Two Personal Six Day War Stories Illustrate Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

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Israel remembers the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war

This week, Israelis commemorate the 40th anniversary of their 1967 capture of East Jerusalem , during the Six-Day War. Why has Jerusalem been such a stumbling block in peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis?

Two surprising events immediately following the war serve as a symbol of the deep-rooted ties to Jerusalem of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the former PLO president, Yasser Arafat. Vision publisher David Hulme explains in Two Men, One City, at http://www.vision.org, that although these two key leaders are now gone, the identities of Palestinians and Israelis continue to be bound up in the history of this divided city, fueling the ongoing conflict.

After Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion exclaimed to a cheering crowd at the Western Wall, "This is the greatest moment of my life since I came to Israel." It's a curious remark for a man who had seen many "great moments" in his long career, including direct involvement in the founding of the State of Israel.

According to Hulme, author of Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem, "Ben-Gurion stood at the Wall for the first time, in his early life. His biographer, Shabtai Teveth told me in an interview a few years ago that to understand the young man's extreme emotional reaction 'think of it as a son meeting a father after a very long separation.' In other words, the Wall was a deep-seated aspect of Ben-Gurion's identity, though he was not an outwardly religious man."

Yasser Arafat's ties with Jerusalem began similarly when he was young. He was sent there to live with relatives after his mother died prematurely. The home where he lived for a few years was adjacent to the Western Wall. Within days after the fall of eastern part of the city in 1967, the Israelis demolished the family home as well as those of many other s to create a vast, open plaza in front of the Wall for Jewish worshipers.

"One can only imagine that, for Arafat, this part of the city was as much a potent personal identity symbol as it was for Ben-Gurion," says Hulme. "It may explain in part why his oft-repeated chant was 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,' and why he requested to be buried at al-Aqsa Mosque in al-Haram al-Sharif."

These two stories certainly give more insight into the powerful effect memories of the Six Day War - also known as the 1967 War - hold as we seek to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. David Hulme holds a doctorate in International Relations from the University of Southern California and brings understanding about the Palestinian-Israeli impasse in his blog Causes of Conflict.

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Edwin Stepp
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