Mary Landrieu

Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Reunification Of Jerusalem - June 11, 1997

Mary Landrieu
June 11, 1997— U.S. Sentate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. President, I rise today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and support the resolution offered by my distinguished colleagues from New York and Florida in marking this auspicious occasion. Psalm 122 admonishes us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." This biblical verse is as apt now, on the 30th anniversary of the Holy City's reunification, as it was 3,000, years ago.

Jerusalem knew little peace in the 19 years before 1967. The end of Israel's War of Independence left an obscene no-man's land of barbed wire, tank traps, sniper posts, and minefields. Israel's former adversary left almost no vestige of Jewish history in the historic old city untouched, including the destruction of 58 synagogues; Jewish gravestones from the Mount of Olives were used to build roads and latrines for occupying troops.

Mr. President, Israel's foes had as much regard for the rights of religious pilgrims as they did for religious sites: Jews could not visit the Western Wall, and Israeli Muslims were denied access to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. During the occupation, the Christian population of Jerusalem declined from 25,000 to 10,000.

On the morning of June 7, 1967, our entire world changed. Israeli commandos stormed through St. Stephen's Gate on the northeast side of the old city walls and took control over the old city and its centerpiece, the Temple Mount. They discovered that occupying troops had used the Temple Mount area, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, as a huge ammunition dump. Mr. President, what might have happened if the ammunition would have exploded, destroying the Temple Mount and perhaps the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher? How great would our spiritual loss have been?

For the first time since the Romans leveled the city in AD 70, Jews controlled the Western Wall--the surviving remnant of Herod's Temple.

Mr. President, shortly after the end of the Six Day War, Israel did something astonishing for a victorious power. Israeli officials assured Arab leaders that the Muslims would keep control of the Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount. That inspired decision began Jerusalem on the road to reunification and began to heal the wounds of centuries.

Mr. President, I traveled to Israel with my father when I was 21 and saw a city transformed from that which had seen pain and anguish for thousands of years. Where barbed wire and armed soldiers had once stood was a magnificent area of trees and grass that now surrounds the renovated walls of the old city. I saw a rebuilt Jewish Quarter in the old city. But Mr. President, most importantly, I saw for myself that free and open access to their holy places for people of all faiths was not merely the goal in Jerusalem, it was the rule.

The city's parks were revitalized. Schools and museums and hospitals sprang up. Music and poetry once again rose into Israel's evening sky. The people came together as artists, architects, lawyers, and theologians in an effort that resulted in a city that no longer just survived but lived and breathed. The Talmud proclaims that of the 10 measures of beauty that came down to the world, Jerusalem took nine.' Mr. President, for the first time since those prophetic words were first formed, thosemeasures of beauty' saw the light of day.

Mr. President, the question that those brave, industrious people tried to answer is one that we still ask today: How can Jerusalem, which means `city of peace,' an ancient symbol of humanity's aspirations for redemption, become a living city that does not betray the promise of its name? An answer tragically eludes us, still today, 30 years after Jerusalem's reunification.

The United States Congress has a long-standing commitment to a united Jerusalem governed by Israel. Seven years ago, Congress declared that Jerusalem `must remain an undivided city' and the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 unequivocally stated that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel as a matter of U.S. policy. The resolution introduced by my friends Senator Moynihan and Senator Mack clearly expresses our conviction that it should be so.

Mr. President, it is said that `one prayer in Jerusalem is worth 40,000 elsewhere.' This resolution offers the voice of Congress to those voices coming from all over our Nation and the world praying for peace and prosperity for this most special city of all cities on this truly important day.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

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