Jerusalem Day — the Israeli national holiday that commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, after 20 years of being divided — is celebrated every year on the 28th day of the Jewish month of Iyar. This year it fell on Sunday, May 17.
As tens of thousands of Jews from Israel and all over the world poured into Jerusalem carrying blue and white Israeli flags and singing Israeli songs praising the city, it was impossible not to reflect back to the weeks and months right after the war, when we all poured into the Old City, prayed at the Western Wall for the first time in 20 years, climbed the ramparts to see West Jerusalem from “the other side,” and walked through the narrow streets of the Arab Market, where middle-aged merchants enticed us into their shops with broad smiles and Hebrew phrases they still remembered from before 1948.
And who can forget Naomi Shemer’s two versions of “Jerusalem of Gold” — sung hauntingly by Shuly Natan. The first, May 15, with verses of longing for sites in and around the city we could not access then, and the second version just one month later, after the war, with the additional stanza affirming that “we have returned” to those sites.
But not all Jerusalemites celebrated Sunday. Many of the Arab citizens of the city, bolstered by residents of neighboring Arab villages and left-wing Israelis, demonstrated against the unification. Waving large Palestinian and black Jihadist flags, they protested the annexation of East Jerusalem by the Israeli government following the Six-Day War, and called for redividing the city.
Before we get to the question if that is even feasible, let alone physically possible, we have to clarify that, depending on which historical period one looks at, there is no “one” Jerusalem. When the Israelis talk about Jerusalem, when the Arabs talk about Jerusalem, when the Palestinians talk about Jerusalem and when the Europeans and Americans talk about Jerusalem … they are referring to five different geographical locations in the same general piece of land, with small overlapping areas. To understand that, we have to know the (abridged) evolution of the city. Remember — Jerusalem was always a small, backwater town, not on any main highway, topographically difficult to defend, and with one spring that provided enough water for only a few dozen families (until Solomon built an aqueduct from Bethlehem):
Probably first settled around 3,000 BCE (1,000 years before King David). Small, possibly fortified town, restricted by water supply and topographical inferiority.
Joshua’s conquest — city was ignored. Not claimed by any tribe.
- 1,000 BCE: David needs a “District of Columbia” for his capital. Sends Yoav to conquer the little forgotten town located on a small hill between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Keeps name Jerusalem but adds “City of David.” Builds a palace, administration buildings and fortifications. Total area about one city block around the spring.
- 970 BCE: Solomon slightly expanded the city and fortifications, built three more palaces (mainly for his benefactress Queen Helen of Adiabene) and built the First Temple.
- 586 BCE: Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Babylonians. Intelligentsia, royalty and priests were exiled to Babylonia, while the majority of the Jewish population remained in Judea and Jerusalem.
- 538 BCE: Some exiles are allowed back to rebuild the Temple.
- 445 BCE: King Xerxes I of Persia issued a decree allowing the city and its walls to be rebuilt. Jerusalem resumed its role as capital of Judah and center of Jewish worship. City area expands.
- 152 BCE: Hasmonean kings expand and strengthen Jerusalem’s area, water supply and fortifications.
- 60 BCE: King Herod expands Jerusalem greatly, renovates the Temple and Temple Mount, builds major structures including the Citadel (today’s Jaffa Gate area) and brings water in large aqueducts from Bethlehem. Jerusalem reached a peak in size and population of 200,000 at the end of the Second Temple period, when the city covered two square kilometers (0.8 square miles).
- 70 CE: Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish revolt. During the Byzantine period the city remained pretty much in ruins, with the exception of the construction of the Church of the Nativity and other Christian sites during Constantine’s reign.
- 638 CE: After the Muslim conquest Jews and Christians were allowed to reside in the city and practice their beliefs. Though several large buildings were constructed within the city, including the Dome of The Rock on Temple Mount, it did not return to its grandeur or size during Herod’s time.
- 640-1516: Jerusalem is conquered and reconquered at various times by Byzantines, Crusaders, Muslims, Mongols and Mamelukes, and was decimated in 1347 by the Black Death.
Important note: During 1,500 years of Muslim rule — the early Caliphates, the Mamelukes and the Turkish Ottoman Empire — Jerusalem never served as a capital of a Muslim state, region, kingdom, caliphate or seat of government.
- 1516: The Ottoman Empire replaces the Mamelukes in Palestine.
- 1538: Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilds walls around Jerusalem, creating the Old City as we know it today. As the Jewish population grew in the Old City during the 19th and 20th centuries, new suburbs and communities were built outside the walls by both communities — Jews to the west, and Arabs to the east, of the Old City Walls.
In the temporary armistice agreement after the 1948 War of Independence, a cease-fire line divided, for the first time in history, between the Jewish and Arab areas, leaving the Old City, with its evacuated Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, in the hands of the Jordanians.
The city was, as celebrated on Sunday, reunited after the Six-Day War.
So before we can argue about whether or not Jerusalem can be redivided in an eventual “two-state” solution…we have to agree as to which historic and geographic area of Jerusalem we are talking about…
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org