Jerusalem: 40 Years in the Hands of the Jewish People
Jerusalem: 40 Years in the Hands of the Jewish People
by Shira Sorko-Ram
A wave of sadness welled up in me as I listened to the haunting songs that came out of the Six Day War and watched the interviews of soldiers who talked about their companions who died freeing Jerusalem in June 1967.
The pain was unexpected because we celebrate Jerusalem Day every year. But somehow this 40th anniversary was so hollow, so empty of expectations for the future in comparison to the dreams of peace and an end to all wars that beat in the hearts of Israelis on those fateful June days. I thought of the Jerusalem I knew and lived in from 1967 to 1973.
I had come on a tour with my parents Gordon and Freda Lindsay in October, four months after the Israeli army nearly stumbled into the capture and liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall (then called the Wailing Wall); and the Temple Mount, including the Mosque of Omer. Little did I know that Israel would be my home the rest of my life.
My earlier trips to Israel
I had already been to Jerusalem twice before, arriving in the Lod airport close to Tel Aviv and then grabbing a taxi which wound its way up the tortuous old highway to Jerusalem – the same highway that only a few years before had witnessed many Jewish warriors die as they attempted to climb the Judean Hills in their homemade armored cars – in order to liberate the starving Jerusalem Jews who were close to collapse from an Arab siege on the city.
Israel’s “new city” on the west side of the then dividing wall was a small back-water town. I remember old stone houses along streets which dead-ended at that wall to keep Israelis from walking into the mine-filled no man’s land and terrorists from crossing over from Jordanian Jerusalem.
As tourists we were allowed to carry our suitcases and cross through no man’s land on foot to the famous Mandlebaum Gate. By walking in the front door and exiting out the back of what was once the noble home of a Jewish doctor, we found ourselves on the east side of Jerusalem under the sovereignty of Jordan.
It was 1959 and I was 19 years old, my first time in the Middle East. Everywhere I looked I saw countless alleys and tiny passages into courtyards filled with ragged children and clothes hanging everywhere. We were taken by an Arab guide down a small alley which in those days ran along the bottom of the Western Wall. The guide warned us not to appear to be praying in the direction of the Wall, or we would be arrested – or worse.
1967: Disaster was looming
Now, in the beginning of June, 1967, the Israeli people literally thought they were again headed for another Holocaust. Egypt had clamped an economic stranglehold and massed hundreds of thousands of enemy troops on Israel’s borders after throwing the peace-keeping United Nations troops out of Sinai where they were serving as a buffer between Israel and Egypt. The heavily armed Arab nations had made a defense pact between themselves and publicly committed their nations to eradicate the Jewish state now, once and for all.
Israel was desperate to avoid war and up to the eve of battle, pursued every avenue in an effort to avert it – even at great strategic and economic cost to the nation. The government and military leaders held back from acting militarily until the very last opportunity for a diplomatic settlement had passed, even though every day they waited was costing them dearly in resources, readiness and morale.
A War from Monday to Saturday
Then everything changed, forty years ago this month! (The yearly anniversary is celebrated according to the Jewish Calendar, placing it on May 16 this year.) The war which started on Monday, June 5, when Israel’s air force preempted an attack by wiping out Egypt’s air force, was led by a prime minister and military leaders who were petrified that Israel would be completely destroyed. Two days later, the Old City of Jerusalem was in Israel’s hand and the whole area of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza fell to the Israelis as they watched in disbelief as the Egyptian army and next the Jordanian army simply melted away.
Then from Thursday to Saturday, Israeli tanks clawed their way up the Golan Heights in terrible bloody battles while withering Syrian firepower rained down upon them. But by Saturday evening, Syria agreed to a cease fire and Israel’s army was peering down on Damascus from the top of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights.
But the price for little Israel was excruciating. Out of 1,200 paratroopers who began the battle for Jerusalem there were only 400 left fighting by the end, some of whom were badly wounded. Out of some 800 soldiers who died fighting in the Six Day War, 183 died in Jerusalem. Another 2,500 were wounded. Many soldiers who survived testified that they did not believe they would come out of the war alive. But they understood they had no other choice but to fight for their lives and those of their families.
From the civilian side, there was great pride in the army’s achievements and in just being an Israeli. Little David had again beaten Goliath! Car stickers everywhere read, “Kol HaKavod L’Tsahal!” (All the honor to the Israeli Defense Forces!) Those were the days when many young American and English Jews decided to help build the nation by immigrating to Israel.
Jerusalem in 1967
It was to this newly united city that our tour arrived in October 1967. We crisscrossed the streets of East and West Jerusalem in awe. The Mandlebaum Gate was no longer there and the mines had been cleared from no man’s land. Israelis could hardly contain themselves. The ecstasy and joy the nation was feeling after seeing their beloved Jerusalem back in their hands after 2000 years was beyond description. The air of rapture that permeated the city lasted for several years.
Mobs of Israeli “tourists” descended on the Old City bazaar and the Arab vendors were quickly learning a little Hebrew to sell their wares; the merchants were quite happy at the amazing hike in their sales.
The fragrances were intoxicating. Oriental spices piled high in gunny sacks, carts of fresh bagels and the deep aroma of the ever-present Turkish coffee in the elaborately ornamental finjan (dispenser) permeated the air. Trinkets and expensive rugs and fabrics from Damascus and Egypt were now available to Israelis for the first time.
Israelis walked around in a daze of bliss. The long awaited days of Messiah were not just nearing; they were here! They were here for the ultra-Orthodox Jews who couldn’t stay away from the Western Wall, and they were here for the Israelis who didn’t believe in anything but still acknowledged some great power was somehow guiding the destiny of the Jewish people and had (impossibly) given them back their city of Jerusalem.
It’s easy to long for those days again. After moving into the city, I remember one of the first things I noticed was that the streets of Western Jerusalem were oh so very safe. A woman could walk around any time of the day or night. Murder was unheard of. The worst kind of crime (and that was bad enough) was thievery, but violent crime didn’t exist. You didn’t hear about it on the radio or read about it in the newspapers. In fact, even among the Arabs, I found I could drive by myself all over the West Bank with no worry.
Nobody was rich in those days in Jerusalem. Well, almost nobody. Being wealthy simply was not a goal for the people of this city. The greatest aspiration of Jerusalem’s citizens was to get married, have children and remain a close family. For entertainment, friends of all ages visited other friends in their homes. When young people wanted to have a party, they would gather at someone’s home and talk for hours. Then someone would pull out a guitar and everybody would start to sing – often about beautiful Eretz Israel – the Land of Israel – or love songs from the Song of Songs. In those days, there were virtually no bars in Jerusalem. I remember an ad in a magazine that read: WHO SAYS ISRAELIS DON’T DRINK? Coca Cola.
When the Sabbath descended on Jerusalem, the only vehicles on the city roads were military. Sabbath candles twinkled in the windows of most houses, whether the residents were religious or not. With synagogues in every area the city became one grand promenade as Jerusalemites walked to their services. Soon singing and chanting could be heard throughout the streets of Jerusalem. There were always fanatical ultra-Orthodox, but so many religious Jews, especially among the Sephardic communities (those originating from Arab countries) were warm, tolerant and gracious towards those with different beliefs.
True, the people of Israel in the late 1960’s were not yet redeemed by God through His Son Yeshua our Messiah. But they were decent, hard-working people trying to survive. The Six Day War took place, one must recall, only 19 years after the State of Israel was born, and only 22 years after many of Israel’s citizens had been freed from the Nazi concentration camps. I remember the Orthodox ladies in the bakery where I went to buy my Sabbath Challah (bread) and maybe an apple strudel. The ladies had numbers tattooed on their forearms by their former Nazi masters.
Jerusalem in 2007
And now, forty years have come and gone. The city of Jerusalem, His City, has been torn apart by two intifadas, countless suicide bombers, hundreds of knifings and shootings by fanatical Islamists. Today, it is again a divided city. A new wall, born out of extreme necessity to protect Jerusalem’s Jewish citizens, is being built, which will eventually surround two-thirds of the city.
But Jerusalem has many more problems besides security. For the last 27 of 29 years, more Jews have moved out of Jerusalem than moved in. Last year 17,200 left the capital (mainly secular Israelis), while only 10,900 moved there.
Already, the low income to poverty populations are the majority, with 25% of the population ultra-Orthodox, many of whom do not work, and 34% Arabs. The 41% who are secular Jews are quitting the city by the thousands for better jobs and affordable housing, while the Muslim population is growing twice as fast as the Jewish. Today with the majority of residents being Muslims and ultra-Orthodox Jews, many secular Jews do not feel at home in their city any longer.
Because the Muslim population is growing so fast, demographers expect that the Jewish-Arab ratio will reach 50-50 in another 20 years. In other words, in 20 years democratic elections could make it possible for a Palestinian or even a Hamas takeover of Jerusalem’s city hall. This is a nightmare scenario to politicians and citizens alike – to all that believe Israel must be a homeland and refuge for the Jewish people.
Furthermore, the Arab Christian population continues to dwindle from Jerusalem as these better-educated Arabs leave for Western countries. Only 10,000 Christian Arabs live today in Jerusalem. To encourage Christian Arabs to stay, an adviser to Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupolianski called on the government to ease restrictions of family reunification for Christian Arabs living in the capital. That means the government would allow Christians to marry Palestinians from the West Bank and bring them into Jerusalem to live. (The government does not allow Muslim men from the West Bank who wish to marry Arab women in Jerusalem to move to Jerusalem for fear that terrorists will use the tactic to get Jerusalem residence.)
Sadly, 76% of Israelis today believe that peace with the Arab people is hopelessly unattainable. (Haaretz, 13May07) Yes, I do miss that sparkle in the eyes of the Jerusalemites a generation ago. That spark of hope that God is with us! That almost mystical feeling among a people who knew somehow they were chosen for a purpose, even though they didn’t know exactly for what.
Israelis, though they do not yet know their Savior in a personal way, are irrevocably connected to the Temple Mount, the Place where the Presence of God once dwelt. A new poll reports an incredible 96% of Israeli Jews say they would never agree to give up the Western Wall, even if the Arabs promised peace. In fact, an overwhelming majority say they would never give up any part of the Temple Mount or the beautiful Jewish Quarter in the Old City.
In fact, the connection to the Temple Mount is so implanted in the Jewish people, that when $100 billion for developing a Middle East of Peace was offered in return for allowing the Saudi flag to be raised over the Temple Mount in the 1980’s, Prime Minister Menachem Begin rejected it out of hand. (Ibid., 13May07)
The World Refuses to Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital
Yet, not a single nation in the world, including the U.S. and Europe, recognize any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a position which speaks volumes to the Arab nations. This lack of recognition encourages Muslim hopes – that all of Israel may one day be illegitimate. Indeed, it is reasonable to ask that if West Jerusalem is illegitimately part of Israel, then is any part of Israel legitimate? Even now, international voices are gathering momentum with their claim that Israel is an illegitimate state and does not have a right to exist.
Jerusalem, of course, is the key. Every nation has a right to determine its capital, and Jerusalem embodies the Jewish nation’s vital link to the past, without which there is no Israel and Zionism. There is no reason or justice, for example, in the international refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even if the borders of that capital are destined to be the topic of negotiations, say the editors of the Jerusalem Post.
Yet last summer, Costa Rica and El Salvador became the last countries to remove their embassies from Jerusalem, due to boycott pressures from the Arab nations. On Jerusalem’s 40th year of reunification, the Israeli government invited embassies around the world to celebrate with us. Only seven representatives from small countries accepted the invitation! _Jerusalem’s Mayor Lupolianski blasted the foreign governments for boycotting the city’s 40th anniversary of liberation. He said, “Whoever does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel does not recognize the state of Israel.”
The Guardian of Israel
So I miss that feeling that Jerusalemites once had – that there was something Biblical about the events happening in their lifetime, the joy that they felt living once more in the city of King David. I miss the innocence of the good people of Jerusalem, the immigrants from all over the world, the quiet strength of the Jerusalemite who was from the “elite”, because he could tell you that his family had been living in the city for seven generations or more.
Of course, forty years ago, I well knew that according to the Bible those days of euphoria would not last. But I couldn’t help but savor them with my adopted countrymen while they lasted. Those days of innocence ended with the crushing, shocking, debilitating Yom Kippur War in 1973. But the wonderful songs, the wonderful people, the wonder-city of Jerusalem of the late 60’s will remain with me all of my life.
As if the heavens itself were weeping for Jerusalem, freak storms rained down on Jerusalem Day this last May 16, resulting in almost all of the celebrations being canceled. Ceremonies honoring the soldiers who lived and died were simply flooded out, while fire-fighters and emergency services worked to evacuate people and pump water from the streets.
Messianic Jews and evangelical Christians continue to focus on the promises of God for His people and His land. The Lord God of Israel is still the “Shomer Israel” (the Keeper of Israel). The bond between Israelis and evangelicals continues to be strengthened as the world looks ever more threatening from here. Rev. Malcolm Hedding, Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy, wrote to Jerusalem’s mayor,
“The Jewish restoration to Jerusalem in modern times is one of the clearest cases of historic justice ever, whereby a people longing to return to a land and a holy city from which they were violently uprooted millennia ago finally realized that sustaining dream. Yet due to Arab pressures and threats, the Jewish return to Jerusalem has been perversely turned into an immoral act. Jerusalem remains a burdensome stone among the nations…”
The nations will continue to self-righteously claim Israel the impostor in Jerusalem, while God longs to take His people under His wings as a hen does her chicks, and protect them from their enemies. But Yeshua said,
“Behold, your house is left to you desolate and I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!'” He is waiting, waiting, waiting for His own to turn back to Him. In that day Jerusalem will be a joy to the whole world.
Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram are the founders of Maoz Israel Ministries. The mission of MAOZ is: 1) To declare the Message of Messiah and make disciples in the city of Tel Aviv and throughout Israel. 2) To raise up Israeli leaders to prepare for the coming spiritual awakening among the people of Israel. 3) To educate and inform Christians world-wide of the strategic importance of Israel and the Jewish people in God’s plan for world revival. The MAOZ web site is https://www.maozisrael.org/.