Cherished City Secured, Open to People of All Faiths Since Israeli Victory in Six-Day War
In May of 1967, the countries surrounding Israel prepared to invade the Jewish state to carry out what some Arab leaders said would be a “war of annihilation”. After expelling UN peacekeepers from the border region, Egypt was joined by Syria, Jordan, and Iraq in massing hundreds of thousands of Arab military forces around the tiny state of Israel (which is only two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island).
“I remember very clearly that the mood at the time was one of great fear,” said Paul Michaels, Director of Research and Media Relations at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Michaels, a noted authority on Israel and the Middle East, has spent the past 25 years providing analysis and commentary on Israel, on behalf of Canada’s Jewish community. “Israelis were preparing to face a war of total destruction. They were digging trenches and bomb shelters around the country, and even planning for public parks to serve as sites for mass graves. As Jewish Canadians, we were horrified to see what was taking place on Israel’s borders – and all of this happening just two decades after the Holocaust.”
All of that changed in a matter of hours on June 5th, when Israel’s Air Force attacked Egyptian and Syrian military targets before the Arab invasion could unfold. In what many observers considered to be nothing short of a military miracle, Israel had embarked what was to become the historic Six Day War – a complete rout of the sizeable armies of the surrounding Arab world.
In Jerusalem, a city that had been divided between Jordan (in the east) and Israel (in the west) since 1948, Jordanian forces began shelling Israeli neighbourhoods. In response, Israeli paratroopers captured key Jordanian positions in eastern Jerusalem on June 6th, and liberated the Old City a day later. This neighbourhood, within the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem, includes the Western Wall – considered by Jews to be the holiest site in all of Judaism.
While under Jordanian control from 1948-1967, all Jews were forbidden from praying at the Wall, and Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives were desecrated (Jewish gravestones were even used by Jordanian troops in the construction of latrines). In the same period, the Jordanian government placed strict controls on the local Christian community, including severe limitations on access to both the Old City and Bethlehem.
In contrast, on the day Israeli forces liberated the Old City, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan established freedom of religion in the reunified city of Jerusalem, announcing:
“To our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.”
Since then, Israel has kept its promise to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all faiths – who enjoy safe and open access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.