For the first time, the Knesset and the US Congress held a joint event Wednesday night, to mark 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
The event was broadcast live from the Israeli parliament and Capitol Hill, simultaneously, and was aired on the Knesset's English-language website. Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, who initiated the event, also hosted. The event featured speeches by Ambassador Dermer, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his speech, Knesset Speaker Edelstein said ”Since 1967, Jerusalem has again become a spiritual center, where members of all religions may practice their faith freely. Where the sounds of Jewish prayer mingle with the voice of the muezzin and church bells. Where pilgrims come to seek G-d in synagogues, mosques and churches. This is Jerusalem. Reunified fifty years ago today, never to be re-divided.”
Addressing the audience at the US Congress, Speaker Edelstein said, ”Dear friends, your country was settled by pilgrims building a `city upon the hill. A just society based on the values that the Hebrew Prophets preached right here thousands of years ago. These same values are the basis of the special bond between our peoples and countries. They are the real reason why Israel has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress and in every state capital.”
”Fifty years ago, Israeli paratroopers touched the Western Wall, the very stones, where the President recently prayed. The first sitting US President to visit the Western Wall. For the sake of Jerusalem, let us not remain silent. Let us promise that support for unified Jerusalem remains high on both sides of the aisle, across the political spectrum, and throughout the United States. Looking around the world, and especially at this region, one thing becomes crystal clear: Only Israeli sovereignty will ensure that the city`s holy sites remain open, free, and safe for members of every religion.
”I therefore call upon the Administration - follow the lead set by the House and Senate. Recognize Jerusalem as the official and unquestioned capital of the State of Israel. Bring your embassy to our capital.”
Speaker Paul Ryan stated that the reunification of Jerusalem ”came at a very heavy cost”, as 776 Israeli soldiers lost their lives in the Six-Day War, ”brave men and women, not much older than my own kids, fought to save Israel.”
”There is something so special about Jerusalem... It`s unlike any other place in the world. Only in Jerusalem do Judaism, Christianity and Islam converge at the roots of their faith. And only in Jerusalem can followers of the three great monotheistic religions worship at some of their most holy sites safely and peacefully. Let`s not take that for granted. It wasn`t always like that.”
”Without Jerusalem, the Israel we know today would simply not exist.”
Speaker Ryan mentioned that just a couple of months after the Yom Kippur War, 27-year-old IDF soldier Yoni Netanyahu wrote a letter to his younger brother Benjamin in which he said that `As I don`t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode in thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.`
”Yoni did not live to have grandchildren,” Speaker Ryan said. ”He died rescuing 102 hostages from Palestinian terrorists during the raid on Entebbe. But if he had, here`s what I think he would have told those grandchildren: `After thousands of years in exile, the Jewish People are finally back home. Home in the land of their ancestors; home in the land that so many have died trying to defend; and home in in their eternal, united capital of Jerusalem. Never to be divided again.`”
Prime Minister Netanyahu turned to those attending the event at the US Congress and said, ”It is a pleasure to address you from Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish state. Why do I say that Jerusalem will never be divided again? Because I remember what is was like when it was divided… As I grew up in the city, there were places where we could not walk, because there were snipers on the walls. And they shot Israelis occasionally. It was a wounded, divided city which had no future.”
Netanyahu then described how he and other Jerusalemites rushed to the Western Wall, through the alleys of the Old City, after hearing Mota Gur say `The Temple Mount is in our hands.` ”It was like a lightning bolt. I can`t describe it any other way,” said PM Netanyahu.
”I was touching the rock of ages. And everything was coming from those stones, through my fingers, to my soul. Abraham, and David, and Solomon, and our prophets, and the Maccabees, and the ages of dispersion and torment, and the ghettos of Toledo and the ghettos of Warsaw where Jews prayed `Next year in Jerusalem.` A call of salvation, of return, of redemption.”
”We came back, we reunited the city, we felt an elation that is millennial, and then we did two great things: we ensured that Jerusalem was a free city for all. We made sure that the holy sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam were available to all. This is something that can be appreciated in retrospect, because, look around us; understand what would happen to this less than a square mile (area) if we weren`t here. It would descent into horrible sectarian violence; it would descent into the worst barbarism,” PM Netanyahu said.
”In this great convulsion that is taking place around us, there is one free city, where Christians, Jews and Muslims are free to worship undisturbed, and that`s in the free, united city of Jerusalem, and that`s how it will stay.”
”Oh and there`s another `small` thing that we did. We guaranteed the freedom of markets. We instituted free markets in Israel.”
”We are deeply, deeply indebted to you, our American friends, for supporting us. I want to thank you for this brilliant gesture, and I want to tell you once again: America has no better friend than Israel, and Israel surely has no better friend than the United States of America.”
Ambassador Dermer said, ”Despite the unimaginable suffering that a stateless, powerless People endured, Jews across the world turned to Jerusalem, three times a day, to pray to rebuild the city, and renew it as in the days of old. The Jewish people swore never to forget Jerusalem, and for 20 centuries, under wedding canopies and in houses of mourning, the Jewish People remembered Jerusalem.”
”Jerusalem is so central to our national identity that it takes only three Hebrew words to express the hopes and dreams of an entire People: `Bashana haba`a beYerushalayim - next year in Jerusalem.` That is why what happened on June 7, 1967 was a modern-day miracle. I don`t know if there is a comparable moment in the history of nations, when the hopes of 100 generations were realized in a single place, at a single time.”
The event at the Knesset was also attended by MKs Nachman Shai and Avraham Neguise, who head the Knesset Lobby for US-Israel Relations; US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and his wife; senior Knesset administrators; US Embassy officials; members of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel; teens from the ”Taglit” and ”Masa” programs, and others.
The audience at the US Congress consisted of senators, Members of Congress, diplomats and leaders of the American Jewish community.
The ”Ankor” Choir, conducted by Dafna Ben Yohanan, sang the Israeli national anthem HaTikva, while the U.S. Army Brass Quintet played the Star Spangled Banner, as well as ”Jerusalem of Gold.”
Photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)