This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem and control of the area by the State of Israel. Here is what you should know about one of history’s most important cities:
1. Jerusalem Day (Hebrew: Yom Yerushalayim) is an Israeli national holiday that celebrates the unification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty, an event that occurred during the Six Day War in 1967. On May 12, 1968, the government of Israel chose the 28th of Iyar (the eighth month of the civil and second of the religious year) as a day that “symbolizes the continued historical connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem.” Jerusalem Day became an official state holiday on March 23, 1998, when the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the second and third readings of the Jerusalem Day Law establishing the official date of the national holiday. In 2017, the holiday began on the evening of May 23 and ended at sunset on May 24.
2. Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Evidence indicates the area within present-day Jerusalem was settled as far back as the Copper Age, sometime in the 4th millennium BC. There is also some evidence that a permanent settlement could have existed as early as Bronze Age, around 3000–2800 BC.
3. Jerusalem is not only one of the oldest cities in history but is also one of the most contested. According to historian Eric H. Kline, the city has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
4. The name “Jerusalem” occurs 806 times in the Bible—660 times in the Old Testament and 146 times in the New Testament (not including synonyms used to reference the city). The first occurrence of Jerusalem is found in Joshua 10:1 (“As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai”). Some scholars also believe an allusion to Jerusalem appears in Genesis 14:18 with the reference to Melchizedek, king of Salem, because poetic parallel construction in Psalm 76:2 equates Salem with Zion.
5. Jerusalem is home to some of the most holy sites in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For Christians, the city is significant because it was the location of Jesus’s Last Supper; of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion; of his nearby burial; of his resurrection and post-resurrection appearances; and of his ascension and promise to return. For Jews, the city is home to the Kotel, or Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount from the Holy Temple. As Erica Chernofsky notes, “Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Many Jews believe the Dome of the Rock is the site of the Holy of Holies.” (The Holy of Holies, located within the Temple Mount, is the most sacred site in Judaism.) In Islam, the Dome of the Rock is where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven after being transported from Mecca to the location where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands. This site is the third holiest site for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina.
6. After being anointed king of Israel, King David captured the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites (Canaanites) and made it the nation’s capital (2 Samuel 5:3-6). The city remained the capital of Israel until the Romans sacked it in AD 70. From that point until 1948, various non-Jewish factions controlled the city.
7. From 1517 to 1917, the city was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and then from 1917 to 1947, by the British Empire. In 1947 the United Nations developed the Partition Plan for Palestine, a proposal to divide the city between Israel and Palestine. Before the plan could be implemented, though, civil war broke out in the region. The war of 1948 resulted in the division of Jerusalem, with the Israelis controlling West Jerusalem and the Jordanians controlling East Jerusalem, including the area known as the Old City with the religious holy sites. The city remained divided between Arabs and Jews until the Six Day War.
8. For two decades after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, tensions remained between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In May 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria began mobilizing their military forces and initiated a naval blockade of Israeli shipping and seaports. Israel responded by preemptively attacking Egyptian airfields and destroying 90 percent of Egypt’s air force. In the first three days of the war, Israel managed to capture the Gaza Strip, the Suez Canal, and the Sinai Peninsula. Although Israel had asked Jordan to remain neutral in the city of Jerusalem, the Jordanians began to attack West Jerusalem. On June 7, Israel captured all of Jerusalem and accepted a ceasefire with Jordan. Since then, Israel has controlled all of the city (Muslims in Israel have full access to their holy sites, though Palestinians in the West Bank have restricted access into the city).
9. In 1980, the Knesset adopted the “Jerusalem Law” which stated that, “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and that “Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.” The United Nations Security Council, which had long criticized Israeli annexation of the city, responded by adopting Resolution 478. The resolution declares the Jerusalem Law to be a violation of international law and calls upon UN member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city. The resolution passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.
10. In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which provides funding for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The law was adopted by a large majority of both the House (374–37) and the Senate (93–5). But the law also included a provision giving the president “waiver authority” to suspend the decision to move for six months if the chief executive deems it is “necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.” Since then every president—Clinton, Bush, and Obama—has signed the waiver every six months. Despite promising to move the embassy to Jerusalem, President Trump is also expected to sign the waiver latter this month.
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: View of Jerusalem. By israeltourism, via Flickr.