JERUSALEM, Israel – Separating the Jewish people from Jerusalem is like saying Egyptians have no connection to the pyramids or Italians to the coliseum in Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says.
Israelis are gearing up for Jerusalem Day, one of the nation's most meaningful holidays, which this year marks the countdown to the jubilee – 50 years since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli sovereignty during the 1967 Six-Day War.
This year Jerusalem Day falls on Sunday, June 6, which is also the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
Speaking before the Knesset Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the years when barbed wire crisscrossed the city.
"We remember what was on the other side when Israel did not have security control beyond the barbed wire fences, in the minefields, the no-mans' land," he said. "Older Jerusalemites, children like me, remember them firing, always firing from east to west. We did not fire eastward."
For many, the celebration begins in local synagogues with the recitation of Psalms 113 to 118, called the Hallel (praise). Later in the day, thousands of Israelis at the Western Wall Plaza provide tangible evidence of the people's deep love and historical commitment to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu also spoke about UNESCO's resolution earlier this year that relegated Israel to an "occupying power" and designated the Temple Mount and Western Wall as Islamic.
"Since our very beginning as a people, our existence was tied to Jerusalem and the awareness of this privilege is the cornerstone of our national experience and our Zionist faith," he said, calling UNESCO's attempt to sever Israel's ties to Jerusalem "absurd" and "outrageous."
"Our forefathers visited the Temple Mount 3,800 years ago," he said. "The two temples of the Jewish people stood on the Temple Mount for 1,000 years. King David built his palace in the City of David adjacent to the Temple Mount and made Jerusalem our capital 3,000 years ago, and ever since the Jewish people have prayed in the direction of the Temple Mount and its image has decorated our homes – and we have no connection to the Temple Mount?"
These distortions, he said, are reserved for the Jews.
"Does anyone claim that the pyramids in Giza have no connection to the Egyptians; that the Acropolis in Athens has no connection to the Greeks; that the Coliseum in Rome has no connection to the Italians?" he asked. "It is ridiculous to try to sever the connection between the Temple Mount and the Jewish people."
The Bible has many references to the ancient Jewish connection to Jerusalem, like Psalm 137, which attests to the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people.
"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth – if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy." (Psalm 137:5-6)
Netanyahu said Israel will make every effort, as it always has and always will, to protect Muslim worshippers who want to pray on the Temple Mount during Ramadan.
"We are entering the jubilee year of the unification of Jerusalem…We will continue to ensure that Jerusalem, our united capital, will be open and prosperous, with its face to the future, to coexistence and to peace."