Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRa
Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRa Flash 90

MK Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party and Minister of Industry and Trade, felt right at home. Sitting on the dais of the annual Yom Yerushalyim (Jerusalem Day) celebration, marking the 46th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, on Tuesday night at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, he sang and pounded on the table along with the hundreds of yeshiva students who later cheered and clapped several times during his speech.

The traditional central celebration of Jerusalem's reunification at the flagship yeshiva of religious Zionism was attended by Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff, MK Moshe ('Bogie') Yaalon, Transportation Minister MK Yisrael Katz, Housing Minister MK Uri Ariel, Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, Knesset members, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Dov Lior and other renowned rabbis who came to congratulate the city of Jerusalem.

The study hall was packed as well as the women's section and outside the cordoned-off street, a large screen allowed the overflow crowd to see and hear what was happening inside.

The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, was greeted by rousing songs when he rose to speak. He spoke of the meaning of Jerusalem while alluding subtly to current issues, noting that our sages said that "Jerusalem will reach to Damascus one day" and that "the gates and walls of Jerusalem today are her Torah scholars, who should not have externally-enforced limitations on their number. The Temple Mount is the nucleus of spirituality, not just one of the roads to the Kotel", he stressed.

Turning to Bennett and calling him the friend of Dror and Emanuel (two religious IDF officer heroes killed in action who served with Bennett in his elite commando unit), Rabbi Shapira told him that Jewish industry and trade should not be the same as in other countries, just as our army is unique, and urged him to see that those around him, including the Chief Rabbi, understand this.

The main guest of the evening is usually the Prime Minister, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had to miss the event due to his trip to China. Defense Minister Yaalon spoke in his place and called for the strengthening of Jerusalem, saying, “We build Jerusalem physically and spiritually. It is the duty of our generation to protect Jerusalem, keep it, develop it and build it. One does not divide one’s soul,” he concluded.

Transportation Minister Katz announced that there is no need to be concerned about the nations of the world who call to split Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement.

"Jerusalem is ours and will remain ours forever and ever," Katz said, adding that the government invests in Jerusalem. "The government believes in deeds and not just words," said Katz, detailing the Transportation Ministry’s plan for the development of Jerusalem.

Minister Bennett riveted the audience as he attacked in his speech what he called the “invisible divisors” of Jerusalem.

"In recent days we hear about initiatives from the Saudis and from America,” he said. “Some say openly that they are in favor of splitting Jerusalem. I have an argument with them, and I will never give in when it comes to this argument! But there are also these ‘invisible divisors’ - those who say they are against the division of Jerusalem, but they are in favor of a Palestinian state. These ‘invisible divisors’ are against the splitting of Jerusalem, but they freeze construction in our capital city.”

“These invisible divisors,” added Bennett, “do not tell us that they will cause us to give up the Temple Mount and the Old City – which are the heart of the Jewish people – and a heart is indivisible. And I ask all these invisible divisors: Excuse me, but where exactly will be the capital of the Palestinian state be? In Jericho? In Bethlehem? In Berlin?”

"There will be no Palestinian state", he said, to resounding applause.

Recalling the recent visit to Israel of U.S. President Obama, Bennett said, "Already when President Obama visited here I said that a nation cannot be an occupier in its own country, and I say now that a nation cannot be an occupier in its own capital. We are not occupying Jerusalem. Jerusalem is ours! Jerusalem belongs to my grandfather’s grandfather and to my grandson's grandson. Neither I nor anyone else has the right to split it.”

Bennett finished his remarks by quoting the last speech of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin at a ceremony marking Jerusalem’s 3000th anniversary, which took place in Washington just days before his assassination.

"We disagree on the left and right, we have arguments about our direction and  purpose,” Rabin said back then. “But in Israel we have no debate on one issue: the unity of Jerusalem. There are no two Jerusalems, there is only one Jerusalem. As far as we’re concerned, Jerusalem is not subject to compromise and there will be no peace without Jerusalem.”

In the early hours of the morning, the Mercaz HaRav students will dance and sing their way to the Kotel in long rows, as the hundreds who study at the flagship yeshiva of religious Zionism, named for the first Chief Rabbi Avraham Kook, have done since its liberation.