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Jerusalem Day

Vanessa O'Brien, June 18, 2010

Israelis celebrate in Jerusalem in May.

Whoever rules Jerusalem rules the world. Or so says an old legend. Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) last month was a vivid reminder that since the 1967 Six-Day War, that ruler has been the State of Israel.

This year's Jerusalem Day saw the holy city drowned in an innumerable sea of blue-and-white flags and streamers, its inner city streets closed to traffic as kippah-headed young men bobbed up and down to blaring, fast-paced minor tunes. Mothers glowed as they pushed prams, and vendors sold sticky white candyfloss. Clapping children draped in the Star of David sat on their fathers' shoulders, and Jews of all kinds danced, sang and shouted throughout Jerusalem as a mass of humanity surged toward the Western Wall.

As dusk fell over a noticeably quiet Temple Mount, Arab markets at the old city's Jaffa Gate bolted their iron doors several hours early, and the silence over the city's east was a stark contrast to the jubilant, all-night celebrations west of the Western Wall.

The Six-Day War was 43 years ago, but the concept of humility in victory—and magnanimity in defeat—does not hold in the Middle East. Israel left no room for misunderstanding on Jerusalem Day: To the Jews, a united Jerusalem is the world, and they are its sovereign.

Jerusalem Day has been celebrated that way since one-eyed Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan and his soldiers captured Jerusalem's old city just two days into the Six-Day War. More than 200,000 Jews streamed to the Western Wall once it was cleared of mines, and they danced, sang and wept tears of joy all night. The words to a popular Israeli song lamenting that the Temple Mount was in foreign hands were quickly changed to celebrate access to the Western Wall, under Jewish rule, for the first time in thousands of years. The song is still sung today.

This year's mass hysteria—a mixture of nationalism, Zionism and religious fervor—was no subtle reminder that Israel has little intention of allowing Jerusalem to be torn asunder again.

Israel's policy of Jerusalem as its eternal, indivisible capital under its sovereignty has not budged since the reunification of the city in 1967. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made that clear during his Jerusalem Day speech at the capital's Ammunition Hill on Wednesday when he said, "We will never divide Jerusalem."

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat responded to the prime minister by stating that East Jerusalem was an occupied Palestinian town and there could not be peace while it continued to be occupied.

More Israeli politicians roused Jerusalem Day fervor at the risk of attracting ire from the United States, which is trying to revive the stalled peace process.

Israel's public security minister announced that more illegally built homes in East Jerusalem would be demolished. The Education Ministry revealed that the number of school children taking field trips to Jerusalem had almost quadrupled over the past two years as educators allegedly endeavoured to connect Jewish students to Jerusalem.

Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Israel would continue to build in all of Jerusalem, according to a Jerusalem Post report. That was despite a temporary halt put on plans for 1600 new Ramat Shlomo units, which were announced during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in March and led to a diplomatic row over construction in the capital's eastern neighborhoods.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to talk directly with Israel until construction in East Jerusalem stops.

Much of the international community supports the principal of a return to pre-1967 borders and the two-state solution proposed by the Quartet—The United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. The status of Jerusalem has been tabled as a final-stage negotiation in proposed peace talks, due to its contentiousness.

Oddly enough, 100 years ago Jerusalem was an all-but-forsaken city that nobody seemed to want. Today it is a priceless jewel that neither party can bear to split for fear it will lose its worth, and that each desperately wants to possess.

Jerusalem is united under Israeli rule, for now. However, it is a city divided in other ways—if not by walls and razor wire, certainly by race and religion, fear and mistrust.

Choppers patrolled the skies like hawks on Jerusalem Day, at times drowning out the loud speakers of the enthusiastic band. Military and police were dotted among revellers at every corner. Behind the blue and white decorations, snipers were on guard. Some patriots stayed at home, lest the unthinkable should happen.

Ruling Jerusalem comes at a cost.

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