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.
What few realize today with all the rhetoric about “occupied Arab East Jerusalem” is that the Old City had a Jewish population majority 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-six 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. By the way, we still have a few spaces open, especially the last two weeks of the dig, if any of my blog readers would like to join us, see “The Mt Zion Dig, 2013.”I plan to be there the entire four weeks.