Op-Ed: International Pressure on Jerusalem
On Sunday December 5, 1949, in an impressive showing of support, twenty thousand Jews of Jerusalem held a demonstration against the proposed internationalization of Jerusalem by the United Nations. They marched in a procession over two miles long through the streets of the Holy City to the grave of Theodore Herzl, where Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog read chapter 62 of the book of Isaiah, which states, “For Zion’s sake I will not be still for Jerusalem I will not be silent.” Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel read Psalm, 126 “A song of ascent when the L-rd brought back the exiles of Zion we were like dreamers”
Then the assemblage sang out the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Overlooking Jerusalem, in unison, the assemblage raised their right arms and stood in silence as Rabbi Herzog pronounced the words, “If I forget thee of Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.” Psalm 137
The Jerusalemites took to the streets for good reason. The upcoming UN vote calling to place Jerusalem ‘under an international regime’ was only days away. The measure called to deprive government functions in Jerusalem end Jewish immigration to the city.
The UN, which was silent when Jerusalem’s one hundred thousand Jews were besieged and threatened with losing vital supplies during the War of Independence, had now awoken. Their nemesis was not the aggressors who attempted to destroy the newborn Jewish State, but the Jews who managed to survive the invasion and defend their independence. The Jewish State, which emerged out of the ruins of anti-Semitism, pogroms, and Nazi atrocities, which had survived a perilous war for its very survival, responded to world pressure with defiance.
The people spoke out, now it was the turn of the Knesset. The following day, during a parliamentary session, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion addressed the issue of the upcoming UN vote. The Prime Minister called the UN resolution 181 which partitioned the land of Israel but also called for the internationalization of Jerusalem as ‘null and void,’ since, “Had we not been able to withstand the aggressors who rebelled against the UN (by attacking Jerusalem following the 1947 Partition vote) Jewish Jerusalem would have been wiped off the face of the earth, the Jewish population would have been eradicated and the State of Israel would not have arisen. Thus, we are no longer morally bound by the U.N. resolution of November 29, since the U.N. was not able to implement it.” Ben Gurion also denied that severing Jerusalem from the Jewish State would advance the cause of peace.
Menachem Begin, Leader of the Cherut Party, also addressed the Knesset that day, “On behalf of the Cherut party group founded by the IZL, (Irgun Tzvai Leumi) I have the honor of announcing that any attempt to impose alien rule on Jerusalem will be smashed on the rock of the resistance of the entire nation….The nation that dwells in Zion will decide what the extent of Israel’s sovereignty shall be.” Regarding the increasing international pressure, Begin stated, “This must be stopped…The world must be told that Jerusalem is ours, all of it-the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Jerusalem inside and outside the walls-and that it is our capital, both in practice and in theory.”
The UN disregarded the calls of Israel’s leaders. On December 9, UN vote (resolution 303) was passed with thirty eight nations supporting, fourteen opposing, and seven abstaining, The Israeli government responded to the UN vote on December 13 by voting to transfer the government to Jerusalem.
Around the world, supportive expressions from Jewish communities abounded. The prevailing view was expressed by the New York Yiddish daily, Der Tog which carried a headline, ‘Mazal Tov Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.’ Its front page featured an editorial which stated, “The Knesset acted in conformity with the 2,000 year old dream and hopes of the entire Jewish people. We know that the decision is loaded with all kinds of consequences. Therefore we say to the leaders of Israel. The Jews of America and the World are with you”
The Israeli Knesset officially opened in Jerusalem on February 14, 1950, at the Jewish Agency headquarters on King George Street. The newly elected President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, was handed the keys to the city by the mayor Daniel Auster. Following the ceremonial sounding of a Shofar, the president entered the makeshift abode of the Knesset and swore an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel.
In 1949, Jerusalem had galvanized the Jewish people as Israel’s government had relocated to its historic capital. Jerusalem is still a point of international focus; pressure on Israel to relinquish Jerusalem’s Old City won in the 1967 Six Day War continues. Once again, Israel faces an immense challenge.