When a divided Jerusalem became whole

The war, not of our making, was sparked on April 7, 1967, when the Syrians opened fire on Israeli tractors working near Kibbutz Ha’on, east of the Sea of Galilee.

By
June 4, 2016 22:17
4 minute read.
Yitzhak Rabin (R), Moshe Dayan (C), and Uzi Narkiss

Photo taken in June 1967 in Jerusalem shows the chief-of-staff of the Israeli army, Yitzhak Rabin (R), Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (C), and GOC Central Command Uzi Narkiss during the Six-Day War. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

This Jerusalem Day will be very special. Falling on Iyar 28 (Sunday, June 5), it will mark 48 years since the fateful day when the divided city, torn in two by Jordanian occupation, finally became reunited. Today, the names of terrible battle sites are now just part of our suburban daily vocabulary – French Hill, Ammunition Hill, Government House – but back in 1967 these were the places where armies were pitted against each other in deadly battle. We didn’t have Ramat Eshkol then; the hilltops of Gilo were barren and windswept. The brave Israeli army fought to win territory to the north and the south, until only the walled Old City was still in Jordanian hands.

The war, not of our making, was sparked on April 7, 1967, when the Syrians opened fire on Israeli tractors working near Kibbutz Ha’on, east of the Sea of Galilee. The IDF returned fire, so the Syrians began shelling settlements.

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IAF jets were sent to destroy their artillery batteries. Then Syrian MIGs were sent to intercept them, resulting in dogfights above Kibbutz Shamir. Eventually six Syrian planes were downed.

Syria then demanded that Egypt issue a response, which posed a dilemma for president Gamal Abdel Nasser. To prod him, Syria announced that Israel was amassing forces on the northern border, which was untrue, but to protect his honor and status in the Arab world, Nasser sent massive forces to Sinai on May 14. War was inevitable.

Israel had to call up its reserves as all UN troops had left the Sinai and Gaza. Volunteers swarmed to help with transportation, distributing food and preparing bomb shelters, helping in factories and kibbutzim. When faced with a common enemy, Israelis bonded as they had always done. But at the front, 300,000 of our soldiers were now deployed along the Egyptian border waiting for the Cabinet to make a decision.

There were frequent meetings between prime minister Levi Eshkol and chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, who said that the IDF was strong and could repel any Arab attack. There were messages from US president Lyndon Johnson calling (as is always the case!) for Israel “to show restraint.” Egypt was also asked not to escalate the situation. Prime minister Eshkol announced that Israel did not seek war, to no avail. The Egyptians closed the Tiran Straits – an overt act of war. On June 5, the war started. Miraculously, 200 IAF jets destroyed the entire air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. 374 planes were destroyed on the ground and the rest in dogfights. Israel had complete aerial supremacy during the six days of battle.

On the ground, the IDF entered Sinai in three columns. Then Jordan started shelling Jerusalem, firing day and night and causing many casualties, while Syrian jets raided Haifa Bay and northern settlements.

On June 6, our paratroopers surrounded the Old City and at 10 a.m. on June 7, they broke through the Lion Gate, liberating the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Gen. Motta Gur stood near the Wall, announcing on the radio: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” After hours of fierce battles, the sweaty and weary paratroopers burst into tears.

According to Mordechai Rechschafner, a volunteer from Australia: “There was no sense of jubilation. We had lost too many friends. We had paid for our victory with blood and sacrifice.” When Maj.-Gen. Shlomo Goren, the chief military rabbi, arrived at the Western Wall, he blew a resounding blast on the shofar, and said a prayer: “This is the day we have been yearning for. Let us rejoice in it!” The Six Day War ended two days later, after Israel conquered the Tiran Straits, seized Egyptian army bases and airfields in Sinai, and captured the fortified Syrian posts. When the Golan Heights were conquered, the war had ended.

There was both great euphoria, and there was terrible sadness at the toll which had been exacted. Jerusalem was the focus of the greatest celebration. All day the radio played Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” – “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.” It became a victory anthem.

It was three years later that I arrived with my husband and four children in Jerusalem. Forty-five years have passed, and my love for the city has deepened every day. There were hard times, and heartache when all four of our children served in the army. Our son was a paratrooper in Lebanon; we questioned whether we had made the right decision in bringing them from the safety of their birthplace Australia. Now most of their children have served in the army or are soon to be inducted, but none of them has ever felt we made a wrong decision. They grew up in Jerusalem and realized as we did that it was special. Our feet trod the stones that King David danced on. We prayed at the Western Wall where the Holy Presence, the Shechina, still lingers. We walked where kings and conquerors and priests and soldiers and holy men have walked for thousands of years, century after century. Every day we bathed in the unique quality of golden light that artists have striven to capture.

Each neighborhood in Jerusalem is different. Quiet alleyways that wander at random; bustling markets filled with the color and spicy smell of the Middle East; walled courtyards softened with a glimpse of greenery. So ancient and yet also a modern metropolis where people work and play and shop and drive and argue and make love.

Jerusalem is holy sites where prayers are whispered and blessings invoked.

Quiet hills silhouetted with pine trees.

Graveyards for the old and military cemeteries for the young. It is parks where children laugh and dimpled babies are wheeled in prams.

This Jerusalem Day, as I have for more than four decades, I will thank God for the privilege of living here and pray “for the peace of Jerusalem” forever more.


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