In 1954, a patient leaning out of the window of Jerusalem’s French Hospital sneezed, coughed or yawned so hard that her false teeth flew out of her mouth and landed on the ground outside. While today they would have ended up on bustling Paratroopers’ Way, at the time there was nothing here but a no-man’s land covered with twisted barbed wire, scorched armored vehicles, concrete barriers and land mines. To top it off, Jordanian snipers stood at the ready atop the Old City ramparts.
Undaunted, one of the nuns from the hospital volunteered to retrieve the dentures. After painstaking preparation, and with the good will of Israel, Jordan and the United Nations, the chairman of the United Nation’s Mixed Armistice Committee held up a white flag and accompanied the nun into No-Man’s Land. Incredibly, the lost teeth were discovered among the weeds, refuse and barbed wires and returned to their owner.
Jerusalem’s No-Man’s Land was born in November of 1948, when Moshe Dayan, commander of the Israeli forces in Jerusalem, met with his Jordanian counterpart Abdullah a-Tal. Sitting together on the rough and uneven floor of a deserted house in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood, they marked out their respective positions: Israel’s in red and those of Jordan in green.
Neither Dayan nor a-Tal intended the map to be anything but
temporary and unofficial, nor did they mean to divide Jerusalem in two.
Yet in the end the rough lines on this map were accepted as the final
ceasefire lines in Jerusalem. And the area between them became
No-Man’s Land — in Hebrew, shetah hahefker.
Forty years ago this month, Jerusalem was reunited. Celebrate
with a walk along a portion of the former No-Man’s Land that begins and
ends where new and old Jerusalem meet: IDF Square (Kikar
If you stand on the steps leading to the modern Municipality
you will be facing the Old City of Jerusalem, whose walls were built
by Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. The building behind
it is a Franciscan school, College Freres, erected on the base
of a tower named for Goliath because of an early (and quite impossible)
tradition that this is where David placed Goliath’s head after their
During Israel’s Kilshon (pitchfork) Campaign immediately after
the British evacuated Jerusalem on May 14, 1948, bitter battles raged
around this square. They ended with Israeli control of the area
up to the city wall, which remained in Jordanian hands. On the night
of May 18, Lehi forces made an unsuccessful attempt to break through the
wall next to the square with 250 kilograms worth
Fix your gaze on the rounded facade of a building near the
steps. Actually the backside of the original Jerusalem municipal
building that was erected in 1930, the structure is marred by jagged
holes made by Jordanian bullets from 1948-1967. Despite the danger,
Jerusalem’s mayors consistently refused to move City Hall to a safer
Cross the street and begin your descent down Paratroopers’ Way.
On your left, you will see the French Hospital of St. Louis. The
hospital was founded in the mid-19th century inside the Old City by the
Sisters of Saint Joseph. But when French count Marie Paul A. de Piellat
visited the hospital in 1874 he was appalled by its unsanitary
conditions and in 1881 established this stunning, modern facility
outside the walls.
Eight years after his previous visit, Count de Piellat returned
to the Holy City. This time he brought with him a thousand French
Catholic pilgrims, a group organized by the Assumptionist Order that
pioneered penitential pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Pilgrims disembarked
at Haifa Port and, lugging an enormous wooden cross on their shoulders,
they walked all the way to Jerusalem. Since there weren’t enough
lodgings in the city to accommodate so many people, the pilgrims made
do with tents erected on a plot owned by the Count next to the French
During their visit they couldn’t help but notice that the
nearby Russian Compound, with its magnificent buildings, had
an unobstructed view of the Old City. As soon as the pilgrims returned
to France they took up a collection, and in 1884 construction began
on the enormous Notre Dame Monastery and Guesthouse you see before you.
The French Consul was present at the groundbreaking ceremonies, turning
this into a national enterprise which, coincidentally, blocked the
Russian view. Called Notre Dame de France, this was the largest single
building constructed in Jerusalem before World War I and could house
1,600 pilgrims in its 410 rooms. It was run by Assumptionist
After the division of Jerusalem, far fewer pilgrims were
in need of lodgings. The Assumptionist Fathers offered it to the Hebrew
University but later, at the request of the Pope, Israel handed
ownership over to the Vatican in return for enough money to build the
student dormitories known as shikunei ha’elef. Since it was no longer
under French ownership, Notre Dame de France became Notre Dame
Directly across from the French ’compound’ stands an unadorned
gate — the only opening in the walls that was not built or restored
by Suleiman. In 1889 French Catholic clergy asked reigning sultan Abdul
Hamid II to create a new entrance into the Old City so that it would
be easier to pass between Notre Dame and the Christian Quarter. During
the 19 years of the city’s division, New Gate was blocked up and the
Jordanian ’New Gate Outpost’ was established on top.
Look for Ayin Het Street, on the other side of the road. The
letter Ayin in Hebrew corresponds to the number 70 while Het is eight —
and refers to the 1948 Arab massacre of 78 Israelis traveling
in a convoy to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. It was on the stone
floor of a house on this street that Moshe Dayan held the fateful
meeting with Abdallah a-Tal.
The jammed parking lot on your left, at the curve in the road,
was part of No-Man’s Land until 1967. Almost immediately after the war,
Arab farmers set up stands here to sell freshly grown watermelons.
Jewish Jerusalemites, including hubby and myself, were among their best
Cross the street and walk next to the tunnel running under IDF
Square. The main road is known locally as Highway One but at different
points has other names: Peace Road, Engineering Corps Road and Haim Bar
Lev Boulevard. Hard to believe that for 19 years it was just a field
filled with barbed wire, refuse and mines! When you reach the next
intersection look right to see a mosque called Sa’id and Sa’ad, built
at the end of the 19th century and named for two very early Moslems.
Nearby, the large, bland East Jerusalem YMCA is currently undergoing
You are now on the edge of Musrara/Morasha, a neighborhood
of poverty-stricken new immigrants from North Africa which bordered
No-Man’s Land. Many of these hapless new arrivals lived in the ugly
concrete building on your left called shikun mefunim or ’evacuees’
block’. As you can see, the structure was constructed like a fortress
and built hastily out of concrete instead of the lovely Jerusalem stone
required by city regulations. Note the tiny windows, which made
it difficult for Jordanian snipers to hit the inhabitants. Firing ports
under the roof were manned, when necessary, by the IDF. Despite massive
restoration of Musrara, this 1960s slum hasn’t changed for the
Down the street, stunning Turjeman House was built in 1932 by a
Christian Arab architect. During the War of Independence it was taken
over by the IDF, and remained an Israeli position until the Six Day War.
Afterwards, although badly damaged, it was transformed into a museum
dedicated to the unification of Jerusalem.
A change occurred in the 1990s, and Turjeman House is now the
Museum on the Seam. Changing exhibits relate to social dilemmas,
dialogue, and coexistence (just now, the theme is ’Equal and Less
Equal’). If you plan to visit, call first (6381278), as you need
a guided tour to get the most out of the unusual displays.
Walk down the street a few dozen meters to reach the once
lovely building, sometimes called Mandelbaum Gate, that served as the
Israeli checkpoint for people and convoys passing into Jordan. After the
Six Day War Israel’s Labor Court was housed here; more recently, it was
turned into a yeshiva.
A sundial in the center of the highway marks the actual plaza
on which people crossed from Jordan to Israel and back. In 1927 Rabbi
Simha Mandelbaum built a gorgeous house here, but it was blown up by the
Arab Legion during the War of Independence. It was this former
residence that gave Mandelbaum Crossing its name (the Arabs called
it Sa’ad and Sa’id Crossing — like the mosque).
Across the road stood huts occupied by soldiers
of Jordan’s Arab Legion. Further on, a building with red rafters housed
the Mixed Armistice Commission and continues to be occupied by the
UN (look for the flag flying over the rooftop).
Remember the College Freres across from Kikar Tzahal? Young
boys playing in the schoolyard often kicked soccer balls into
No-Man’s Land. In December of 1965, Israel was asked to return several
dozen balls to the school as a Christmas gift. Israel immediately
agreed, and, as UN officials looked on, an Israeli officer marched
through the minefields of No-Man’s Land while Jordanian soldiers called
’go left’ or ’go right’ to keep him from stepping on a mine! Two days
after Christmas, 28 balls were handed over to the school at a jubilant
celebration inside the UN building across the road.
Complete your jaunt by backtracking to Rehov Shivtei Yisrael.
Pass the Romanian Patriarchate and Church (left), the Italian
Hospital/Education Ministry (right) and cross the intersection to reach
a beautifully restored edifice at No. 23. Although as yet there
is no sign on the gate, this is Israeli headquarters for a non-profit
international Spanish organization called Remar. Established 25 years
ago by a reformed Spanish gambler to aid society’s rejects, Remar works
with drug addicts and alcoholics in 59 different countries. Here
in Israel Remar has a different goal, however: It hopes to create
a cultural and spiritual bridge between the Spanish people and the
Jewish nation. To this end, Remar brings large groups of pilgrims
to Israel every year.
Last month Remar opened this handsome structure
as a guesthouse. The building, with a Star of David on its faade and
biblical passages on the dining room walls, contains six modern,
charmingly decorated and very special guest rooms. Walk inside for
a look at this lovely new addition to the Jerusalem scene, and climb
to the rooftop for a great view of the Old City. For more information,
call 077-344-3370. A few dozen more meters — and you are back at Kikar
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