Jerusalem: Israel’s Capital
Jerusalem is one of the world’s most ancient cities; archaeology indicates it was inhabited as early as the 4th century BCE. In 1,000 BCE, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and Jewish sovereignty in the holy city was established. Though Jerusalem has not always been under Jewish control, and the Jewish population there has waxed and waned throughout the centuries, its centrality to the Jewish religion has not changed.
Jerusalem is the most holy city in Judaism. Synagogues the world over are constructed so that the worshipers prayer toward Jerusalem; synagogues within the city are built facing the Western Wall and Temple Mount. Mentions of Jerusalem abound in the liturgy, often bitterly lamenting the fall of Jerusalem and beseeching God to allow the Jewish people to return.
In 1840, a large influx of Jewish immigrants arrived in Jerusalem, catapulting the Jews to the majority of the city, a fact which remains true today. After Israel declared its independence in 1948, Jerusalem was declared the capital of the new country, although the city remained divided, with Jordan controlling the eastern half (including the Temple Mount) and Israel, the western half. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel reunited its beloved city. Today, all branches of Israeli government are headquartered in Jerusalem, including the Knesset building; only the Ministry of Defense is located in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.
However, Israel’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital has not been echoed internationally. Countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel—including the United States—have their embassies located outside of Jerusalem, mainly in Tel Aviv, and citizens born in Jerusalem are not officially listed in American documents as having been born in Israel.
The final status of Jerusalem has long been disputed, and is one of the sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The Palestinians envision east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. For Palestinians, Jerusalem is their third holiest city, second only to Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is home to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, commemorating Mohammed’s Night of Ascension. According to tradition, Mohammed miraculously traveled in one night from Mecca to Jerusalem. Upon his arrival, he was taken to heaven, where he met with earlier prophets of Islam and spoke to Allah himself. However, the city seems to have become more popular with Islam only since the advent of Zionism, and most Israelis remain adamant that the city will never again be divided.
Teddy Kollek, the former mayor of Jerusalem, pointed out that only the Israelis have taken the most sacred city in their religion and turned it into their capital. For example, though the Muslim Saudis had their two holy cities Mecca and Medina to choose from for their capital, the capital of Saudi Arabia became Riyadh. Similarly, Jordan never attempted to make Jerusalem its capital, settling for Amman.
The Israeli people understand the significance of their city, which has been the capital of the Jewish people for hundreds of years. The importance of Jerusalem has been recognized among other people as well. The statesman Winston Churchill once commented “You ought to let the Jews have Jerusalem; it was they who made it famous.” Israeli prime ministers, from David Ben-Gurion, to Benjamin Netanyahu, from Yitzhak Rabin, to Ariel Sharon, have declared over and over that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and will not be exchanged, ripped apart, or given away.