June 7, 1967. Are you old enough to remember? Those of us who are will never forget how the entire world was riveted to their televisions during the “Six Day War.” Today is Yom Yerushalayim or “Jerusalem Day” on the Hebrew calendar (Iyyar 28), commemorating the Israeli return to the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. You can read the account by Michael Oren here, taken from his book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. This Youtube video captures the moment with live radio transmissions and footage as Israeli soldiers arrived at the Western Wall.
For me it was one of the defining events of my life and my generation. I was 21 years old, living in Texas, and like so many others was glued to the television 24/7 as the fate of Israel hung in the balance. None doubted that the shrill words over Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian radio about finishing the job that Hitler began would be carried out in full should it be militarily possible. The ancient words of Psalm 83 and Psalm 124 seemed uncannily relevant, as if history does indeed repeat itself in some strange cycle of protagonists.
Today on the Hebrew calendar is called Yom Yerushalayim, Iyyar 28th, which commemorates the liberation of the city of Jerusalem, putting it back in Jewish hands after 2300 years of what the prophet Daniel calls the “trampling of the nations” (Daniel 8:13-14). Despite all the directions things have gone since that fateful day in terms of Israeli and Arab conflicts over the city of Jerusalem and its holy places I am convinced that we will look back someday on this date in history and know it is one of the most important and significant in world history.
What few realize today with all the rhetoric about “occupied Arab East Jerusalem” is that the Old City had a majority Jewish population under Turkish rule until the early 20th century, even though Jewish life was severely restricted, see my blog post on this here. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 until 1967, Jews had been driven from the Old City and many historic markers of Jewish life and culture were systematically destroyed by the Arab Legion from Mt Zion to the Mount of Olives. I first visited Jerusalem in July, 1962, under Jordanian occupation, and even visited the Western Wall and the “Jewish Quarter,” but the Old City was filled with Christian tourists and Arabs, both Christian and Muslim–but strangely, no Jews. You can read my personal account here.
Forty-eight years later the differences are hard to fathom with religious rights and access guaranteed by the Israeli government to all faiths and holy sites and much of the Jewish Quarter restored–including most recently the magnificent Huvra Synagogue. Next month when we begin our excavation at our site just outside Zion Gate our students and participants will be able to experience fully the vibrantly diverse culture of the Old City with freedom to explore all areas of its historic past. It is still not too late to join us–we have over 60 people signed up we we can take up to 80, so we are accepting late registrations, see digmountzion.uncc.edu on details. I plan to be there the entire four weeks. Also, if you can’t join us we invite you to contribute to funding–all our operational costs are paid from funds we raise from our loyal supporters. See here regarding How You Can Participate.