An anniversary of tremendous historic significance to the Jewish people occurred last week on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5767 on the Jewish Calendar, which took place on Wednesday, May 16, 2007: the 40th anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Reunification Day, marking the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, which in that year fell on June 7.
This anniversary is spiritually significant as well, because the number 40 occurs at key moments in our sacred texts: the Children of Israel under Moses wandered for 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai before entering the Promised Land. Three of our greatest leaders, Moses, King David and King Solomon each led us for 40 years. Forty times three is 120, the blessed age reached by Moses.
The 1967 Six-Day War has been described both as one of the most brilliant military victories in recorded history, and as a modern miracle. Indeed, in May 1967, 40 years ago this month on the secular calendar, the very existence of the State of Israel hung in the balance. No one could predict that Israel would even survive the threatened combined Arab attacks, let alone prevail in just six days over the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Palestine Liberation Army.
In May 1967, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser closed off the Straits of Tiran, choking Israel from its sea outlet, a classic act of war. Nasser ordered the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) out of the Sinai, signed military alliances with Syria and Jordan and threatened to destroy the Jewish State and “push the Jews into the sea.” When world leaders and the United Nations stood by without taking action to protect Israel, the tiny nation chose to defend itself, gaining mastery over the skies by destroying much of the Egyptian Air Force on June 5.
By war’s end, Israel found its size increased four-fold. Israel became responsible, under international law, for the administration of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, formerly under Egyptian control; the Golan Heights, formerly under Syrian control and the West Bank of the Jordan River, including the Old City of Jerusalem, under Jordanian control for the previous 19 years.
For the first time since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in the year 70 CE, Jerusalem was once again under Jewish sovereignty.
Under international law, Israel could have taken over complete control of all aspects of life and religious sites in the Old City. Instead, the city was reunited with the removal of the separation barrier which kept Jews out of the Old City and the Western Wall of the Second Temple area. The major religious shrines were kept under the control of the existing Muslim, Christian and Jewish authorities. The Muslim Waqf was allowed to continue to control and administer the Temple Mount area, including the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed burial site of Jesus, was placed under combined Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christian control.
All of these facts were conveniently ignored in a mean-spirited report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was “leaked” to The New York Times and other media on the eve of Israel’s celebration of Yom Yerushalayim. The report accused the Jewish State of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law — and the law of occupation in particular.” The report accuses Israel, whose jurisdiction over the Old City is not recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross of using its rights as an occcupying power “in order to further its own interests to the detriment of the population in the occupied territory.” The report also complains about the security barrier which Israel has erected in order to prevent continued suicide bombing attacks by Palestinian terrorists, a move which has reduced the number of such attacks drastically.
The International Committee of the Red Cross failed to mention that during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation, the ancient Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem was emptied of Jews; synagogues built by Maimonides and Nachmanides were razed to the ground; gravestones from the holy Mount of Olives Cemetery were used by soldiers from the “moderate” Jordanian Army as footpaths to latrines, and all Jews were prevented from worshipping at the Western Wall of the Second Temple area, Judaism’s holy site. The same International Committee of the Red Cross has failed to condemn the continued terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens.
The reunification of Jerusalem was a watershed event in world Jewish history and in the history of the modern State of Israel. A biased and inaccurate report conveniently “leaked” to the media on the eve of its 40th anniversary does not in any way diminish its significance or reasons to celebrate it enthusiastically.