 3-state solution. Thus, the two-state solution remains unachievable, but its “absence” has not stopped Jerusalem from gaining recognition as Israel’s capital.
As for holy sites under Palestinian control, the Palestinians have on several occasions attacked and damaged Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, trying to burn it down in 2014. In one tragic incident, Palestinian police opened fire on Jewish worshipers, killing one and wounding three others. In Jerusalem, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said not just that Jews have no rights to visit their holy sites, but that the holy sites themselves are fake and there is no Jewish history in Jerusalem.
With no two-state solution in sight, the world is indeed recognizing Israel’s legitimate claim to the city. Few people recall that even before the U.S. moved it’s embassy to Jerusalem, Russia had announced in 2017 that it considers western portions of Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, making Russia the first country in the world to do so. The Czech Republic also acknowledged Jerusalem is “in practice the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967.”
After America moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, Guatemala did the same and Slovakia announced its intention to do so as well. Taiwan and Australia also recognized western portions of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but Australia said it its embassy would move to Jerusalem only after the final status of Jerusalem was resolved. Other countries are considering taking similar steps in the future.
Predictions that the world would shun Israel’s legitimate claim to Jerusalem as its capital city have proven to be wrong.
From the Arab point of view, for a thousand years Jerusalem was never a Muslim capital and before the twentieth century was generally a neglected city except for having its religious importance. Historians have noted that from the middle of the nineteenth century until the Arab riots in 1929, two thirds – a majority – of Jerusalem’s residents were Jewish.
Looking to the future it is clear that when a peace deal returns to the international agenda, it is important for all of Jerusalem to remain united under Israeli control to guarantee that the city of peace remains that – and remains open to all faiths.