JERUSALEM: BATTLE FOR THE HOLY LAND PART 2 OF 6
In the early months of 1967 tension rose between Israel and its neighbours. On 5 June, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt’s air force, and Syria and Jordan were immediately drawn into the conflict. Within six days the Israeli army had conquered the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel ended up controlling more than three times the amount of land it had started with.
Since 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, Jerusalem had been divided. The western side of the city was in Israeli hands; the eastern side was in Jordanian hands. Israel’s biggest prize in the Six Day War was the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, in Arabic called Haram al-Sharif, which is a holy site for Jews and Muslims, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was buried.
An iconic image of that conquest was of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall, which dates from the time of the Second Temple; it had not been in Jewish hands for 2,000 years. The other familiar image of Jerusalem is of the golden Dome of the Rock, one of a complex of Islamic holy sites where, according to Muslim belief, Muhammed ascended to heaven.
The Israeli joy at reuniting Jerusalem was matched by an equal and opposite Palestinian despair at living under occupation. That occupation has now continued for 40 years, generating more bitterness, more conflict and more violence.
It is an irony that Jerusalem, whose name means ‘city of peace’, should have been such a recurring focus of wars and disputes over the thousands of years of its existence. But could this history contain the seeds of a future peace?