Honoring the man behind the war

With ‘In Our Hands,’ a film about the battle for Jerusalem during the Six Day War, Arik Achmon discusses the sacrifices he and his comrades made in order for Israel to survive.

From left: a still of present-day Arik Achmon from the movie ‘In Our Hands’; Achmon in uniform during the Six Day War; Idan Barkai, the actor who plays him (photo credit: CBN,Courtesy)
From left: a still of present-day Arik Achmon from the movie ‘In Our Hands’; Achmon in uniform during the Six Day War; Idan Barkai, the actor who plays him
(photo credit: CBN,Courtesy)
Knowing the ins and outs of a historic battle requires far more than analyzing the tactical plans and circumstances surrounding the event.
A deep, intimate account of the major players are really required to properly understand the event in question.
Arik Achmon, now a colonel in the reserves, served as a major in the war under then-Col. Mordechai “Motta” Gur during the Six Day War. In the docudrama In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem, he provides the crucial historical context behind Israel’s victory.
The film, which was produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and premiered this week across the United States, follows the 55th Paratroop Brigade’s liberation of Jerusalem from Jordanian control. After grossing an impressive $1.6 million during its Fathom Events screening across the country, the film will be shown again across the US on June 6.
The details about that battle may be a bit hazy for young Israelis today who were born long after the historic events of that week unfolded, but for many of us, the words “The Temple Mount is in our hands” are forever emblazoned in our memories.
“For me, it’s a great honor to have participated in this historic battle, together with my commander, Motta Gur. The two of us were the first Israeli soldiers who got to the Temple Mount,” Achmon, now 84, told The Jerusalem Post.
As a man with zero intelligence experience, Achmon recalls in the film (and our interview) his unlikely appointment as Gur’s intelligence officer and right-hand man responsible for sussing out the Egyptian forces in preparation for a battle in Sinai.
“I didn’t understand what he wanted from me. I had no experience. He said, ‘I want an experienced commander who can think a little,’” Achmon recalled of the man whom he served under for five years.
Achmon may not be a household name among Israelis, but his service was integral to the success of the operation.
“I think one of the great heroes, you don’t hear his name a lot, was Arik Achmon; he was the intelligence officer; he put together the battle plan. And that was the plan they executed. And he literally had hours to put that plan together,” CBN CEO Gordon Robertson told AIPAC this year.
When Gur died in 1995, Achmon spoke at his funeral as the representative of all the soldiers who proudly fought alongside him.
Achmon is not one to lavish undeserved praise on anyone, but when speaking of Gur, it is clear that he believes Israel lost a great man.
“He was not a regular commander, he was a special one. I believe that if the curse [of cancer] hadn’t taken him, he could have been the prime minister of Israel,” he said. “I miss him very much.”
In the movie, Sharon Friedman and Idan Barkai bring Gur’s and Achmon’s characters to life.
“I didn’t get a chance to interview [Achmon] before the shoot. I did not have a chance to meet him,” Barkai admits, saying he relied on his own research. “You can try to imitate [Achmon] or you can try to focus on his motives and the difficulties he faced. As an actor, I believe in the second way.”
For the role, Barkai latched onto Achmon’s sense of duty above all else.
“If I were in that situation, I would much prefer being a student,” Barkai said of Achmon’s status as a student at the Hebrew University during the war.
“But sometimes duty calls. Especially back then. It was a matter of survival. Now it’s more about maintaining order. Back then, you felt just living here meant you were on a mission.”
The mission was a costly one. And today, 50 years later, Achmon seems more concerned about the men who fell and the consequences than about the victory of that momentous day.
“The significance of today is remembering my friends who fell, my closest friends. It’s very sad for me,” he said during our phone interview, which took place on Jerusalem Day.
Categorizing himself as left of center, Achmon has lost confidence in a government that, in his view, hasn’t done much of anything to further the peace process.
“I believe in the two-state solution for two peoples,” he said.
It is ironic, though, that the land he fought so hard for, decades ago, he’d be willing to give up if it ensured Israel’s survival.
“I think that Jerusalem belongs to us, but the majority-Arab sites, they can have it. I don’t believe in a united Jerusalem. After 50 years, Jerusalem is still divided, so let it be,” he said wearily.
And it is Israel’s sovereignty that is of utmost significant for the veteran, who fought in five Israeli wars.
“It’s hard for me to talk about myself; but to talk about my missions, my fighting for Israel, I’m happy to talk about my fight for this country,” he said, saying it felt natural to open up to director Erin Zimmerman during their discussion.
As such, although Achmon’s faith in the current leadership is nonexistent, he is a firm believer in the future of Israel, despite its constant state of conflict.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the Jewish genius. I’m a big believer in us.”
■ For more information, visit www.inourhands1967.com.