Great Britain became the first modern country to recognize the unbroken link between the Jews and their homeland and the untold suffering that their displacement had caused them. In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain officially acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to restore their national home on the land of ancient Israel, which by then had become the decaying Ottoman Province of Palestine.
Writing to the Zionist Federation on behalf of Great Britain’s government, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, said: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
The League of Nations subsequently affirmed the commitment set forth in the Balfour Declaration when it issued its Mandate for Palestine. The League, the source of international legitimacy eventually succeeded by the United Nations, recognized “the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It is noteworthy that the League did not exclude Jerusalem or any other area of Mandatory Palestine from its recognition of Jewish rights to the land. Indeed, of all the areas in the Mandate territory, Jerusalem boasted the largest and most dominant Jewish presence at the time of the declaration.
The United Nations inherited this legal designation from the League of Nations. Then, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (“The Partition Plan”), which called for a Jewish state, encompassing primarily the Jewish population along the coast, to exist alongside an Arab state in Palestine.
The Partition Plan declared Jerusalem a temporary “corpus separatum,” a separate entity, whose ultimate status would be voted upon by its residents. At that time, the Jews were the majority in the city. The Partition Plan, then, would have led to Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem by majority vote.
The surrounding Arab countries were determined to strangle the nascent Jewish state in its cradle and prevent the Jewish majority of Jerusalem from reaffirming its claim to the city. The Arab states rejected Resolution 181 in word and deed, sending armies to overturn its provisions by expelling the Jewish population from Jerusalem and Palestine and driving them “into the sea.”
The UN Protective Force, stationed in Jerusalem as part of Resolution 181, stood idle and allowed the Arab invaders to charge into the city. While the Arab armies failed to destroy the Jewish state, they besieged and attacked the Jews of Jerusalem in the spring of 1948.
Abdullah el-Tel, commander of Transjordan’s Arab Legion in Jerusalem, reported in May 1948 that the “Jewish Quarter has been destroyed,” making “the return of the Jews to this place impossible.” Indeed, el-Tel considered this “defeat of the Jews to be the most serious blow to have befallen them, particularly in terms of their morale, since they were cut off from the Western Wall and the Jew Immediately upon their occupation of the Jewish Quarter, the Arabs indiscriminately blew up synagogues, rabbinical schools, and other buildings. Remaining synagogues and other holy sites were used as stables and garbage dumps.
John Phillips, a Life Magazine photographer-reporter accompanying the Arab Legion, documented the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in the June 7 and 28, 1948, issues of the magazine. Phillips observed that on May 28, 1948, “Palestinian hangers-on burst in and reduced [the Jewish Quarter] to smoking ruin after the beaten Jews gave in.” He noted that “[h]ad any Jew decided to remain in the Old City, he would have been homeless within hours and probably dead by nightfall.” Throughout the nineteen years of Jordanian occupation, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City remained in ruins, substantially razed to the ground. Jews were barred from the entire Old City, and thus from Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount and its remaining Western Wall.
For nineteen years, concrete walls and barbed wire sealed off one part of the city from the other. Its eastern section, including the Old City, was annexed by Jordan, and ruled from its capital, Amman. The western sector of Jerusalem became Israel’s capital.
Throughout the millennia of its existence, Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other sovereign nation besides the Jews. No one claimed or asked Jerusalem as its capital during any time in the history from any occupier. No one needed it, until Jews received the right to come back to their ancient capital.
In 1967, Arab armies again massed on Israel’s border with the declared aim of destroying the entire Jewish state, and Israel fought a defensive war to repel the imminent Arab invasion. In Jerusalem, the conflict mirrored the larger war: the Jordanians ignored Israeli warnings to refrain from initiating hostilities, and fired the first shots at Israeli targets. Israeli forces fought back, eventually seizing the Old City and the Temple Mount. Because Israel captured the Old City and other parts of eastern Jerusalem (and the West Bank and Gaza as well) in self-defense, its rights are recognizable under international law and its presence remains legal.
In November 1967, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242, calling for territorial compromise involving some, unspecified amount of land seized by Israel in 1967 in exchange for “secure and recognized boundaries” and a “just and lasting peace.” Significantly, Resolution 242 does not require that Israel withdraw from Jerusalem or any other specific territory; the text merely calls for some of the territory held by Israel to be compromised in return for the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries. Israel has already withdrawn from a majority of the territory that it occupied in 1967, having ceded the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt under the Camp David accords and having turned over significant areas of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian Authority control. Regretfully, Israel has yet to enjoy “secure and recognized boundaries” or to see a “just and lasting peace.” Israel’s presence in Jerusalem, however, remains lawful under United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.”
It is important to note that the earliest legal instruments of the twentieth century relating to Jerusalem – the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate – did not purport to grant Jews a new right to reconnect with their homeland. They recognized the “historic” right of the Jewish people to that land. Those rights, in other words, were understood as historically enshrined, predating any legal review of them. Indeed, the most fundamental rights ever cited in international law – such as the right of a country to its sovereign territory or the right to defend against invasion – are recognized as natural and pre-existing. The UN Charter can merely recognize and affirm them; it cannot grant these rights. Similarly, no nation’s right to its capital is subject to affirmation or approval by the United Nations or its parent organizations. They are rights that belong exclusively to the subject nation, and are not conditional on the approval or ratification of any other nations. The Jewish people decided millennia ago to establish Jerusalem as their capital. They continue to effect that choice to this day. No nation or legal authority may deny that choice.
For most of the past 2,000 years, freedom of worship in Jerusalem has been severely limited. Access to holy sites was parceled out hierarchically, subject to the benevolence or whim of the authorities then in power. Roman rulers and their Byzantine successors forbade Jewish residence in the city. Ottoman rulers and later local Muslim governing authorities forbade Jews from bringing Torah scrolls and other prayer artifacts to the Western Wall. When Jews tried to bring a Torah to the Wall in 1929, neighboring Arabs rioted and murdered dozens of Jews.
Under Jordanian rule (1948- 1967), Jews were marched out of the Old City as prisoners, while their homes were destroyed. During that time, no Jew was able to worship at the Western Wall, despite an armistice agreement which had specifically provided that right. Christians, for their part, were barred from buying land and thereby expanding their presence in the city.
By contrast, when Israel established sovereignty over Jerusalem in June 1967, all of the city’s holy sites became freely and equally accessible to worshipers of all faiths for the first time in centuries. Indeed, within days following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, the Israeli Knesset enacted the Protection of Holy Places Law of 1967, which to this day provides that: “The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.”
Under the protection of Israeli law, the Christian presence in Jerusalem has undergone a rebirth: a new Armenian sanctuary was erected in Jerusalem and has become an architectural and theological landmark. A Mormon temple was built on the slopes of Mount Scopus. Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb, believed to be the burial place of Jesus, continue to flourish. Muslims, meanwhile, enjoy an autonomous, religious administration for their holy sites, particularly the Waqf that presides over the Temple Mount.
All of these sites are well guarded by Israeli authorities to ensure security and stability for all worshipers. For the first time in the city’s 2000 years history, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all enjoy equal freedom of worship in the Old City. Jews, for their part, can finally pray at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple, Judaism’s holiest place on Earth, and establish synagogues in the Old City where they can pray in peace.
Jerusalem Day is a holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to mark the regaining of access to the Western Wall
Sources: mfa.gov.il ,