by Sufian Abu Zaideh
Since the day it occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967, Israel had one overriding goal: to secure Israeli sovereignty over the entire city. The euphoria of a swift victory and the massive popular support were galvanizing factors; still, the Israeli leadership had a number of issues to contend with before they could fully implement the annexation process. First, they had to garner the consent of the international community, or, at least, to minimize the possibility of a rejection. Second, they had to intensify Israeli presence in the eastern part of the city in the economic, demographic and political fields.1 The third task was to find an expeditious solution to the religious issue, especially with regards to the Muslim shrines. The long-term strategy was the ultimate Judaization of the whole of Jerusalem.
On June 27, 1967, the Knesset passed the Law and Administration Ordinance (Amendment) Law, which stated: “the law, jurisdiction and administration of the State shall extend to any area of Eretz Israel designated by the government by order.” The following day the Israeli government proclaimed new municipal boundaries for the city of Jerusalem, incorporating within the limits of the unified city, inter alia, those parts of Jerusalem that had been under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967, including the Old City.
Crystallizing the Policy
The Israeli cabinet held its first post-war meeting on June 11, 1967. High on the agenda was the issue of Jerusalem. The deliberations centered on whether to annex the eastern part of the city or not; whether this should be a gradual process or not; and whether to apply Israeli law to Jerusalem or military orders, as had been done in the rest of the occupied territories. The justice minister at the time, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, was in favor of applying military rule to East Jerusalem for as long as possible, even if the government decided on the immediate annexation of the city. His view was that a military government was important in legal and administrative terms.2
The ministers were, on the whole, reticent to use the term “annexation,” preferring instead a different terminology to address the legal implication of the new situation. Eliyahu Sasson pointed to a potential source of friction with the vast Christian world should East Jerusalem — with all its holy sites — be annexed to the State of Israel.3 Menachem Begin, who had joined the emergency government on the eve of the war, and who had played a central role in taking the decision to occupy the eastern part of the city, did not like the use of the word “annexation” either, but for a totally different reason. For him the implication would have been “annexing land without having a right to do it.” His solution was to pass a law called “The Law of Jerusalem, the Capital of the State,” and to include in it that “the whole of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”4
Another issue that was brought up was the diplomatic impact of any annexationist move. Then-Foreign Minister Abba Eban took a decisive step by declaring Israel would not “recognize the consulates in the eastern part of the city.” For him, the element of time was of the essence, and Israel had “to create facts.”5
Manifestly, the Israeli government was bent on drawing a clear distinction between the steps taken in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and those taken in East Jerusalem. For instance, for Minister Israel Galili, “the conquest of Jerusalem must be clear, without question marks. We have to decide that the unification is a target that we are going to fight for until the end.” Minister Israel Yeshayahu suggested putting up a banner saying “The City That Was Reunited.” Minister Moshe Kol, while in full support of annexation, brought in a cautionary note: “I support the unification of the city but we have to do that gradually. We have to avoid public and dramatic declarations.”6
The only one to voice dissent was then-Education Minister Zalman Aran, who raised doubts about the wisdom of the steps to be taken. He feared that buckling under international pressure to reverse the annexation decision would deal a crushing blow to Israel. Instead, he preferred looking for “alternatives,” for instance, “to secure free access for the Jewish people to the sacred places, and to Mount Scopus.”7
Levy Eshkol, the prime minister at the time, was, from the outset, in favor of separating the issue of Jerusalem from that of the rest of the occupied territories. He was also ready to risk international political pressure that was likely to arise in the wake of any Israeli decision pertaining to Jerusalem: “We have to distinguish between Jerusalem and the other places. Regarding Jerusalem we will keep it with all its Arab residents.”8
This first meeting ended with a decision tilting strongly towards annexing East Jerusalem to the Israeli state and taking the historic opportunity to control the whole city with all its holy places. It was also decided to appoint a special ministerial committee to prepare a draft regarding the special legal and administrative status of Jerusalem. Despite their confidence and willingness to press ahead with the annexation project, but due to international pressure — and mainly because of a request by Eban from New York — it was decided to delay the cabinet meeting that had been originally scheduled for June 20. Eban had pressed his government not to take any decision before the UN General Assembly had had the chance to convene. In spite of the delay, and some concerns on the part of Eshkol about the international community’s reaction, the ministerial committee continued to work day and night in order to come up with proposed solutions to the legal issues, the question of borders and the question of the holy places in Jerusalem. But it had become fairly obvious that the process of annexing Jerusalem was to become an irreversible fact, regardless of regional or international consequences.
The Meeting of June 26, 1967
This meeting was convened as the culmination in a series of discussions among senior officials and experts on the question of Jerusalem. It was a crucial meeting as the purpose was to approve the recommendations of the ministerial committee and to actually decide the fate and the future of Jerusalem.
The plan for the actual annexation of Jerusalem, which had been suggested by the committee, was taken two weeks later and was supported by most of the cabinet. Only four ministers opposed: Yisrael Barzilai, Mordechai Bentov, Zalman Aran and Eliyahu Sasson. They reiterated the reservations they had expressed during the June 11 meeting. Therefore, the main debate centered on the rectification of the map of Jerusalem. Although Moshe Dayan initially opposed the plan of Rehavam Ze’evi — the only officer representing the military in the ministerial committee — that called for the inclusion of Qalandiya in the annexed area, he changed his mind the following day and Qalandiya and its airport became part of the annexed area of East Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the government’s approval of the plan paved the way, two days later, for the endorsement by the Knesset of the annexation of 71,000 dunams [1dunam = ¼ acre] to the Israeli Jerusalem. Only 6,000 of these dunams were within Palestinian Jerusalem. The rest of the territory was confiscated from some 28 villages in the Jerusalem periphery. With this the area of Jerusalem was tripled. Eventually, 24,500 additional dunams were to be confiscated in East Jerusalem.9
The architect of the post-1967 enlarged Jerusalem was Dayan. He ordered the Israeli Army to demarcate the new borders of the city according to the following principles: to annex to Jerusalem large swathes of land in order to ensure the development of the city; to include the area of Qalandiya [renamed Atarot] Airport and the water factory in Ein-Fara; and to exclude refugee camps and crowded Arab villages. He also insisted on leaving Rachel’s Tomb (near Bethlehem) outside the new borders of the city. The rationale behind it was to leave the way open for Israelis to and from the Palestinian territory. He wanted the Israelis to cross the borders on their way to the Tomb. This way he satisfied the moderates who were against the annexation of more Palestinian land; while, at the same time, this left the door open for those who demanded free access to this sacred Jewish site.10 Nonetheless, before his final approval of the maps, Dayan had some misgivings and recognized that the proposal would “sever the West Bank into two parts.”11 Yaakov Salman, who was the deputy military governor of Jerusalem during the first days after the 1967 War, said that the decision was taken on an emotional basis and without careful consideration. He believed that Israel annexed too much, too fast, and without profound thought:
This was a policy of reaction, a policy that was formulated under the pressure of the political party environment, the supportive atmosphere in public opinion and the enthusiastic spirit of the media. The long-term implications were not taken into account. This burst out from impulses of a Zionism of 2,000 years of Diaspora.12