I was born in Jerusalem, and as a child I used to walk around the narrow alleyways of the Old City. I remember the days of the siege on the city during the War of Independence and the Old City refugees who came to the Katamonim neighborhood after its battles. After the Old City was recaptured in the Six Day War, it took me a long time to return to it, because I felt that there was a certain madness around it – people running to see the “new property” – while in those days I met the fighters who came home and told about the difficult battles. I felt that the victory was celebrated too soon, before it was “ritually” permitted.
Although the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967 was very important to the secular Israeli public, it seems that today’s Jerusalem Day celebrations have become the property of religious nationalists, because they see it as a theological issue. Many religious people saw the moment when we proclaimed “The Temple Mount is in our hands” as God’s return to the pages of history. God had not been there for many years. It required a lot of explaining to justify that God backed the difficult events that had occurred, and how this victory brought him back. The religious feeling was that God fought and won – and now the secular public would have to admit and repent. The “cold shower” of the Yom Kippur War failed to dull that strong feeling.
The secular public did not assign a theological connection to the Six Day War, and it distanced itself even further from Jerusalem Day, when the city – especially in recent times – became the focus of political debate.
When a holiday receives this political connection, it impedes the ability of the public to connect to it. And yet I’m not willing to say that I’m giving up the holiday, because I’m in another political camp. For me, Jerusalem Day is a day of prayer for the future. Not a day of victory in the war, but a holiday of commitment to peace. I am not naive and do not hold on to an illusion. It is clear to me that this is a painful process, but I do not give up hope.
Muki Tzur is a historian and writer, one of the original editors of the book Soldiers Speak – A Record of Conversation and Reflection that was published after the Six Day War and republished in an updated edition in 2017.
This essay is based on a conversation Muki Tzur had with the Institute’s Yoav Friedman.