Whose Jerusalem?

A history of Jerusalem since Israel's establishment.

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Following the 1948 war for independence, the Israelis declared military control over West Jerusalem, extending the law of Israel to the territory for purposes of administration. Palestinian notables called on King Abdullah of Transjordan to annex eastern Jerusalem, and meetings with the Israelis were arranged in order to discuss the terms of the truce and perhaps plan for a peace agreement. While a peace agreement was not reached, Israel and Transjordan did sign an armistice agreement in April of 1949, freezing the borders of Jerusalem and formalizing the partition of the city.Old City Jerusalem

A City Divided

Israeli and Jordanian solidarity behind the idea of partition would help ensure its maintenance in the face of U.N. pressure to internationalize Jerusalem. In the meantime, Israel took further steps towards annexing West Jerusalem, allowing its residents to participate in the first Israeli general election in January 1949 and instituting civil administration there in February.

In December 1949, disregarding (and in opposition to) U.N. reaffirmation of the principle of internationalization, the Israeli parliament declared Jerusalem an inseparable part of Israel and its eternal capital. No major powers accepted this declaration, but Ben Gurion was nonetheless confident that it would be allowed to stand, maintaining "Transjordan would permit no one to get them out of Jerusalem; consequently, no one would dare remove us."  His instincts proved correct--the world powers eventually accepted the status quo, passing no further resolutions on Jerusalem until 1967.

Between 1949 and 1967 Jerusalem was divided by walls and barbed wire. There were hardly any Arabs in West Jerusalem, and effectively no Jews in East Jerusalem. Movement between the two areas was limited to a single crossing point. Most of the major powers kept one consul but two consular offices, one in West Jerusalem and one in East Jerusalem. While discussions with Transjordan (now Jordan) continued for several years, neither side was ready to make a final deal, and in 1951 the King was assassinated (many suspect that the Grand Mufti was involved), causing talks to gradually break off.  Few Israelis advocated a nationalist policy towards East Jerusalem, and the division would remain in place until the Six Day War in June, 1967.

Reunification of Jerusalem

In May of 1967, following Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran (a casus belli as far as Israel was concerned), King Hussein of Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt--this despite Israel's assurances that it would not advance towards Jordan if Jordan refrained from participating in the attack on Israel. The Israeli forces quickly defeated the Egyptian attack and then captured East Jerusalem as part of a sweep through the West Bank.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan went to the Western Wall and declared Jerusalem liberated, proclaiming, "We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our Holy Places, never to part from it again."  The Israeli public--as well as the Jewish world at large--received the news with great joy. Before long the walls and barbed wire dividing the city had been torn down and the checkpoints removed, and free movement between East and West Jerusalem was restored.

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Lili Kalish Gersch was Managing Editor of MyJewishLearning.com.