This past Sunday, Israelis marked the 48th anniversary of the day that the walls that once divided Jerusalem were breached. From 1949 to 1967, Jordan illegally occupied much of Jerusalem including its Old City. Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. The border that snaked through the city was marked by ugly barriers and no man’s land areas that marked it as a battleground rather than a haven of peace and faith.
The Six Day War ended that awful era but the battles fought there did more than reunite the Jews with their holy places. It also marked the first time in the city’s history that the holy sites became open to all people and faiths. Yet rather than celebrate this event, most of the world will not only ignore Israel’s holiday, they will continue to advocate for the return of the border that once divided the city. Whatever one may think of the state of the peace process or who to blame for its dim prospects that must never be allowed to happen.
The end of the city’s partition did not solve all its problems. To the contrary, Jerusalem remains divided in some important ways. Jews and Arabs are still parties to a conflict that has no end in sight. Though the city benefitted enormously from its reunification, Arab neighborhoods lag behind in services. Part of this was the emphasis that the city placed on establishing Israel’s sovereignty by building new Jewish neighborhoods in the 1970s and a lack of interest in helping the Arab population. But it was also exacerbated by the refusal of the city’s Arab population to take part in the city’s government because of their unwillingness to become Israeli citizens and vote.
But those arguments that stem from the conflict between the two peoples over one land have always superseded those municipal squabbles. Palestinian Arabs have resisted even those projects that benefited their neighborhoods such as the light rail project that has provided the city with an improved transportation system. The second intifada in which suicide bombings were launched at Jewish targets also resulted in the building of a security barrier that is a physical manifestation of the division of the city that still exists.
Yet in spite of all this, Jerusalem’s unity is still worth celebrating.
For all of its current problems and the divide between Arabs and Jews, the unification of the city was the moment when Israel’s capital ceased being a dead end torn apart by conflict and began to be a modern city. More to the point, it was only when Israel became the sovereign power throughout the city that the all the holy sites within its boundaries became open to all peoples and all faiths. Under Israeli rule the city has blossomed. It is now filled with parks and promenades. Ancient landmarks, like the synagogues destroyed by the Jordanians and the Western Wall area were restored and preserved. Parks now surround the walls of the Old City. Rather than ramparts from which combatants would shoot at each other, they are now filled with tourists.
The city’s unity has been a boon to those who value it as a center of three faiths. Were the city to be formally re-partitioned, all this would change. A re-division of the city would not only be unworkable, leading to chaos and conflict, it would also mean the end of an era in which free access to the holy sites was taken for granted. Putting any parts of the city under the rule of the despotic and corrupt Palestinian Authority would not only make it potential base for terror as Gaza became after Israel removed every soldier, settler and settlement. It would also mean that the same people that have trashed Jewish holy sites and conducted archeological vandalism on the Temple Mount would be free to exclude Jews or Christians. Those who value the city as a center for three faiths must understand that the day Israel ceases to be in control of all it is the moment when such free access will either end or be put in danger.
All those who care about Jerusalem and peace should take a moment today to be thankful that it is no longer torn apart. In doing so they should resolve never to allow the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that has fed attacks on Israel to cause the world to force a return to a divided holy city. While a two state solution to the conflict would be ideal, it will only happen when the Palestinians recognize that Israel’s existence, as a Jewish state that can’t be wished away. By the same token, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the areas where Jordan formerly ruled also will not be uprooted and cast out of their homes. Whatever theoretical solution to the future of the city may be found in the future, it cannot be predicated on a return to the dark days before June 1967 when the city was a Middle East version of Cold War Berlin.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at TobinCommentary.