Many Israel-watchers don’t believe in coincidence. As they wait for President Trump to arrive, they ponder the significance of the fact that his visit is happening during the week of Jerusalem’s jubilee celebrations. Fifty years ago this week Jerusalem was liberated from Jordan, which had captured it in a war of aggression 19 years earlier.
Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Six Day War in 1967, a war that Barbara Tuchman, the noted historian and best-selling author of many books, including “The Guns of August and The March of Folly: from Troy to Viet Nam,” reported on for Atlantic Monthly magazine. In September 1967, three months after the war, Tuchman wrote that geography had not been on Israel’s side:
“They had no natural obstacles on which to base a defense, no territory to yield, and no room to retreat. Unlike larger countries, they could not afford mistakes like that of France in 1914 or rebound from an initial disaster like Dunkirk or Pearl Harbor. This fact dictated a strategy … of carrying war to the enemy, and the initial strike could not be allowed to fail.”
The historian also noted, “A people considered for centuries non-fighters carried out in June against long odds the most nearly perfect military operation in modern history. Surrounded on three sides, facing vast superiority in numbers and amount of armament, fighting alone against enemies supported and equipped by a major power, and having lost the advantage of surprise, they accomplished the rarest of military feats, the attainment of exact objectives …within a given time and with absence of blunder. The war, which taken as a whole was the greatest battle ever fought in this area, shook the world…”
As much as Israel’s victory in the Six Day War may have shaken the Middle East and the world, it had its most profound impact on Jews themselves. For 20 centuries — in daily prayers, in grace at meals, on holidays and even at their weddings – Jews remembered Jerusalem and prayed to return to it.
In June 1967 their prayers were answered. The city in which King David reigned 3,000 years ago, where King Solomon built the first Holy Temple, had finally been returned to the Jewish people.
It was a miracle, and like most miracles, it was not without problems.
In 1980, the United Nations pressured its members to move their embassies out of Jerusalem and relocate them to Tel Aviv. They complied. In response to that, Christians from all over the world united and established the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, expressed his appreciation for their solidarity. “Your decision,” he said, “at a time when we were left alone by others because of our faith – was a bold act and a symbol of your closeness to us. Your gestures and your [acts] gave us the feeling that we are not alone.”
Today President Trump arrives in this ancient and vibrant city with a tight schedule for his brief visit. Will his experiences in Israel enable him to see not just its current complexities and problems, but also the depth of its meaning for Jews and gentiles alike?
As Genesis 12:3 puts it, God will bless those who bless Israel … “and through you all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.”