What did you do in the war?

Former paratrooper Yoav Nardi recalls the details of the part he and his unit played in the Six Day War.

Yoav Nardi (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yoav Nardi
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yoav Nardi's spartan offices are decorated with pictures of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, taken in the hours and days after the paratroop force he fought with liberated Jerusalem. His memories of those times, however, do not reside within those images, nor are they a product of them. Nardi, 64, the deputy managing director of the Bank of Jerusalem, remembers every day, hour and minute of the six days that changed the course of this nation's history. His brigade had been due to parachute into the Sinai when war broke out on June 6, 1967; but at the last moment, they received the order to head for Jerusalem, where they would take part in perhaps the most iconic battle of the Six Day War, Ammunition Hill. "We were supposed to drop over El Arish," recalls Nardi, who fought in the war as a young reservist. "We had been briefed, we had received our parachutes, but after everything was ready, we were told that we were to go to Jerusalem instead. The war began on Monday morning, and that order was given at 8 o'clock on Monday evening." Nardi's personal history is intertwined with the modern history of the State of Israel and in particular with that of the city of Jerusalem. He was born in 1944 at Hadassah-University Hospital on Mount Scopus and grew up in Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, some 15 kilometers west of Jerusalem. During the War of Independence, as the fighting drew closer, the kibbutz children were evacuated to the Katamon neighborhood. Years later, during his military service, Nardi would return to the city twice to serve on the Jerusalem Line - a series of armed positions along the seam with the East of the city, facing the Jordanian legions in Abu Tor, ready to defend against a possible attack. So when the order came to take Ammunition Hill, Nardi found himself on "home ground," as he puts it. "When they changed our mission and told us we were going to Jerusalem, that moved me because it was as if I was headed home. It wouldn't have been the same if we had fought in El Arish. To fight from home is very strange - you leave your house, and you're on the frontline. It was like when we held the Jerusalem Line, only then we didn't fight," he says. "I was in the company charged with breaking through into Ammunition Hill. At about five in the morning on the Tuesday, we headed by bus from Beit Hakerem to Bar-Ilan, and from there on foot to the last house before the border in Shmuel Hanavi, and from there, opposite the Police School, we went out to war. The shooting started at about 2 o'clock. It was pretty scary; you went out of the house and into the war." Nardi's unit provided cover fire for the force that went over the defenses that separated the Israeli side and the Jordanian side. When the fighting started inside Ammunition Hill, the unit got separated from its platoon. As he and his colleagues didn't have a mission, they took it upon themselves to start evacuating the wounded to a medical station about 200 meters behind the frontline. "I think the whole battle lasted about three or four hours. We lost about 30 men and had 80 wounded from just one battalion - that's a lot. The Jordanians dug in well and fought hard," Nardi says with a combatant's respect for a bitter enemy. That night, the 66th Battalion slept at the Ambassador Hotel after being replaced in its positions on Ammunition Hill. On Wednesday morning, they marched up to Mount Scopus, on to Augusta Victoria and from there to the Western Wall. On the way, Nardi's platoon commander was shot in the head, perhaps the victim of a Jordanian sniper, perhaps the victim of friendly fire. "When we reached Augusta Victoria, we looked over the view of Jerusalem. It was a sight that until then we had only seen in books or in our imagination. From there we went down into the Old City via the Jaffa Gate, perhaps half an hour after the first troops went in. We went straight to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. I'm not a religious person, but as a child I always heard about the Kotel. For me it was less of a religious thing but more something that was connected to Jewish history. But people were very excited, very emotional, especially the religious people." A couple of hours after the troops reached the Western Wall, chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, defense minister Moshe Dayan and chief rabbi Shlomo Goren arrived there. By the wall Rabbi Goren put up a sign marked "Synagogue," Nardi recalls. That was the end of the fighting for Nardi and his unit. The following day, they patrolled the Old City. They spent the night at the Eye Hospital on Sheikh Jarrah and on Friday were given a mission in the Golan Heights. But by the time they reached the Golan on Saturday morning, they were told they weren't needed. On Sunday Nardi and his unit headed back to Jerusalem via the Jordan Valley and Jericho. On Monday they were discharged from reserve duty near Augusta Victoria. To mark the end of the war, they held a ceremony on the Temple Mount. "There was a feeling that it was the last war we would have to fight. The victory was so swift, we thought we wouldn't have to fight again," says Nardi. But that was not to be. Nardi was to serve on the Bar-Lev line in the War of Attrition, take part in the Yom Kippur War and, at the age of 38, in the Lebanon War. In total, he put in more than three years of reserve duty, in addition to the two-and-a-half years that was the duration of compulsory service at the time. After all he has been through, would he be willing to see a divided Jerusalem? Nardi's answer at first seems definitive but then sways into uncertainty. "Jerusalem is divided, yet we refuse to recognize that," he says. "I often ask myself is it good or bad that we liberated Jerusalem, but I don't have an answer to that question. It isn't as though if we hadn't captured Jerusalem there would have been peace; after all, the Arabs had an appetite to return to Israel even before 1967. Even if the politicians had made good use of what they received, it isn't at all certain that the other side was ready for an agreement. But once they started setting up settlements, then it is no longer certain that an agreement is possible. Everything is possible, but it all depends on the price. I don't know how you can divide the city formally; everywhere a wall has been built, it has been brought down."