By Tsvi Sadan, Israel Today—
Following what only Israel calls the liberation of East Jerusalem 52 years ago on June 7, 1967, Moshe Dayan issued the following declaration:
“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.”
Jerusalem Day marks the unification of “Israel’s eternal capital,” and is not something to be taken for granted. Jerusalem was declared (de facto) the capital of Israel on December 14, 1949. That decision was partly a reaction to UN Resolution 303 passed less than a week earlier and which called for the internationalization of Jerusalem–”the religious capital of the world.”
Then-opposition leader Menachem Begin wanted legislation that would codify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But he ultimately acquiesced to the reasoning of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who felt that such legislation at that time would be premature.
The truth was that the notion of declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was problematic even for Ben-Gurion’s own party, Mapai, the biggest socialist faction of the time. Members of this party seemed to oppose even Ben-Gurion’s consideration of legislation regarding the status of Jerusalem. The UN’s desire to internationalize the city made them fearful that for Israel to take a firm stand on Jerusalem would enrage the Arabs and antagonize the international community.
So, instead of outright saying that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the party’s platform in the run-up to Israel’s first national election in 1949 used vague language describing the city as the “eternal capital of the Hebrew nation.”
Only in 1980, after Menachem Begin became prime minister, did the Knesset pass a Basic Law stating that a unified Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. In 2000, that law was amended to state that no “foreign body” will have any authority in the Jerusalem municipal area. However, this amendment has itself been ignored when it comes to the de facto Palestinian-Jordanian control of the Temple Mount.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his first term in 1998 sought to upgrade the status of Jerusalem Day by making it a national holiday. However, since that time, growing opposition to the so-called “occupation” that includes the Israeli presence in East Jerusalem has eroded the significance of this anniversary, which increasingly seems to be important only to religious Israelis.