JERUSALEM, Israel - The battle over Jerusalem is the battle for truth and justice, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of celebrations marking Jerusalem Day.
Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, which took place during the 1967 Six Day War.
This year, Netanyahu ushered in the celebration Tuesday evening at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary), the same place where two years ago, 26-year-old Alaa Abu Dhein, from an east Jerusalem neighborhood, gunned down eight students - seven of whom were teenagers.
"The battle for Jerusalem is a battle for truth," Netanyahu began. "There can be no justice without truth and if there is a perversion of justice vis-à-vis our city and nation, it means the truth has been perverted. Because the truth is that Jerusalem is our city and we never compromised on that. "
"We will continue to build Jerusalem, a city that is full of life," the prime minister promised, to resounding applause.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, among several dignitaries at the opening event, spoke of his response to the U.S. government's demand for a construction freeze in the capital.
"I told the Americans it was unthinkable and illegal to halt construction for Jews alone. I made it clear we would keep building in all parts of the city," Barkat said.
Earlier Tuesday, several Knesset members spent a few hours of hands-on work with Bar Ilan University archaeologist Gabi Barkay. Barkay has led volunter crews to sift through thousands of pounds of dirt discarded in the Kidron Valley by the Wakf - the Islamic trust overseeing the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.
"It's not an issue of right-wing or left-wing, religious or secular. Any Jew with even a basic knowledge of the Bible can relate to this place on a deep level," Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said.
"It is the tangible history of our people and solid proof of our connection here that is impossible to argue with," Schneller said.
In an op-ed piece in Wednesday's Jerusalem Post, National Union MK Arieh Eldad said Israelis will not cede their beloved city for an elusive promise of peace.
"The vast majority of Israelis are not prepared to give up Jerusalem even for promises of peace," wrote Eldad.
"If anyone thinks the State of Israel needs to save Jerusalem, they will discover that Jerusalem will save the State of Israel," he wrote.
Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) is celebrated on the 28th day of the month of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, which this year falls on Wednesday, May 12. It is one of the nation's most festive holidays.
On June 7, 1967, a battalion of Israel Defense Forces paratroopers defeated Jordanian troops, liberating the Old City and reuniting east and west Jerusalem following 19 years of Jordanian occupation.
That historic day has been immortalized in Israeli photojournalist David Rubinger's well-known "signature image" of three paratroopers standing before the Kotel (Western Wall) for the first time since the rebirth of the Jewish state. It marks one of the most significant events in Israel's modern history.
Jerusalem Day Events
Activities citywide run the gamut from parades to concerts, picnics and a variety of classes for kids. Fifth and sixth graders can compete in the "My Jerusalem" quiz, hosted by Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar and Mayor Barkat.
Barkat and several members of Knesset also joined in the Veteran's March, which included 600 veterans from around the country.
The mayor and his wife also traditionally host a reception at the Tower of David. This year, The Philharmonic Orchestra will perform an outdoor concert hosted by singer Yehudit Ravitz.