Today in Israeli History: Jerusalem is Our Capital

On the corner of King George and Hillel Streets, the building where the Knesset met in Jerusalem.

The Knesset’s early home in Jerusalem, Frumin House

I have had the distinct pleasure this week of guiding at a number of sites throughout Jerusalem where I don’t frequently guide. Among them was a visit to the Supreme Court building on Givat Ram, in the government complex.

In that part of the city are numerous buildings connected to all three branches of government. The Supreme Court building connects via a straight path to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), and nearby a cluster of other government buildings house the various Ministry offices. Other national (or significant) institutions, such as the Israel Museum, Hebrew University and Bank of Israel are also situated in the area. This area is the governmental seat in the national capital.

But while Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, it was not always a given that it would be such. When the Knesset first formed, near the end of the War for Independence, the Knesset met in Tel Aviv in a building near the beach where the Opera Tower stands today. Furthermore, the State of Israel had been declared in Tel Aviv. But clearly, the founders of our State always considered Jerusalem the capital. Circumstances simply conspired to keep them in Tel Aviv.

All this changed on this date in 1950. Just under a month after the Knesset formally moved to Jerusalem, it continued to clarify its position by adopting a special resolution. While some wanted a law that would officially make Jerusalem our capital, David Ben-Gurion said this would be unnecessary. King David had already made Jerusalem our capital some 3000 years earlier.

Knesset chambers, 1952

David Ben Gurion at the Knesset (in Frumin House) in 1952

But some Knesset action was obviously necessary. So rather than establishing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Knesset issued a declaration reiterating that Jerusalem had always been our capital. A few months later, the Knesset moved from the famous Jewish Agency building, into its own (temporary) home — Frumin House on the corner of King George and Hillel Streets.

Today, Jerusalem pedestrians can see a sign over the door of that distinctive building highlighting it as the home of the Knesset for some 16 years. It took over 5 years to run the architectural competition for the Knesset building. Then a few more years passed before construction began, and a number more to actually build it. Finally, on August 16, 1966, the new Knesset on Givat Ram was inaugurated.

As time passed, though, a more formal declaration became necessary. So in July 1980, a Basic Law was passed, commonly called the Jerusalem Law. It stated, among other things, that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”

And though there is no country in the world that has its embassy in Jerusalem, refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, their opinions mean nothing in this matter. A capital is defined as “the city or town that is the official seat of government in a country.” When the Jerusalem Law stated that “Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court,” it made Jerusalem our capital, by definition.

But it all began on January 23, 1950 with a declaration that was largely deemed unnecessary.

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