JERUSALEM (May. 31)
Festivities marking the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem drew more than a quarter million visitors to the flag-decked capital Sunday.
But they entered a political war zone with Labor and Likud each claiming credit for the 1967 feat and the growth of united Jerusalem since then.
For many participants, the spirit of the celebrations drowned out the partisan oratory and sniping of a fiercely contested election campaign. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren and soldiers joined in the annual Jerusalem Day march, “on the footsteps of the fighters for Jerusalem’s reunification.”
It was the retracing of the route Israel Defense Force units took in the crucial battle that ousted the Jordanian army and brought East Jerusalem and the holy shrines of the Old City under Israeli governance.
A state memorial ceremony for all IDF soldiers who fell in the Six-Day War was held on Mount Herzl. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir vowed that out of respect for its war dead, Israel would continue to act tirelessly for “peace and security.”
But he also affirmed Israel’s determination to retain permanent control of the entire city. “Our capital is one, Jerusalem, forever. Never will it be a capital for a foreign power,” he declared.
A monument to the memory of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who died on their long trek to Israel was dedicated at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The monument was a joint project of the Jewish Agency, the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish National Fund. The Ethiopian emigres chose Jerusalem Day for the dedication to symbolize their yearning for Zion.
LABOR SHELLS OUT $200,000
But inevitably, many major events were blatantly partisan, arranged by the rival parties to advance themselves and vilify their opponents.
Labor allocated a substantial $200,000 from its election war chest to stage elaborate Jerusalem Day events. Likud saturated the city with huge advertisements extolling its role in the unprecedented expansion of the capital since it came to power in 1977.
Labor stressed the personal part in Jerusalem’s liberation played by the party’s leader and would-be prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was IDF chief of staff during the Six-Day War.
Likud, buoyed by opinion polls showing it is narrowing Labor’s early lead with the voters, continued to slander Rabin personally.
It claimed that victory in the Six-Day War should be credited to the late Moshe Dayan, who was named defense minister shortly before its outbreak, and to the late Likud leader Menachem Begin, who joined a unity government with Labor in the time of crisis.
Dayan, originally a Laborite, defected to Likud in 1977 but left it subsequently after falling out with Begin.
Labor’s biggest event was a giant rally in the huge Binyanei Ha’uma convention hall, which featured Rabin and the officers who led the IDF into battle in East Jerusalem.
Among them were war heroes of old, such as Gen. Uzi Narkiss, who commanded the central region at the time, and Gen. Mordechai Gur, who commanded the paratroop division that captured the Old City.
Likud organized a pilgrimage by about 5,000 supporters to historic spots in the city. It ended with a rally near the High Commissioners Palace, a vestige of the British Mandate, which overlooks the Old City from the south.
ANOTHER BUILDING IN MOSLEM QUARTER
Likud Housing Minister Ariel Sharon demonstratively presided over the inauguration of yet another building for Jewish occupancy in the heart of the Old City’s Moslem Quarter.
He vowed that Jews would live in every Palestinian neighborhood in the Old City and the rest of East Jerusalem, a policy many Israelis, and notably Jerusalem’s venerable mayor, Teddy Kollek, consider deliberately provocative and divisive.
In fact, Kollek called Sharon’s policies a “national crime.”
Sharon accused Kollek of trying to impose Labor’s blueprint on Jerusalem, which he claimed amounts to a divided capital.
Even a seemingly “innocent” ceremony, the signing of the Jerusalem Charter at the presidential residence, raised controversy.
The charter, written by Judge Menahem Elon of the High Court of Justice, reiterated the commitment of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to the unity of Jerusalem.
Kollek resented that among the dignitaries asked to sign the charter were none of the commanders of the military units that recaptured East Jerusalem 25 years ago.
Although Rabin and Narkiss were on hand to represent them, Kollek refused to speak at the event, saying he did not want to “spoil it.”
Another politician who scarcely attempted to disguise his bruised feelings was Labor’s No. 2 man, Shimon Peres, replaced recently by Rabin as party leader.
Peres apparently deeply resents Labor’s “glorification” of his longtime rival, Rabin, which has turned out to be the keystone of Labor’s election campaign strategy.
STUDENT STABBED BY ARABS
Peres has managed to suppress his feelings in public until now. But they flashed to the surface Sunday when he declined to attend Labor’s Jerusalem Day rally. His spokesperson said Peres had a “family engagement.” But there was little doubt he refused to attend because was not invited to speak.
Party officials said the speakers list consisted only of persons who were directly involved in the battle for Jerusalem, such as Rabin and Gur. But that apparently failed to sway Peres.
Israel barred a million Palestinians from the West Bank from entering Jerusalem for 24 hours on Jerusalem Day. The 700,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been sealed off from Israel for the past week.
But it was clear Sunday that security measures cannot ensure peace in the city which, if no longer physically divided, is divided by conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
A 17-year-old yeshiva student, Assaf Hasson, was reportedly stabbed by two young Arabs in the Mekor Chaim neighborhood of Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon. He suffered only slight shoulder wounds and was expected to be released from the hospital later in the day.