I can say with certainty that the eyes of the entire world were focused on us this week, certainly of the Jewish world, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of our eternal capital, but also of the rest of the world, which saw the President of the United States Donald Trump welcomed to Jerusalem with dignity and warmth. I am sure that you were as moved as I was to see President Trump and his family stand beside the Western Wall, touching its stones.
The soldiers who liberated Jerusalem during the Six Day War did the same thing with an outburst of emotion stemming from the depths of their souls. I remember the human flood when a hole in the wall surrounding the city was breached near City Hall and it flowed into the alleyways and we finally reached the Western Wall and touched those stones in person. Seeing our soldiers standing near the Western Wall at that historic occasion was joyous for three reasons: our success in turning the existential threat against us into a great miracle of salvation; our return to the land of our forefathers, in which our identity as a people was forged; and the wondrous unification that joined us and proved that by standing together, we could overcome any challenge.
We liberated Jerusalem and transformed it into one city – not perfect, but whole. It is an advanced city. It has flourished, is open to all and the believers of the various religions are respected here. We redeemed Jerusalem from the ongoing neglect and distress it had suffered. We are the ones who brought it to a high point in its development. What was here in Jerusalem before that? What was the city like at the dawn of our national rebirth, when we began returning to it? There was almost nothing here. In the 19th century, was there an advanced kingdom here in Israel? Was there a vibrant Palestinian capital?
The truth must be told: Jerusalem, like the entire Land of Israel, was a peripheral and desolate district of the Ottoman Empire. A long list of famous visitors provided their impressions of the Holy Land: de Chateaubriand, de Lamartine, Mark Twain, Herman Melville – the greatest writers and poets in human history. They were not Zionist agents. They wrote about what they saw, and they all painted the exact same picture: a remote country, the great majority of which was dull and barren, shrouded in a feeling of unease.
The great change came with Jewish immigration. We established villages, kibbutzim, farming communities, cities. We developed agriculture and industry. These became magnets for Arab immigration to the Land of Israel. Arab migrants joined the Arabs who were already here, but this is what drove the great development in the Land of Israel, its great renewal. It is true that Jerusalem already had a Jewish majority in the mid-19th century and it developed more when we moved outside the walls of the Old City, but in the 19 years Jerusalem was divided and scarred, it again reached a low point: Jewish buildings were destroyed, headstones from the Mount of Olives were toppled and desecrated. I remember going to check on my family members’ headstones after the war, my grandparents’ headstones. Had they too been desecrated? Many others did the same. Some breathed a sigh of relief and others did not. Go look for those stones; they are now construction and foundation stones.
A winding border line cut deeply through the middle of Jerusalem, at the heart of which stood barricades to block sniper fire, barbed wire fences and minefields. We stood there, trying to catch a glimpse of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall from afar, but we could not approach them.
We will never return to this situation. The dark cloud that hung over Jerusalem was dispersed 50 years ago. We embarked on an unprecedentedly justified defensive war and won a resounding victory. Some people view the Six Day War as a disaster for Israel; I see it as a success and salvation for Israel. How could we have continued to live in a narrow strip of land just 12 kilometers wide, with the well-being of our citizens in constant danger, including here in Jerusalem on King George Street, where we had to walk behind walls.
From a narrow and threatened coastal country, we became a defensible and secure country, a country whose capital is not forfeited to enemy soldiers. Above all else, this was an event of historic justice: Jerusalem – our national capital for 3,000 years returned to its original owners, whole and united. For generations, it was solely our national capital and not that of other peoples. Only under our sovereignty did it become an island of tolerance and freedom of religion in the heart of the stormy, turbulent, intolerant Middle East.
We are making tremendous investments in Jerusalem in every field. It has neighborhoods and parks, culture and research, yeshivas and startups, transportation and tourism. There is still a great deal to do, and we will continue our work in all parts of the capital, for all its residents.
Next Sunday, we will hold a festive government meeting in the Western Wall Tunnels. We will announce new initiatives that will improve the quality of life in Jerusalem, including in the eastern part of the city. However, members of Knesset, here is a paradox about Jerusalem: We succeeded in strengthening the city’s status, developing it, preserving its unique character, defending freedom of religion and worship and it has become a wonderful symbol of Zionist actions. But the more advanced the city becomes, the more we hear denials and lies about the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.
I told President Trump that his visit to the Western Wall destroyed in one fell swoop all of UNESCO’s false propaganda. What is this wall anyway? Just a pile of stones that suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Maybe sacred Buddhist stones from Nepal? No. This eternal wall and the mount behind it are the core of our identity. They testify a thousand testimonies who was here first, when we were here and what brought us back to our homeland.
However, the desire to censure Israel does not take the facts into account: again and again, there are attempts to erase our roots in Jerusalem, deny our connection to it, dissolve our sovereignty over it. It is a fight. We have to fight it all the time. It may take a little more time, perhaps a great deal more time, but I am certain that this absurd play will eventually fail. Because the truth is stronger than any lie.
Members of Knesset,
Twenty-two years ago, shortly before he passed away, further to his amazing statement about the liberation of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount the deputy minister of defense, Motta Gur, said something here at the Knesset. After turning to the veteran paratroopers, Motta said the following: “The Temple Mount is in our hands, Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and you did it; and if someone tries to take that away – they will not take it. They will not take it because you will not give it. You will not give it, because there is no justice in giving it. It is all justifiably ours.” For Motta, and for all the paratroopers and fighters, for you, members of Knesset and for all the citizens of Israel and the entire world, I wish to clarify: The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. The correction of the historic injustice that was achieved through the courage of our fighters 50 years ago will stand forever. Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem from generation to generation.