Six Day War: Jerusalem, United in Theory After Israeli paratroopers captured Jerusalem, Jews celebrated reunification of the divided city and renewed access to the Western Wall. But many longtime residents of Jewish West Jerusalem say the city is united in theory only, and question the wisdom of holding land captured by military might 40 years ago.

Six Day War: Jerusalem, United in Theory

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All this week, we're remembering the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. When it ended 40 years ago, it reshaped both the physical and political map of the Middle East. Israel's quick and complete victory humiliated Arab armies and left Israel in full control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.

But for Israelis, nowhere was the victory sweeter than in Jerusalem, after Israeli paratroopers captured the old city, Jews celebrated the reunification of the divided Jerusalem and renewed access to Judaism's holiest site: the Western Wall.

Today, however, many long-time residents of Jewish West Jerusalem say the city is united in theory only. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Israeli paratroopers entered Jerusalem's Old City on June 7th through Lion's Gate, the easternmost passage, and tried to make their way to the sacred Western Wall and Temple Mount. The problem was they didn't know where they were going.

Jews hadn't been allowed in this Jordanian-controlled part of the city since before 1948. Israeli soldiers reached the remains of the second temple, destroyed 2,000 years ago, after asking an old Palestinian man for directions.

Standing near the Western Wall, Israeli historian Michael Oren says for the Jewish state, then just 19 years old, and for paratroopers - some of whom were Holocaust survivors - returning to the holiest place in Judaism was exhilarating.

Dr. MICHAEL OREN (Israeli Historian): Even for these very secular kibbutzniks -people who'd never, you know, been inside a synagogue in their life - the feeling was overwhelming.

Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin comes down and Moshe Dayan comes down, the defense of the minister. Both of them were very secular Jews. They both came down and read psalms at the wall and wept up at the wall. It was just overwhelming for anybody.

WESTERVELT: As the war ended, the barbwire fences separating east from west came down. Thousands of Jews and Arabs alike poured into Jerusalem streets near and in the old city.

Here's 84-year-old Yael Arieli(ph), who's lived in West Jerusalem all of her life.

Ms. YAEL ARIELI (Resident, West Jerusalem): (unintelligible) it was so mobbed that you couldn't walk in the streets, running into the old city like crazy.

WESTERVELT: Arieli remembers curious Palestinian families staring and pointing at the Israeli street lights - which didn't exist on their side - and eagerly exploring the much larger Israeli supermarkets.

Arieli's friend from childhood, 83-year-old Trude Dothan, says it was jubilation punctuated by moments of awkwardness, knowing some families had lost husbands, sons or brothers.

Prof. TRUDE DOTHAN (Resident, West Jerusalem; Archeologist, Hebrew University): It was an (unintelligible). You can say whatever you like, it was a huge conflict. We all went - everybody was there, and it was very frightening because when you're in (unintelligible), somebody was killed in this family - well, nobody knew exactly what to say.

WESTERVELT: Yael Arieli says right after the war, she could suddenly take her children to places they'd only heard about.

Ms. ARIELI: All of a sudden, it was open. You could go to Hebron, to Bethlehem, to all these places, and we started traveling all over the country.

WESTERVELT: Just a week earlier, many Israelis fear the Jewish state faced potential destruction from combined Arab armies. Now with the stunning victory, Arieli says, there was a genuine feeling of optimism.

Sixty-year-old Jonathan Livny says he shared that sense of hope. He was a reservist studying law here when the Israeli army called him back to duty during the Six Day war. After the victory, Livny says, he and many fellow soldiers viewed the conquest of the West Bank from Jordan as an opportunity for genuine coexistence with Palestinians.

Mr. JONATHAN LIVNY (Former West Bank Court Presiding Judge; Six Day War Veteran): They felt here we were coming, you know, with a modern state into a very backward area, and we would teach them new methods of agriculture. At that time, I was euphoric about the chances that we have now to work in agreement between the two nations that were at war.

WESTERVELT: Little by little, Livny says, that idealism slipped and hardened into realism. Jerusalem, the city he'd hoped that would become a model of coexistence, gradually became more and more divided. Jewish settlements expanded in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian violence grew.

In Jerusalem, each side withdrew into its own neighborhoods. By the time the First Palestinian Intifada - or uprising - erupted in 1987, most Jews had stopped going to the open-air markets or favorite shop or restaurant in Arab East Jerusalem.

Few Arabs today spend time in West Jerusalem. Israel just celebrated 40 years of the city's reunification with fireworks, concerts and a parade. Livny wonders why. The divisions, he says, are now more deeply ingrained than anything fences or barbed wire can impose. It's within the people now, he says, and that's much harder to undo.

Mr. LIVNY: If we celebrate the fact the Jews can go to the Western Wall, fine. But if we celebrate the fact that now the city is open to populations of both sides to go everywhere, then it's a joke. When I say, come across to me, it means that people mingle, go to stores, go to cafes, go to restaurants - none of this exists. So 40 years of unification is a joke.

WESTERVELT: Livny's wife, Dr. Helen Castiel-Green, says the only time she ever really interacts with Palestinians is at work. Hospitals have become one of the only places in Jerusalem where the two peoples work closely together.

Dr. HELEN CASTIEL-GREEN (Plastic Surgeon, Hadassah Hospital): Working with the Arab Palestinian, they're working with you, and they - when there is terrorist attack, they're reacting exactly like you, to save the injured people. But out of the hospital, you feel separation - a big separation.

WESTERVELT: Livny, an attorney and a wine connoisseur, also laments that the city he fought for 40 years ago has become ever more dominated by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews. More and more secular Israelis like himself have left or are thinking of leaving.

Mr. LIVNY: It's becoming more and more oppressive, the fact that all, everyone around me is Orthodox means that many a times, when I want to do things, I think about it. I say, wow, I'm in a minority in the city. That's a type of city I don't want to live in. But that's a great disappointment, because I spent most of my life here.

Prof. DOTHAN: This is here in the Gaza Strip, these are the coffins…

WESTERVELT: Back at Trude Dothan's house, the 83-year-old semi-retired archeologist recalls a famous digs she did in Gaza and other parts of the Holy Land. Ancient Egyptian funerary masks are among her major finds now sitting in the Israel Museum.

Trude Dothan and Yael Arieli say they think both Arabs and Jews realize compromise on Jerusalem's Old City is the only path to a viable two-state peace deal. There are options, Trude says, of Jerusalem. Maybe Jews control their parts, Arabs control theirs - maybe an international force.

The two octogenarians, both of whom were here some two decades before Israel was a state, have lived through half a dozen major wars and two Palestinian uprisings.

Prof. DOTHAN: And all of us want to, at last, you know, stop having the wars and find a solution which will be a political solution and a human solution.

Ms. ARIELI: The gun is not the answer. We've tried it for a long time, so let's start something else.

WESTERVELT: The debate over the status of Jerusalem remains as complex and contentious as ever. Wrapped in sacred symbolism, history and emotion, small moves by either side can set off riots or worse. Sometimes, people don't like to talk about it, Dothan says. But no peace will ever stick without resolve in Jerusalem.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

MONTAGNE: Maps of the region before and after the Six Day War are at Tomorrow, what Jewish settlements have meant to the occupied West Bank.

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