A Day for Jerusalem

A Day for Jerusalem

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

48 years ago today, according to the Jewish calendar, in the midst of the truly remarkable Israeli victory over her enemies in the Six Day War, Israeli paratroopers entered the old walled city of Jerusalem and returned it to Jewish sovereignty for the time in 2000 years. In his remarkable book, Like Dreamers, Yossi Klein Halevi presents a portrait of the history of the key unit which accomplished the liberation Jerusalem in 1967.

Without any restraint, Klein Halevi paints the picture of the soldiers from that unit and what happened in their lives after the end of the war. His book enables one to see the Israeli history through the eyes of an extraordinary group of individuals all of whom went in a multitude of directions in their subsequent personal lives and demonstrates the diversity of narratives through the personal stories of these soldiers. From West Bank settler to spying against Israel and from rabbi and Bible scholar to renowned musician, he weaves an honest picture of the State of Israel and  its citizens throughout its history.

For the religious Zionists in Israel this is a holiday of religious significance; yet most go to work, their children go school, and, except for some special prayers, there is minimal change in their daily life. According to a study of the Israel Democracy Institute, only 9-15% of the Israel population identify themselves as supporting the religious Zionist ideology. (The range is so large because it includes many who identify with the political ideology but do not consider themselves religious.) For the overwhelming majority of the country—perhaps almost 90%–the day is barely acknowledged. This is true among the entire secular population as well as among the ultra-orthodox haredi community.  At the same time the re-establishment of Jewish control of Jerusalem and its reunification is one of the most complex and difficult issues which stand in the way of any future peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as the entire Arab world.

There is one internal issue which Jerusalem Day also presents within Israeli society which is critical and confounding. Debates among most Israelis concerning the fate and future of Jerusalem–regardless of their political persuasion—inevitably lead to the same point. Few are willing to contemplate any change in the status quo. They acknowledge that the question of Jewish sovereignty ought to be resolvable, but even the most secular observers understand how sensitive, complex and emotion will be those ultimate negotiations.

This leads back to the question of this special holiday which is clearly recognized by only a small segment of the country; certainly in religious terms. One the one hand, the political, national, military, and historic event which this date commemorates is clear to all Israelis. On the other hand, the perpetuation of Jerusalem Day as a special holiday day which—unlike the national holiday of Israeli Independence Day—is acknowledged affirmatively by such small segment of the population may well dissipate as they years pass. 

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