The Knesset celebrated Jerusalem Day with a special session devoted to
marking the 28th anniversary of the reunification of Israel's capital
city. The prime minister spoke mainly of Jerusalem as a unifying element
in Israel, of the broad consensus that exists on the future of the city
and not on differences of opinions regarding Jerusalem. Text:
Giora Ashkenazi was 31 years old at his death. I did not know him. All I
know about him comes from a few lines in the "Yizkor" (memorial) book.
Giora Ashkenazi, born on Kibbutz Nir David in the Beit Shean Valley, was
father to a daughter. He had dreams. Giora fell 2-3 kilometers from here,
in the battle for Jerusalem, 28 years ago. His life ended en route to
Eight hundred IDF soldiers fell during the Six-Day War, 181 of them in
Jerusalem. Each of them was an entire world - to himself, to his parents,
to his family, to his children. Each of them had a dream that was cut
short on the way to the Old City.
The Six-Day War was a war which erupted only when we could no longer
continue, when there was no other choice. At that time, we did everything
- everything - to prevent war.
And yet, when there was no choice, the forces were given the order "Red
Sheet," the order which sent them to war. We knew that the soldiers'
feelings of "no choice" would lead to military achievements, but we also
knew that many fighters would not return home.
There are no happy wars. In the Six-Day War, as in all the wars forced
upon us, our triumphant victory was intermingled with our sorrow over the
death of our sons. If shouts of joy overcame tears of bereavement, it was
only because of the feeling of relief that followed the many days of
pressure and the anxious nights.
We did not embark on the Six-Day War in order to conquer or annex. We went
to war in order to live and confer life on coming generations. According
to the Government's orders, we did not, then, initiate war with Jordan.
The signal was given only when Jordan joined the war. Only then was the
order given to OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Uzi Narkis and brigade
commanders Eliezer Amitai, Uri Ben-Ari, and Motta Gur - they and their
soldiers liberated and reunified Jerusalem.
There was one moment in the Six-Day War which symbolized the great
victory: that was the moment in which the first paratroopers - under Gur's
command - reached the stones of the Western Wall, feeling the emotion of
the place; there never was, and never will be, another moment like it.
Nobody staged that moment. Nobody planned it in advance. Nobody prepared
it and nobody was prepared for it; it was as if Providence had directed
the whole thing: the paratroopers weeping - loudly and in pain - over
their comrades who had fallen along the way, the words of the Kaddish
prayer heard by Western Wall's stones after 19 years of silence, tears of
mourning, shouts of joy, and the singing of "Hatikvah".
For me personally on that day, it was as if a personal circle had been
closed and if I had merited only that it would have been enough for me.
Nineteen years previously, in the War of Independence, I had the privilege
to command the Palmach's Harel Brigade, which together with fighters from
other units, broke the siege of Jerusalem.
Hundreds of fighters fell in Jerusalem and the surrounding hills. Even
today, we carry with us the memory of the burned-out armored cars opposite
Beit Machsir, the burning trucks at Bab al-Wad, and the thousands of
Jerusalemites who went out into the streets that were still being shelled,
in order to receive the few food parcels.
We did not then succeed in liberating the Old City, and over the years, we
lived with the painful feeling that the city was divided and that the
remnant of the Temple was in the hands of foreigners. For 19 years, the
paths to the Western Wall were desolate: "The market square is empty, and
no one visits the Temple Mount in the Old City," in the words of poet
The authors of the victory in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War were, first
and foremost, and above all, the 181 IDF soldiers - paratroopers, tankists
from the 10th Brigade, and soldiers from the Jerusalem Brigade - whose
lives ended here, opposite the Old City walls. The parents, wives,
children, brothers and sisters of those who fell share in the victory.
Also among those who led us to victory are those who are not here with us
today: then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and then Defense Minister Moshe
Dayan, of blessed memory. We also recall today the memories of ministers
Yigal Allon and Menachem Begin - of blessed memory - who took a major part
in the decision to liberate Jerusalem. We owe them a debt of honor.
Members of Knesset,
We are divided in our opinions, on the Left and the Right. We argue over
courses of action and over purpose. I believe that there is no argument on
one matter - the wholeness of Jerusalem, and its continued existence as
the capital of the State of Israel I said yesterday, and repeat today,
that there are not two Jerusalems; there is only one Jerusalem. From our
perspective, Jerusalem is not a subject for compromise. Jerusalem was
ours, will be ours, is ours - and will remain as such forever.
At the same time, it is our supreme obligation as Jews and Israelis to
show genuine respect for members of the two other religions of whose lives
and faiths Jerusalem is a part; to allow for freedom of religious worship
for all those who come to the city, in all holy places; to demonstrate
tolerance, and to realize the saying: "Let every man live according to his
Members of Knesset,
Jerusalem has been reunited, the market square is bustling with activity
and the city's streets are full of people.
Since Jerusalem was reunified, ten new neighborhoods have been created on
21,000 dunams of land which were expropriated for public use. In these
neighborhoods about 42,000 apartments were built, housing about 150,000
people. This construction is what enabled the growth of the city's
According to the estimate of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the city's
population stands at about 570,000. Tens of thousands of new immigrants
have been absorbed in Jerusalem. In the year 2000, about 600,000 to
650,000 people are expected to be living in Jerusalem. But we will not
deny that there are also shadows. In recent years, Jerusalem has recorded
a negative migration balance.
Jerusalem is not only a focus of our prayers and longings. It must be
built up. All Governments of Israel have invested much in Jerusalem, and
all Governments of Israel are worthy of praise for these efforts. The
current Government has also invested, and will invest, much in
infrastructure and development.
Teddy Kollek, as Mayor of Jerusalem, played a significant and considerable
part in the building of the city, had the intelligence to navigate this
stormy city. His successor Ehud Olmert, is continuing with this
Members of Knesset,
In one of the Jerusalem Day ceremonies yesterday, I told about the
incident when the first paratroopers arrived at the top of Ammunition Hill
to find Arab families living in "Antenna House," just a few meters front
the line of fire. The neighbors in this battle have been our neighbors
ever since. This is the reality of living in Jerusalem: we live side by
side, try to build a home, to build a city, to build a community, to build
I appeal to the communities in Jerusalem to make every effort to live in
peace, because this is the fate of Jerusalem - to live together. There are
not - and will not be - two Jerusalems. And anyone who tries to change the
fate of Jerusalem will fail.
I opened today with a story about the life of paratrooper Giora Ashkenazi
and his falling in the battle for Jerusalem.
On 26 October 1994, a peace treaty was signed with the support of the
country, in the Arava between the State of Israel and the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan, the same Kingdom, the same King, the same army, which
fought against us in Jerusalem. A ten year-old girl named Li Lotan
presented King Hussein with flowers during the signing ceremony. Li Lotan
is the granddaughter of the paratrooper who fell in the battle for
Jerusalem, Giora Ashkenazi. The grandfather did not live to see peace, but
his granddaughter did.
The generation which experienced war is passing on to its grandchildren
the realization of peace.