By Sarah L., Staff Writer for Hope for Israel
Jerusalem has been a hotspot of international controversy for thousands of years; in modern times, much of the controversial dialogue takes place surrounding the Israeli holiday of Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, which celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule in 1967. Israelis often come under fire for using wording like the “reunification” of Jerusalem, since this seems to assume that Jerusalem was previously to 1967 recognized as belonging to Israel.
Jerusalem was “reunified” during the Six-Day War, in that it had been divided during the 18 years previous. This is a historically accurate statement. The bigger question is under whose rule should Jerusalem be.
The obvious answer for most of history, and for many believers, is that the God of the Bible granted the Land of Israel to the Jewish people four thousand years ago and made Jerusalem the capital of Israel under King David in approximately 1000 BC. However, while on the one hand this answer is simple, on the other history has proved much more complicated.
In terms of pure historical longevity, it is impossible to argue with the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. Archaeology proves the Bible true on this front. The Bible itself is clear about the role and position of the Land of Israel in world history and in the history of the people of Israel:
In Genesis 12:1-3 (circa 2000 BC) God says,
“Now Adonai said to Avram, “Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you are to be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
In Joshua 1:2-4 God reaffirms this promise, adding specific borders to the Land:
“So now, arise, you and all these people, cross over this Jordan to the land that I am giving to them, to Bnei-Yisrael (the Children of Israel). Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I am giving to you as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon to the great river, the Euphrates River – all the land of the Hittites – to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.”
In 2 Samuel 5:6-9, David conquers Jerusalem, the city of the Jebusites:
6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.
Lastly, in dozens of prophecies, God promises the return of the Jewish people from Exile to the same Land of Israel. In Isaiah 45:13, He calls Jerusalem, “my city,” and later, in Zechariah 8:3, He says, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.’”
In contrast, the Muslim connection to the city began 2,500 years after God called Abraham! Muslim armies conquered the Byzantines in 638 AD and built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in 680. Only after the completion of the Dome did Jerusalem become a place of pilgrimage for Muslims, who viewed the Temple Mount both as the place where Abraham would have sacrificed his son, and from where Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Muslim rulers initially recognized Jewish claim to the area, allowing them for the first time since the Bar Kochva Revolt to pray on the Temple Mount, and even to build a small synagogue. For this reason, most Jews initially supported Muslim rule. In contrast, Christian rulers had generally barred Jews from entering Jerusalem; however, arguably even this policy is proof of the connection between the Land and the Jewish people.
There followed several centuries where Jerusalem (along with all of Israel) was tossed back and forth between Muslims and Crusaders, but although Jerusalem was considered the Holy Grail of victories, most of the rulers did nothing to support the growth or rehabilitation of the city or region. One Muslim ruler even intentionally destroyed Jerusalem’s outer walls, leading to a significant decrease in population (they were of course later rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent).
There has been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem since 1000 BC, even throughout all the years of the Diaspora. Despite the persecution of the Jewish people over the centuries, it is only in the last hundred years that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has been denied. This historic connection remained so strong that during the 19th century, early Evangelical Christians in Britain and the United States began to promote the idea of establishing a Jewish state in what was then Ottoman Palestine. So what changed?
The Jewish people’s historic right to the Land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem is indisputable. However, although this fact did not change, its application became significantly more complicated during the 20th century. Logically speaking, why is Israel justified today in holding sovereignty over Jerusalem, despite the opposing Palestinian claims to the city?
According to the initial UN resolution of November 1947, Jerusalem was to be governed by an international body. However, when an armistice was declared between Israel and Jordan after Israel’s War of Independence, Israel held west Jerusalem and Jordan East Jerusalem. Although objectively, both nations violated the UN referendum, Jordan did not accept the UN’s resolution to begin with and notably initiated the conflict.
This is what is important to know:
- UN ruled that Jerusalem would be an internationally governed city.
- Israel accepted the terms of the “partition plan,” while Arab leaders rejected them.
- Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq sent armies to conquer Israel directly following its declaration of independence on May 14th, 1948.
- Jordanian forces held Jerusalem siege, forcing Israeli forces to attempt to retake the city (in order to save its Jews).
- Israel and Jordan signed a ceasefire separating Jerusalem into “east” and “west.” (Think the Berlin Wall, Israel style.)
- This border became known as the “green line” or the “pre-1967 borders.”
Israel gained control over East Jerusalem during a second war that it did not initiate. Following a bloody and desperate battle at Ammunition Hill, in which many Israeli soldiers were killed, Israel took over East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Although this battle marked the first time since the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom that all of Jerusalem was in Jewish hands, the victory was tempered by the hard losses suffered in human life. On a side note, many aren’t aware that the Jordanians, convinced of an Israeli victory, began to withdraw from the Old City before the Israelis even entered. This fact solidifies Israel’s claim to the Old City.
Regardless of history, most modern commentators would say that Israel should “withdraw to the pre-1967 boundaries” for the sake of peace. However, both boundaries, that of 1948 and that of 1967, were determined by conflicts that Israel did not initiate. So why one is valid while the other is not? They were both forged under the same circumstances. Therefore, one must either accept the validity of neither or of both.
Arguably the modern Palestinian people does have the right to self-determination, and here is where the word responsibility comes in: despite the professed Palestinian desire for an independent state, Palestinian leaders have not shown an authentic desire to further such a goal. Tragically, these leaders have proved themselves to be their own people’s worst enemy; had they chosen, “Palestine” could have become an independent member of the family of nations through the Oslo Accords, with east Jerusalem as its capitol (interestingly, this would have again divided Jerusalem). Yet Yasser Arafat chose instead to incite the Second Intifada.
Again in 2005, Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip, offering the Palestinians the opportunity to build an independent democratic state. Today, 18 years later, Gaza is ruled by a terrorist group which funnels tens of millions of dollars of international aid money towards Israel’s destruction. After the Gaza debacle, Israel understandably does not feel that “withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders” will further anything like peace.
As a concluding argument, it is only under Jewish rulers that Jerusalem has ever flourished or grown. This is either because the Jewish people cares more for the city and has a deeper connection to it than any other people, or because God’s divine favor allows Jerusalem to flourish specifically under Jewish rule. Or both.
Psalm 137:5-6 says,
“If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
It is historically and spiritually significant that Jerusalem, a whole and “reunited” Jerusalem, is in Israeli hands; God’s city governed by His people! Even though the situation today remains complicated, the unity of Jerusalem is worthy of celebration and praise!
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