After 30 years of neglect, the Ammunition Hill Memorial Site revealed a new Memorial Hall, the first part of its multi-million dollar makeover on Sunday, Jerusalem Day, the celebration over the reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War.
Ammunition Hill was the site of a battle waged by the Paratroopers’ Brigade during the war. The outpost’s bunkers and trenches, which made the battle so difficult to win, still criss-cross the hill and have long served as a destination for school children and tourists, learning about the battle over Jerusalem.
The site, viewed by many as symbolic of the city’s reunification, remained in need of renovation for more than 30 years and was almost closed down due to lack of funds.
It was then classified as a “national heritage site,” which paved the way for plans to preserve and renovate the site.
On Jerusalem Day two years ago, the Knesset held a meeting at Ammunition Hill, approving the plans to open the hall, amphitheater and museum, and to restore the trenches.
The whole project cost NIS 20 million, 25 percent of which is being funded by the Jewish National Fund-USA. The trenches are slated to be restored by next Jerusalem Day and the museum is slated for two years from now, also to be opened on Jerusalem Day.
Bruce K. Gould, a member of the JNF-USA’s National Board and a major benefactor of the Memorial Hall and amphitheater, said Ammunition Hill represents Jerusalem and the reunification that took place in 1967.
“[Jerusalem] should always be one city and should never be separated again. I think this symbolizes the struggle over 3,000 years to make Jerusalem whole,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the families of the fallen, Alon Wald, son of Capt. Rami Wald who fell in Jerusalem during the war, said “the legacy of my father and his comrades in arms, the liberators of Jerusalem, are now more accessible and relevant than ever before, thanks to the opportunities that this complex enables.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the hall on Sunday evening and said “we will remember each and every one of them forever,” referring to the fallen soldiers.
The Memorial Hall includes pictures of all 182 soldiers who fell in Jerusalem during the Six Day War.
The pictures show the men out of uniform, with their families and friends, riding bikes and playing with their pets. The hall also features display shelves with personal effects from the soldiers, including books, personal documents and photos.
Russell Robinson, CEO of JNFUSA, said they wanted to create a place not only to commemorate the men as soldiers, but to tell the stories of their lives and celebrate those lives.
Katri Maoz, director-general of the Ammunition Hill site, said it took time before the soldiers who had fought on the hill recognized the national importance of the site, beyond their personal stories.
Once they recognized its importance, the government was also able to prioritize the cultivation of a place that “represents the values of the nation of Israel,” Maoz said.
On the issue of the city of Jerusalem and the question of dividing it or not, Maoz said he believes “we will find a way to live together in this city, Jew and Arab together, everyone with their own beliefs.”
The museum will have Arabic explanations, Maoz said, as it is a memorial for everyone.
Maoz told The Jerusalem Post that some 20 years ago, Jordanian soldiers who had fought in the battle on Ammunition Hill came to the site and met with Israeli soldiers who had been in the same battle.
He said “it was a touching meeting that was also very tense” and one that led to deep respect. Maoz told the story of Jordanian soldiers who were buried by the IDF during the battle. The Israeli soldiers planted a sign noting the grave site of “the brave Jordanian soldiers.”
Maoz also pointed out that every Jordanian general visiting Israel comes to the site to pay their respects. He further related that the Jordanians invited a delegation of Israelis to advise them on how to build a memorial for their fallen.
The museum, Maoz said, will be the first in Israel to tell the whole story of a war. It will tell a chronological tale of the Six Day War and will allow visitors to better understand what happened during those days.
The Memorial Hall unveiling ceremony was attended by Gould, the major benefactor of the project, and was dedicated in honor of his parents, Jean and Norman Gould, who also attended.