President Shimon Peres said Wednesday that peace could be achieved in Jerusalem in "our time", declaring that Israel has replaced the divisions that once wracked the holy city by offering freedom to all faiths and creeds.
In his address to the annual Jerusalem Day state ceremony marking 44 years since the reunification of the capital, Peres said he believed in the "eternity of Jerusalem".
"I believe that Jerusalem will know peace in our time. Jerusalem, as you celebrate your freedom today, we stand in your gates, and bemoan the sons that have fallen on your walls," the president said, an homage to the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces "for bringing our historical capital to life, the eternal capital of our people."
Peres also said that Israel "did not initiate" the Six-Day War, which resulted in the capture of lands and the reunification of the capital. "[Israel] was forced to fend for its life," said Peres, adding that since then "Jerusalem stood united, free of divisions."
The president also emphasized in his address the rejuvenating affect that the unification had on Israel's capital. "For 44 years there have been no barb-wire fences in the heart of Jerusalem. Minefields were replaced with open gates. The shooting slits in its walls and towers were replaced with prayer houses," he said.
"From a divided, wounded, somber city Jerusalem became a bustling metropolis, picturesque and thriving, open to all believers," the president said. Israel reopened the capital, he said "breathing the air of freedom."
"Jerusalem's uniqueness was restored and it again became the center of the Jewish nation," added Peres. The capital of the State of Israel."
In what could be seen as a reference over continued tensions in the city, however, Peres warned that "in the 44 years that have passed, the lights have been rekindled," not all of the "shadows have disappeared."
"The light of democracy allowed us to live in [Jerusalem] despite national and religious differences," he said, referring to those differences as a "great specter of a struggle that has yet to be resolved."
Israel's capital was the place "where our people were born," Peres said. "This is where the Jewish soul first yearned. No other city in the world has produced such massive inspiration that took over the hearts of half of humanity."
"No other city in the world was so bitterly fought for. We have experienced both. From the top of Mount Scopus on one side and the Western Wall on the other, this is where we led our lives. This is where we took our oath. And once in exile, to this place we directed our prayers. And as soon as we could, this is the place to which we returned," he added.
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