No other people has the connection the people of Israel have with Jerusalem and Zion. But there was also no other people that allowed other religions freedom of worship and freedom of access to the holy places other than the people of Israel.

 PM Netanyahu on Jerusalem Day


Israelis gather near the Western Wall in Jerusalem as they mark Jerusalem Day (Photo: Reuters)

In 1968, it was decided that the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem – 28 Iyar according to the Jewish lunar calendar – would be a national holiday in Israel. On Jerusalem Day we celebrate the reunification of the city and the Jewish people’s connection with Jerusalem throughout the ages.

Jerusalem Day speech at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva

"For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch." [Isaiah 62:1]

I chose to begin my remarks honoring Jerusalem this evening with this verse because the struggle for Jerusalem is a struggle for the truth – nothing more and nothing less. For the truth!

There can be no justice without truth. If justice is distorted with regard to our people and our capital, this is a problem associated with truth. The truth is that Jerusalem is the very air that our people breathe. We have an unbreakable bond with Jerusalem – one that has lasted thousands of years, over 3,000 years to be precise. We never ever relinquished that bond. We did not relinquish it when the Temple was destroyed the first time; we did not relinquish it when the Temple was destroyed the second time; we did not relinquish this bond at any point thereafter. Sixty years after the Second Temple was destroyed, the people of Israel rose up and fought again, and even then we did not relinquish that bond.

Even after the third destruction – not of the Temple this time – we did not relinquish our bond. We remained devoted to Jerusalem and we preserved Zion in the broadest sense of the word. The entire land and people make up this word, this concept – "Zion". We did not give up!

For 2,000 years we have been saying: We are in exile. We have not been in exile for 2,000 years – even this is not true. We continued to live here. Where did the Rabban Gamliel work?  In Sweden?  Where were his wonderful writings composed?  In Israel. In the 4th, 5th, 6th centuries, the people of Israel were a majority in the Land of Israel, as Professor Dinur proved in his important studies. The Jews were a majority in the Land of Israel through the ninth century, and this majority was only lost after 200 years of Arab conquest – and even then we did not relinquish our bond.

Every year, every day during our exile, we said, "Next year in Jerusalem". "Next year in Jerusalem". It did not matter if it was the tenth century or the eleventh or the twelfth. This aspiration – to return to Jerusalem and live there and build there and be built in Jerusalem – has been an integral part of the people of Israel for thousands of years – and we again became a majority in this city, our city, in the mid-nineteenth century, ever since we began building.

We are not banishing anyone; we are not removing anyone; because the second half of the truth is that no other people has the connection the people of Israel have with Jerusalem and Zion. However, there was also no other people that allowed other religions freedom of worship and freedom of access to the holy places other than the people of Israel. When we renewed our hold over all parts of the city, we renewed freedom of worship and allowed the members of all religions to pray and follow their faith under Israeli sovereignty.

I say all this because there is an attempt to paint us as foreign invaders, as conquerors, as a people with no connection to this place, and our response is: No other people has such a bond with its capital as the Jewish people do with Jerusalem.

I asked Rabbi Lau how many times Jerusalem or Zion is mentioned in the Book of Books. Do you know how many times?  This could have been a question in the Bible Quiz, by the way. I will check the exact figure, but the answer is over 700 times. Over 700!

Compare this with the holy books of other religions – nothing comes close. I don’t want to tell you what you’ll find. There is no such bond between a people and its capital, and certainly no people has the same kind of bond we have with Jerusalem. This bond is with Jerusalem above and Jerusalem below. I welcome the fact that there are Jewish religious institutions because from Jerusalem, "from Zion will the Torah come forth". This is important. This has value. Zion is also a concept regarding our people’s modern and developed capital, and we are building it and will continue to build and develop it. We will continue to absorb immigrants there and we will continue transforming it into a vibrant city.

We just held our weekly Cabinet meeting, during which we spoke of our desire to accomplish two goals: the first is to strengthen the economic capabilities of advanced technology factories and establishing them in Jerusalem. From Zion, software will come forth – this is also important. We also said that we want to strengthen our heritage in the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and especially Jerusalem.

Our future is based on our past, and our past creates our future. Only in Jerusalem is this demonstrated in a tangible and important way. That is why I seek to strengthen you. You strengthen me, although there is no need to do so. I am strong enough. I appreciate your drive and your support, but believe me – I am strong enough because I am from the same home you come from – from the House of Israel.

My grandfather was close friends with Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory. I can strengthen you. I thank you for strengthening me. We will strengthen each other for the future of Israel and for the capital of Israel – Jerusalem.

"Merciful Father, do good in Your favor unto Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem." [Psalms 51:20]

We are blessed to be the generation that witnessed the redemption of Israel and its revival, and there is nothing or no one that will stand in the way of this resurrection. We will continue to develop our city, which has been united, and we will continue to tell the truth.

If there is one thing I believe in, it is that God would never lie. Thank you.

* * *

Jerusalem Day Ceremony at Ammunition Hill

The battle that opened the gates to the reunification of Jerusalem was waged here on this hill…

Until this fateful battle, Jerusalem – the eternal capital of Israel – was divided by barbed wire fences and minefields. Its main streets were hidden behind protective walls built to shield passersby from the enemy’s sniper fire. A foreign army was positioned less than two kilometers from government buildings and the Knesset. Every once in a while, snipers would fire from the walls that divided the city and civilians would be hit.

Since then, everything has changed.

This hill separated the Jerusalem neighborhoods from the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. In those days, it was impossible to reach Mount Scopus freely. Once every other week, a small convoy would make its way under the protection of the United Nations, in order to travel this short distance. Today thousands of people go this way every day in only two minutes.

Before its reunification, Jerusalem was a divided city. Not one Jew could pray near the Western Wall, and not a single Arab would visit a doctor in Rehavia.

Jerusalem was a sleepy border town, a city on the edge. No new neighborhoods were established; no hotels were erected; and tourists did not rush to visit. A city divided in two cannot flourish or create or develop. And it is impossible to divide or freeze a vibrant, productive city.

The day Jerusalem was liberated was the day that the city heaved a sigh of relief and began to spread its wings, for the benefit of its Arab and Jewish residents alike. Freedom of worship for all religions and freedom of access to the holy places was established for the members of all religions.

We will never again allow Jerusalem to become a separated, bleak and divided city. We will continue to build and be built in Jerusalem. We will continue to plan, develop and create…

The President rightly said that we aspire to peace and we are working towards peace. I also believe we will achieve peace. But whoever presents the problem of peace as the problem of Jerusalem would do well to remember that Jerusalem was once divided and there was no peace – there was war.

It is true that each side presents its demands during negotiations, but ultimately recognition of the Jewish people’s right to live in its homeland and build in its capital is not an obstacle to peace – it is the key to peace and we wish for peace.