Editor's Note: I had the privilege of being in Israel this year for the celebration of Yom Yerushalayim. It was truly a wonderful experience to celebrate the anniversary of the reunification of the Holy City at our beautiful Friends of Zion Heritage Center. Because we are across the street from Independence Park, we have a front-row seat to national celebrations like this and a great opportunity to tell people the stories of true Christian love.
Most of the world refuses to recognize the nation of Israel’s historical, political, military, and Biblical claim to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Israel is the only nation which is not allowed to choose its own capital. But what man thinks is not as important as what God thinks. Jersualem DC—David’s Capital—is now and always will be the center of the Jewish state. It is from the Holy City that Jesus will one day rule the world. Despite the plots and schemes being devised to strip Jerusalem away from Israel, we stand firm in recognizing that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people by Divine decree. Here is how the Holy City came to be what it is today:
When Israel’s War of Independence ended, the city of Jerusalem was divided. Barbed wire and concrete separated the part of the city under Jordanian control and the part that was under Jewish control. Though the armistice agreement that ended the fighting in 1949 said that the Jews would be allowed access to the Wailing Wall and the Old City, the Jordanians did not keep their bargain.
In 1967, following a massive Soviet Union arms buildup, the governments of Egypt and Syria were threatening war against Israel. Following the decision by General Nasser of Egypt to close the Strait at Sharm El-Sheikh to Israeli shipping (a deliberate act of war), the United Nations peacekeeping forces were removed.
With war looming, Israeli intelligence (led then by my friend Isser Harel) tried to convince Jordan’s King Hussein to not join the looming Arab attack. Instead, Hussein flew to Egypt and signed a defense pact. On the morning of June 5, 1967, Israeli forces launched a lighting attack, which left the Egyptian Air Force destroyed on the ground. On the same day, successful raids also destroyed much of the Syrian Air Force as well.
Israeli General Moshe Dayan made a crucial strategic decision to impose a complete news blackout. Rather than bragging about their success, the Israeli Defense Forces released no news about the attacks. At the same time, Egypt was boasting publicly about having won a great victory against Israel. The Israeli government wanted to avoid a Russian led move to impose a United Nations cease-fire to protect their client states.
The unexpected result of the Israeli news blackout and the false Egyptian propaganda was that it convinced King Hussein to enter the war, despite the promises from Israel that they would not attack Jordan. Hussein ordered his forces to take control of the rest of Jerusalem and unite the city under his rule. Israeli troops immediately responded to halt the Jordanian advance. They were heavily outnumbered, but fought ferociously for the sake of the Holy City.
Colonel Mordechai Gur and his 55th Paratroop Brigade had been scheduled for deployment in the Sinai. Things were going so well there, however, that the high command offered their services to General Narkiss, the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces. Colonel Gur and his staff arrived in Jerusalem a few hours ahead of their paratroopers. The greatest difficulty facing Gur’s plan to penetrate the Green line (as the border with Jordan was called) was whether to attack at night or wait for dawn. Since Dayan had ruled out air support because of the holy sites, it made little sense to wait for daylight; launching a night attack might even give the Israelis an advantage.
Perhaps the most critical struggle for Jerusalem was not fought on the battlefield but in the cabinet of Prime Minister Eshkol. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin were in favor of surrounding the Old City and choking it into surrender. Others in Eshkol’s cabinet were in favor of liberating all of Jerusalem. Dayan’s plan remained in effect until he and Narkiss drove to Mount Scopus to survey the area. As Dayan gazed out over the Old City—Jerusalem the Golden—he realized the city had to be taken immediately, or it would be lost.
At the cabinet meeting that night, Eshkol issued orders through Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin to take the city. Colonel Mordechai Gur arranged for detachments to enter the Old City through its gates. The main thrust would be through the Lion’s Gate opposite the Mount of Olives. Resistance was minimal. The remainder of the day was relegated to rejoicing and the costly work of eliminating the last pockets of Jordanian opposition.
Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming a friend of General Mordechai Gur. Sitting in his office in Jerusalem, he remembered the events of that momentous day: “On Wednesday morning, June 7th, I and my paratroopers stormed into the Old City and advanced on the Temple Mount. I wept as I shouted over my communications system, ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands!’” I had long looked forward to liberating Jerusalem as something sublime. For me, it was the culmination of my most personal goals as a youngster, as a Jew, and as a soldier.
“To me, the Temple Mount was more important than the Western Wall because the Temple was the center of religion, the center of tradition. It was also the center of the kingdom, of the state, of all our hopes. The day we took it, I wrote in my diary, ‘What will my family say when they hear we again liberated Jerusalem just as the Maccabees once did?’ Jerusalem has only been a functioning capital when the Jews have ruled it.”
As news of the victory spread, Jewish people began streaming into the city and toward the Wailing Wall—the last remnant of the Temple that had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Some years ago, I interviewed a man who was present that day. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren related to me:
“I managed to reach the Western Wall even before the firing had died down. Like one of Joshua’s priests, I was running with the ram’s horn, the shofar, in my hand. When I placed it to my lips and blew, I felt like thousands of shofars from the time of King David were blowing all at once.”
Yom Yerushalayim is a celebration of the fulfillment of Divine prophecy. Jerusalem—all of Jerusalem—is the capital of Israel, and it is the only city on earth where God has placed His name. Jerusalem did not become the Holy City by accident. It is a place where heaven and earth met...and, by Divine command, will meet again.
It was here that Abraham placed Isaac on an altar in obedience to God’s command. It was here that David brought the Ark of the Covenant. It was here that Solomon built the First Temple. It was here that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. It will be from here that Jesus one day will rule over the entire world. The city of Jerusalem is not a prize to be controlled by world powers. It is a Divine possession that God has determined to belong to the Jewish people. Today, God is calling us to take a stand and do our part to defend Jerusalem.
City of Stones
When standing on the Mount of Olives, the sweeping panorama of Jerusalem is breathtaking. The multi-towered landscape is a splendid drama written in stone, one that has received rave reviews from countless pilgrims to the Holy Land.
Seen from atop the mount are landmarks such as the ancient ruins of the City of David, the gilded cupola on the Haram esh-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock, and the Kidron Valley where tombstones dot the hillside beneath the crenellated walls of the ancient city. These massive stone walls, with their battlements intact, have proudly surveyed the sieges of invading armies. The parapets of these walls once sheltered archers; today, soldiers patrol them with automatic rifles.
The Olivet view entices pilgrims to descend into Jerusalem, a city of stones, and to visit the Old City with its Jewish Quarter. Stones, stones, stones. As the traveler wanders through the tangled labyrinth of narrow alleyways, one can almost touch the stone walls on either side. There are stone arches above and paving stones beneath. From the ancient ruins to the medieval ramparts, these streets and walls that have baked in the warmth of a million sunrises each have a story to tell.
Those most beloved by the people of Israel are the stones that rise to form the Western Wall, the holiest shrine of the Jewish faith. The 50-foot-high wall is all that remains of the Temple Mount as it existed in the first century. The stones stacked one upon another to build this retaining wall are so massive it’s hard to imagine how they were chiseled out and transported up the hills of Jerusalem.
One day, after Jesus had been teaching in the Temple precincts, He called His disciples’ attention to the buildings: “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
The words of Jesus were precisely fulfilled in 70 AD when Roman armies swept through Jerusalem and reduced Herod’s magnificent Temple to a pile of blackened rubble. The stones of the Temple are buried in antiquity, somewhere deep beneath the Old City.
The stones of the Western Wall have become a symbol of the enduring hope of the Jewish people. Even nonreligious Jews venerate the Wall as a national monument. The plaza in front of the Western Wall can accommodate 100,000 congregants. It is the gathering place of the people of Israel, the scene of both joyous celebration and solemn memorial. For a city that has been completely destroyed twice, occupied by enemies 23 times, surrounded 52 times, and liberated 44 times, the Wall remains a testimony of God’s all-encompassing providence.
The Western Wall is also known by some as the Wailing Wall. Worshipers who have gone there to pray over the centuries have washed those stones with rivers of tears—tears of mourning, tears of joy, tears of intercession. Visible in the cracks and crevices between the huge stones are tiny pieces of paper, crinkled and wedged in the nooks and crannies of the Wall. It’s a tradition to write a prayer on a slip of paper and place it among the stones. It has become a place of prayer for peoples of all nations. Once each month, caretakers of the Western Wall carefully remove the scraps of paper and bury them ceremonially.
Stand in front of those hulking stones, and a spiritual connection is made with the other worshipers offering their prayers and praises to God. Reach out and touch the ancient, weathered boulders. Listen to the sounds of the muezzin, the Muslim crier who heralds the Islamic call to prayer from atop Mount Moriah; it is also a reminder of the many Jews killed for daring to stand beside the wall to pray to Yahweh. It has long been a silent witness to the sufferings of God’s Chosen People. If only those ancient, weathered rocks could speak.
The very fact that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel exist today is a miracle. No other group of people has been so systematically targeted for destruction. Most Jews were exiled from their homeland, and even then were hunted and humiliated, menaced and massacred by the millions. The Jews as a people would not have survived were it not that the sovereign Lord of the universe ordained their preservation.