A monumental experience

Look closely as you walk around the city and you will see a number of war memorials you have never noticed before.

In memory of the 572 soldiers from the Etzioni Brigade (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
In memory of the 572 soldiers from the Etzioni Brigade
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
It’s right there in plain sight, near the bottom of Mount Zion and diagonally opposite the Sultan’s Pool. Yet few people know why the smooth rock sprawling on the slopes is inscribed with the name “Avshalom Sela.”
Between 1948 and 1967, the Old City was in Jordanian hands – but Israel held Mount Zion. To keep a foothold on their side of the border, Israeli forces regularly patrolled the road between the Old City walls and the Greek Orthodox Seminary on the mountain. On July 4, 1962, in one of many incidents that the Jordanian army labeled a “momentary craziness,” one of its men shot and killed the patrol’s commander, Capt. Avshalom Sela. Following his death, the army halted its patrols on this path.
The rock is an andarta, a word lifted from the Talmud (where it appears in reference to idols); in modern-day usage, it refers to a structure or outdoor sculpture that commemorates important people and events.
Having been the site of many gruesome battles, Jerusalem abounds in memorial sites and monuments. Some, like the Rock of Absalom, are familiar only to people in the know. Many another andarta has been forgotten. And even if it is along a main road, people often pass right by without noticing these reminders of what we lost while gaining a country and liberating a city.
Until I began preparing this article, I had no idea there were so many memorials – and that they were so diverse. As a result, quite a few will have to wait for another article.
Directly across from the Givat Hamivtar light rail station, on a little hill, a well-kept but lonely park houses three memorial plaques and a Jordanian bunker.
One large plaque is dedicated to 38 fallen soldiers of the Harel Armored Brigade, which fought to liberate Jerusalem during the Six Day War. Two others name 11 soldiers from the brigade’s 106th Unit. They fell on June 6, 1967, in the battles for Givat Hamivtar and Tel el-Ful – strategically located hills that were part of a heavily fortified ring of northern Arab suburbs. The unit had faced nearly three dozen Jordanian tanks on Tel el-Ful, known in the Bible as the city of Gibeah – King Saul’s probable birthplace and, for over three decades, the site of the monarch’s court.
A few years before the battles there, Jordan’s King Hussein had decided to build a palace atop Tel el-Ful.
Construction had begun and a frame was already in place when the Six Day War brought the area into Israel.
Historical note: Half a century before the Six Day War, at the tail end of World War I, Tel el-Ful was the site of another gory skirmish. Jerusalem had been under Turkish rule for 400 years, finally surrendering to the British on December 9, 1917. Two weeks later, in a last-ditch effort to retake the city, Turkish troops launched a surprise attack – that was blocked at Tel el-Ful (translated literally as “Hill of Beans”).SHALHEVET MEMORIAL IN BLOOMFIELD PARK
During the War of Independence, 572 soldiers from the Etzioni Brigade who fought in Jerusalem and its environs fell in the line of duty. The Etzioni Brigade, also known as the Jerusalem Brigade and the Sixth Brigade, was founded in late 1947 as the Field Corps Unit responsible for the defense of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
A brilliant andarta in the soldiers’ memory stands inside Bloomfield Park, located on King David Street beneath Yemin Moshe and stretching to the fabulous HISTORICAL WALKS A monumental experience Look closely as you walk around the city and you will see a number of war memorials you have never noticed before In memory of the 572 soldiers from the Etzioni Brigade who fell in the lines of duty while fighting in Jerusalem and its environs.
These rocks on Gmul Street bear the names of two young men killed nearby during the Six Day War.
The memorial, somewhat overshadowed by the lions, is called Shalhevet Etzioni – Etzioni Flame – and features flame-colored tongues reaching to the sky.
If you look – hard – along Gmul Street, you may see two memorial stones on the ground. They are leaning against a wire fence on this tiny road, off Shmuel Hanavi Street and directly across from what was the border with Jordan until 1967 – a neighborhood that suffered constantly from enemy shells.
The rocks bear the names of two young men killed nearby during the Six Day War. Born in Eastern Europe in 1944, Hanan Bloch immigrated to Israel at the age of 14 and settled on Kibbutz Ein Shemer. He served as a paratrooper in the army, returned to the kibbutz, and had just begun long-term plans with one of the settlement’s young women when, at the age of 23, he was called back into the reserves prior to the war.
Paratrooper Hanan Levine, born in Tel Aviv, was 21 and had finished his army service not long before he was recalled to his unit in preparation for the coming war. Both young men died on its second day, June 6, 1967, during fierce battles for Jerusalem.
1) Nizkor Way back in the 1960s, a tall (18-meter-high) and heavy (70-ton) andarta appeared on the enormous plaza that was, at one time, in front of the Jerusalem International Convention Center. It was a roughly hewn stone sculpture, topped with clearly carved letters spelling out one word: Nizkor – “We will remember.”
The base held the following inscription, in Hebrew: “Israel will remember the heroes who fell liberating Jerusalem. We will remember the steadfast heroism and dedication of Jerusalem residents, defenders and soldiers during the war and siege of 1948.”
This striking andarta was never used during memorial ceremonies, and although it stood alone on the plaza, few paid much attention. Some 46 years after its installation, the sculpture was removed.
Then a cornerstone was laid at the site, which will one day become the underground terminal for high-speed trains entering Jerusalem. Today the sculpture stands in a park, against the backdrop of the Supreme Court.
2) Gan Harel (Harel Park) Jerusalem’s newest memorial site is across the road from the Nizkor andarta. A circular (wheel chair accessible) structure with grass in the middle, it is dedicated to the Harel Brigade and offers a splendid view of the red-roofed Nahlaot neighborhood.
Although it sits along a main road and is clearly visible, the plaque on Hanevi’im Street is dwarfed by the massive Education Ministry building and Italian Hospital behind it. Inscribed on the plaque are the names of three soldiers from wildly diverse backgrounds who fought in the 62nd Battalion’s Mortars Platoon.
Jerusalem-born Elhanan (Hanan) Geva, 32, fell on the first day of the Six Day War; Iranian-born Yehuda (Dudu) Binyamini, 23, on the second; and Hungarian-born Ya’akov-Mordecai (Yankele) Shahar, 27, on the third. All three were killed by massive Jordanian fire near the Italian Hospital, not far from where the memorial is now.
Almost immediately after conquering the Old City of Jerusalem, paratroopers who had participated in the battle piled some rocks up along Jericho Road – outside the Lions’ Gate – and planted a flag in the ground. It was their way of honoring the memory of their fallen comrades, killed on that same road when soldiers made a fatal navigational mistake.
Once Israeli troops had conquered the Jordanian outpost at the Rockefeller Museum, two large obstacles remained: the Old City, and the well-fortified Augusta Victoria complex on the Mount of Olives, which offered a clear view of the Temple Mount below.
Soldiers heading for the Mount of Olives missed the turn onto the ascent and instead descended along Jericho Road. Unfortunately, from their position on the road, they couldn’t see the Jordanian troops standing at the ready atop the Old City walls. Thus Israeli soldiers were hit – hard – when they reached the curve in the road which serves as a bridge above the Kidron Valley. A savage battle raged on the bridge when Israeli troops were called in to extract their comrades.
The impromptu andarta, an emotional sight for some years, has been moved from its original site to its permanent home across from the ascent to the Lions’ Gate. Replacing the rocks is a sculpted eagle with one wing reaching to the sky. The second, shattered wing tilts sadly toward the earth.
One of the bloodiest battles of the 1948 war took place at the San Simon Monastery in Katamon. An andarta there commemorating the soldiers who fell in battle consists of a raised plaza next to a wall carved out of Jerusalem stone. Etched into a dark metal slab in the center are the names of 18 men, along with the words: “They left behind their lives, but not their courage.”
What makes this andarta unique is the story of the Battle for San Simon, recounted on metal plaques and by author/songwriter Haim Gouri.
Heavily fortified, the monastery was the base from which well-equipped local and Iraqi forces controlled southern Jerusalem, and its conquest was crucial to the Israeli victory in 1948. But the fighting that took place on April 29 and 30 was horrendous, and by the second day, only 20 men were left alive and well enough to fight. Yet these men were filled with an immense and desperate courage – and won.
Hugging the guard booth for the now-defunct American Consulate on Nablus Road, a plaza holds a monument to 25 paratroopers from the 28th Battalion who were killed in action nearby during the Six Day War.
Although it stands close to historic remains of Jerusalem’s Third Wall – dating back 2,000 years – its location in east Jerusalem makes it one of the least visited, and least known, commemorative monuments in the city.
There is a second memorial wall on the opposite side of the plaza. Who would have thought, in those heady moments when this monument was first erected, that there would be a need for a newer wall inscribed with the names of soldiers from the battalion who fell in the country’s wars after 1967?