Every time I visit Ammunition Hill, it moves me deeply. Here we can see the magnificence of our victory, and here the heart knows how heavy the toll was for that victory.
Brothers and sisters, families of the fallen soldiers: The bravery of our fighters in the Six Day War will forever be remembered. It is thanks to them that our enemies’ desire to destroy Israel was shattered, and it is thanks to them that we returned to the land of our fathers. By virtue of the blood of its liberators, Jerusalem was reborn. It is what grants strength to withstand the suffering, and it ever so slightly eases the agony of loss. As the Prophet Jeremiah said, “Behold, I am bringing it a remedy and a cure… I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel.” We returned to an undivided Jerusalem. This is our consolation, this is our pride.
Not long ago, we dedicated the new Ammunition Hill Museum, which is now a State heritage site. A quarter of a million people visit here every year, and I am certain that number will increase. It is not only the original exhibits that reflect the spirit of the great days we experienced. Rather, it is a profound understanding of what the secret to our victory was. Our glorious victory rested on one thing, and I will say it as clearly as I can: The secret of our victory is the absolute justice of our fight.
The Old City of Jerusalem, where our people is deeply rooted, was taken away from us during the War of Independence. Jerusalem was cut in half. Barbed wire fences were erected and landmines planted at its heart, and Jordanian snipers were stationed on its walls. A dark cloud hung overhead. I remember it as a child. For 19 years, Jerusalem was closed off from every side, a city with no exit. Added to that was the malicious intention to suffocate the entire country. We will never forget how passions were inflamed in Arab capitals, accompanied by clear threats to push the Jews into the sea. This too is the secret of our victory: our ability to come together when faced with threats and muster tremendous strength to vanquish our enemies’ aggression.
This campaign had many fronts, yet one main focus: Jerusalem. Inside Jerusalem itself, there were two centers of fighting: here at Ammunition Hill and at the Western Wall. The values of the IDF are scorched on the entire site around us: in the communications trenches you just saw, in the weapons rooms, in the bunkers.
I started my military service two months after this war, and very soon we began training to fight in a fortified target. We came here to learn not just technique – that can be taught in any slit in the ground. We came to learn about what happened here, about persistence, about determination and resourcefulness, about comradeship. And above all, we came to learn about tremendous heroism. In the modern history of Israel, these two events will always stand side by side: the hill liberated under heavy fire and the Western Wall, whose stones we touched with yearning.
Just now in the museum, I saw the original flag that Yoram Zamosh and his comrades raised above the eternal Wailing Wall. I wanted to touch it, but it is covered by Plexiglas. It was inspiring nonetheless. They also showed me the siddur [prayer book] that Rabbi Goren was given by one of the soldiers, Yaakov Sagiv. It is the siddur that he used to say the Hallel prayer of praise for one of the greatest events in the history of Israel. Moshe Stempel charged the field next to Zamosh. Stempel was Motta Gur’s deputy brigade commander. Stempel shared the bittersweet and unique nature of the event when he said, “If my grandfather, if my great-grandfather. . . if they could know… that I… would be standing here at this hour, in this place, wearing the red boots of an Israeli paratrooper and holding an Uzi . . . they would suffer death a thousand times and count it as nothing.”
I am not sure that the young people who are with us here today can appreciate what a spark was struck in the soul of the Jewish people. Just talk to our friends who were active in the aliyah movement in the former Soviet Union. They will tell you of the momentum created by the liberation of Jerusalem and the victory in the Six Day War, the momentum these events gave their Zionist activities. They fearlessly faced the mighty Soviet Empire.
And this happened not just in the Soviet Union. The entire Jewish Diaspora united around the State of Israel, deeply identifying with our fate and our victory. It was proven beyond all doubt that Jerusalem is the main axis of our national consciousness. The root of Zionism is in Zion.
I emphasize all this, my friends, because there are people who still espouse the farfetched notion that we should turn back time. This will not happen. The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.
What justification is there to divide the city again? Was Jerusalem ever the capital of a people other than the Jewish people? It was not. Has anyone other than the Jews ensured freedom of worship for the believers of all religions? The opposite is true. This freedom was and will be safeguarded for all the religions only under Israeli sovereignty.
We want peace. We extend a hand of friendship to our neighbors. Jerusalem is not the reason peace is impeded. What is hindering peace is the consistent refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders and to really and truly end the conflict once and for all. That is what is preventing peace.
Only 40 years ago – and I still remember the wondrous moment – President Sadat visited Jerusalem. He prayed at the al-Aqsa Mosque without any interruption. The fact that Israel has sovereignty over the Temple Mount has not sabotaged a peace agreement. Rather, it is those people who seek to deny our connection to Jerusalem and our sovereignty here who are perpetuating the conflict rather than resolving it. Without Israeli sovereignty, the square kilometer of the Old City would disintegrate back into a bloody war between cults and religions. What is happening in Palmyra, Aleppo, Mosul and Sana’a would happen here, but this will not happen because we are here and we are here to stay.
In this context, I would like to thank the Czech Parliament for deciding to oppose UNESCO’s non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. The Czechs once gave us Czech rifles. It was at the beginning of the struggle. This too is a symbol of progress in the fight for acknowledging a simple fact. The parliament in Prague called on its government to respect the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and even proposed halting any additional state payment of UNESCO membership dues as long as the organization continues the political discrimination against Israel. This is the correct, worthy and courageous position that others should emulate.
In the 50 years that have passed since the liberation of Jerusalem, the city has completely changed, and we continue to work in the government and all its offices to improve it, together with you, Mr. Mayor – who is leading the city with vigor.
I ask you to look around you. Look at the roads and tracks, the neighborhoods and parks, the markets and malls, the institutions dedicated to research, education, culture and sports. We will preserve our capital’s special character. We will lead it to further prosperity and progress for the benefit of all its residents, without exception.
Today I saw thousands of people within the walls of Jerusalem and I saw how their faces lit up because Jerusalem’s light had entered their hearts. Jerusalem is a precious charge that has been entrusted to us by many generations. We will protect it as the inheritance of our fathers – for our children and grandchildren.
I wish a happy holiday to all Jerusalemites, of which I am one, and a happy holiday to the citizens of Israel. Today we are all Jerusalemites.