The original city of Jerusalem, conquered by King David from the Jebusites, is now known as Ir David, situated in the Silwan neighborhood, south of the Temple Mount. Over time, Jerusalem moved up the hill northward to the area now known as the “Old City” and, eventually, was surrounded by a wall. The city limits moved outside of the Old City walls in 1860, with the establishment of the Jewish neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Since that time, “West Jerusalem” has grown exponentially and represents most of the vast area that constitutes the municipality of Jerusalem.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan took control of “East Jerusalem,” which included the Jewish Quarter of the “Old City,” the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and Ir David, and expelled all Jews from the territory that had been conquered. During the 1967 Six Day War, the city was reunited. Israel became the sole sovereign power over Jerusalem and annexed the city (although the Israeli government agreed to allow the Temple Mount to remain under the control of the Waqf, the Islamic authorities, through the auspices of the Jordanian government). In August 1980, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 478 declaring Israel’s annexation over East Jerusalem (where many Arabs reside) null and void by a vote of 14-0 (the U.S. abstained). This was one of seven similar UNSC resolutions.

The Old City’s walls were built between 1535 and 1542 by the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent.” These walls included seven gates which allowed access into, and egress from, the city: Herod’s Gate, also known as the Gate of Flowers, the Damascus Gate (facing Damascus on the north), the Dung Gate (referenced in Nehemiah 2:13-14), the Zion Gate (or the “Prophet David” Gate, near the burial site of King David), the Jaffa Gate (facing Jaffa on the west), the Golden Gate (which led to the Temple Mount; Suleiman sealed it up in 1541) and the Lion’s Gate. Until 1887, the gates were locked at night. After the Golden Gate was resealed in 1887, the “new gate” was added.

Most of the names of the gates make sense. Either they describe a direction, reference something from a previous generation, or something in the vicinity of the gate. The anomaly is the Lion’s Gate, which has four lions engraved into the wall above the gate, said to celebrate Suleiman’s victory over the Mamelukes in 1517. Others claim that Suleiman’s predecessor, Selim I dreamed that lions would kill him were he to fulfill his plan to raze the city. The dream traumatized Selim, and he committed to build walls to fortify Jerusalem. Of note is that the lion has been the symbol of the Tribe of Judah, the seat of Jewish monarchy since Biblical times (Genesis 49:9).

A popular Israeli tour guide offered the following unsubstantiated rationale for the naming of the Lion’s Gate since it does not seem to be named for any reason connected to the city and/or her history. He notes that it was through the Lion’s Gate on the northeastern side of the Old City, that the Israeli paratroopers entered East Jerusalem during the Six Day War. Moments later, Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the 55th Paratrooper Brigade that liberated East Jerusalem, uttered the three iconic words that every Israeli knows by heart: “Har Ha’bayit Be’yadeinu,” “the Temple Mount is in our (Israeli) hands.” Gur, born in Jerusalem, was destined for this moment. The tour guide noted that “Gur” means lion cub in Hebrew. He suggested that the Lion’s Gate was named prophetically for a future event of seismic importance!

Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 57th anniversary of Mordechai “Motta” Gur’s declaration, is observed tonight and tomorrow, the 28th of Iyar.

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