On one of the many days he spent studying the visitors’ book at Ammunition Hill, a sentence haunted Chaim Noy’s eyes, and later became the title of his research book on commemorative texts in Jerusalem.“Thank you for dying for our country,” was the moving message written by a visitor.Noy is a professor in Ashkelon Academic College’s tourism studies department.
From 2004 to 2010, he repeatedly visited the site that symbolizes the Six Day War battle that enabled the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem, a city divided since 1948 – and the event celebrated on Jerusalem Day.In his tome, Thank You for Dying for Our Country: Commemorative Texts and Performances in Jerusalem, Noy shifts his focus from the site to the visitors’ book – which was, until recently (due to extensive renovations) on display at the center of a special room, shadowed and windowless, creating a special atmosphere strongly reminiscent of a shrine.The beautifully bound’ book reveals some of the most interesting expressions of visiting tourists and locals – students, soldiers, veterans and families of fallen soldiers, as well as Arab visitors (mostly from Jordan) and haredim (the site has, over the years, become surrounded by an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, while bordered in the east by Palestinian houses there from before the war). Among the writings in the books (they are replaced once a year and kept in a safe), a wide range of reactions can be seen from young haredim; some praise those who choose not participate in war, while others note their respect.Today the official site for the ceremonies marking the 1967 war, the site was not created by a government or IDF decision in 1974, but rather emerged from the needs of a group of veterans paratroopers (who fought the battle of Jerusalem) and the families of the 37 fallen soldiers of Ammunition Hill. For many years, it was a modest place with a very secular character; this is now changing, together with the change in composition that Noy observed among the visitors. The site is also used by schools as a suitable location for distribution of ID cards to junior high school students, as well as a landmark in visits to the capital by younger pupils from across the country.Noy says that the largest portion of writings in the visitors’ book involves thanks to the soldiers who gave their lives “so that we can live here in security.”One of his most interesting observations is that when families visit, it is often the mother (or sometimes, both parents) who decide what should be written; yet most often, it is the younger generation’s job to put to paper the words the family has agreed upon.“It is taken as a serious and responsible matter,” Noy notes, concluding that the site was designed to induce the appropriate feelings that should be raised at a national site – respect, identification with the soldiers, commemoration – and it seems it does work.Once a rather personal initiative of the paratroopers and the fallen families to commemorate their own soldiers, it is today a typical national site, from which ceremonies commemorating the Six Day War are launched every year.