Jerusalem Day: celebrating 45 years of reunification

As Israel commemorates Yom Yerushalayim – the 45th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyar – it is important to remember the situation in the city during the 19 years in which it was divided. 

Those of us who follow the wonderfully informative Twitter account @1948War have, in recent weeks, been getting real-time reminders of the events which culminated in the fall of the Old City and Jerusalem’s eastern neighbourhoods to the Jordanian forces in 1948. Elsewhere, there are poignant reminders of the expulsion of the city’s Jewish population from areas conquered and occupied by the British-funded, equipped and led Arab Legion.  

Jewish families leaving the old city through Zion Gate. June 1948. John Phillips
Jewish families being evacuated from city. June 1948. John Phillips
Jewish families being evacuated from city. June 1948. John Phillips

During the 19 years of Jordanian occupation, neither Muslim nor Jewish Israelis had access to their holy sites in the Old City (in violation of article VIII of the 1949 Armistice Agreement) and 58 synagogues were destroyed, in addition to other sites of religious significance such as the Mount of Olives. Neither did Jerusalemites enjoy peace in their divided city, as the following pre-Six Day War newspaper cutting shows. 


Jerusalem Municipality to the citizens of Jerusalem

The border with the Old City is mined. The Jordanian snipers are still active; two people were killed by sniping in the Old City. It is strictly forbidden by the army authorities to approach the border or to enter the Old City until further notice. 

In fact, divided Jerusalem appears to have been a cause of regret even for the British film-makers of a Pathe newsreel dating from May of 1967. Leaving aside the now anachronistic (and in parts, borderline racist) style of commentary by someone apparently unable to comprehend why visitors from a country which contributed quite a bit to the division of the city may not feel welcomed with open arms, it is nevertheless interesting to note that whilst 45 years ago Jerusalem’s division was perceived as a problem, many of the commentator’s modern-day contemporaries appear to take the exact opposite view. 


The rest of us will today celebrate the fact that the city is reunited and that members of all religions are today free to live there and visit, in keeping with the words of the then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan on the 28th of Iyar 5727 (June 7th, 1967).  

“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.” 

Happy Jerusalem Day! 

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