Jerusalem Day Celebration Underscores Israeli-Palestinian Divide
JERUSALEM — Three old men who are better known for being young men stood on Wednesday morning where they had 50 years earlier: in Jerusalem’s Old City at the limestone retaining wall that is one of the holiest places for Jews.
In a moment frozen in a famous photo, the three men, who were among the paratroopers who had pushed through Jerusalem until they stood at the Western Wall itself in 1967, looked up in awe at a holy site that had been barred to Jews for almost two decades.
“We will never give back Jerusalem,” one of the three, Zion Karasenti, now 74, said as the anniversary arrived on Wednesday, at 10:08 a.m. “If they have to capture it again, we will be in the front line.”
This year marks half a century since the Six Day War, in which Israel defied annihilation by its Arab neighbors and also came to rule over Palestinian Arabs in captured areas, including in the Old City. Predictably, there is profound disagreement over what the anniversary means, and even on the date: Wednesday was exactly 50 years since the Western Wall’s capture from Jordan, along with the rest of the Old City, but by the Jewish lunar calendar. The date on a standard calendar is June 7, 1967.
The anniversary has been celebrated as a seminal modern moment for Jews, their return to rule over a united Jerusalem for the first time in about 2,000 years. But in recent years, the day itself has become favored more by the religious right. On Wednesday, as they do each year, young nationalist Jews paraded through the Arab Quarter singing and waving flags in front of stone-faced Palestinians, most of whom closed their shops in protest and fear.
“There is no wall,” said Sam Samir, 58, the Palestinian owner of a T-shirt shop, denying the Jews’ belief that their sacred temple once stood atop that site. Instead, Muslims revere the place as the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Even President Trump split the difference on the issues surrounding the Western Wall: It was among his first stops on his trip here this week, and he became the first sitting United States president to visit it. But he did so without Israeli officials and sidestepped the diplomatic issues around it.
The United States and most other nations have not recognized Israel’s annexation of territory captured in 1967, and both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The United States, like others, is waiting for a final deal between the two sides, which Mr. Trump says he is determined to broker.
So the anniversary, celebrated mostly in small events spread out over several weeks, has been fraught, no less on Wednesday. But the joy of most Jews there was not diminished.
“To me, everything about Jerusalem is heavenward,” said Rabbi Doron Perez, head of the World Mizrachi Movement, which gathered about 3,000 Jews from around the world, including the United States, Canada and Mexico. “Jerusalem is an earthly city and a heavenly city. There is something spiritual about this moment. For us to return to this place 50 years later, it’s as if we were living a dream.”
A group of women from a congregation outside Los Angeles, Valley Village, marveled at the moment. “I feel so connected,” said Linda Rubenstein, 61, one of the California pilgrims who came to celebrate the anniversary. “We’re Orthodox. We feel very connected to Israel.”
She had no patience for the complexities the wall has come to symbolize. “There is no ‘but,’” she said. “What is the ‘but?’”
Hila Moshe, 45, posed for a picture with her husband and two young sons, but said she felt conflicted about the day. The family, from outside Tel Aviv, came to celebrate their son Ori’s 13th birthday and bar mitzvah. They were married 14 years ago on this anniversary.
But that, she said, was largely coincidence, even if she said she felt moved by the 50th anniversary. “The blood we have given to this country is not necessary,” she said. “We can live in peace with both Jews and Arabs. They need to accept us here. We need to accept them.”