A walk by the walls

Rehov Hatzanhanim is short but full of gems - some dating back to the Crusader era.

old city jerusalem 88 29 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
old city jerusalem 88 29
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On June 7, 1967, in the middle of the Six Day War, east and west Jerusalem were reunited. When the Israeli flag was proudly raised above the Western Wall, some of the battle-weary paratroopers who had fought to regain the Old City from Jordanian control were overcome with emotion and burst into tears. Army Chief Chaplain Shlomo Goren blew the shofar as in the days of old. He recited hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and prayed, in a whisper, for those who had died to make that historic day possible.
A very short but very important byway in Jerusalem is named for the army unit that played a major role in reuniting the Holy City. Called Rehov Hatzanhanim (Paratroopers' Road), it begins at Kikar Tzahal and ends just below Rehov Ha'ayin Het - where it swerves sharply away from the walls and gets a new name.
To explore this area, stand next to the traffic light at Kikar Tzahal, originally called Edmund Allenby Square. During the British Mandate, before Israel became a state, it was named for the British general who conquered the Land of Israel in 1917.
From 1924 and until the mid-1930s, a clock tower rose above the square. Presented by the people of Jerusalem in honor of the Turkish sultan in 1907, it was erected on top of Jaffa Gate. But 13 years later, British preservation fanatic Ronald Storrs was appointed governor of Jerusalem. Passionate about holding on to the unique character of Jerusalem, he moved the clock tower, which he felt marred the look of Jaffa Gate, to Allenby (Tzahal) Square.
Now cross the street to the Corob Gardens, a lovely park next to the Old City walls. You will find the long base of a Crusader tower along much of this northwestern corner. Most of the tower is located inside the walls, underneath a Catholic school and guesthouse. But what you see outside the walls is impressive, for the tower was 35 sq.m. and built out of huge rocks.
Although there is no foundation for this tradition, some believe that David placed Goliath's head here after their battle and call this Goliath's Tower. Others have named it Tancred's Tower after the Crusader commander who camped here before attacking the city from this direction on July 15, 1099. Tancred promised amnesty for the tens of thousands of men, women and children left in Jerusalem. However, despite his pledge, the Muslims were ruthlessly slaughtered and the Jews burned alive.
The attractive little park hosts two other major archeological findings: a defensive moat that predates the Crusaders, and an aqueduct that brought water into the city.
NOW BEGIN descending the temporary walkway next to the walls. The striking building across the road on your left is the French Hospital of St. Louis, founded in the mid-19th century by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The hospital was originally located inside the city. But it operated under appallingly unsanitary conditions and in 1874, after neighborhoods started springing up outside the walls, this aesthetically pleasing modern facility was constructed.
Both hospitals were named for Louis IX, crowned King of France at the age of 12 in 1226. King Louis led two Crusades to the Holy Land and was canonized for his piety and righteousness in 1297. Staff at the hospital - nuns and Israeli doctors - do everything in their power to help in the recovery of patients who were considered incurable upon admission. And, indeed, there have been terminal patients who improved so much that they were sent home. But when there is nothing left to try, the patients are accorded an unparalleled measure of respect and devotion.
Construction on the imposing stone walls and round turrets of the adjacent Notre Dame Monastery and guesthouse began in 1884, when French Catholics began thronging to the Holy City. The splendid complex was built by the Assumptionists, an order that pioneered penitential pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The Assumptionists lodged their pilgrims at Notre Dame and fed them with food grown at a farm on the grounds of St. Peter's, the church/monastery on Mount Zion that is their base in Jerusalem.
Walk into the courtyard and look up to see an enormous statue crowning the complex: Mary holding the baby Jesus high in the air. The European powers believed that whoever was most visible in Jerusalem would have the most power. Perhaps that's why the statue is so tall!
Notre Dame played an important part in the defense of Jerusalem during the War of Independence, for after the British evacuated the city on May 14, 1948, it was occupied by the Jordanian Legion. The Arabs were forced out by the Hagana on the 18th but, several days later, the Legion tried to retake Notre Dame as part of a plan to move into the heart of new Jerusalem. Fortunately, in a fierce battle between the Hagana (including a number of teenage volunteers) and the Legion, the Arab advance was halted.
The southern portion of Notre Dame was so severely damaged during the war that it was impossible to use the rooms. However, in the 1970s the complex was charmingly restored and returned to its original objective as a hotel for Catholic pilgrims.
Facing both complexes is the only gate not built by Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. This one was hewn out by Turkish ruler Abed el Hamid in the late 1880s, soon after the French Hospital and Notre Dame appeared. Called both Bab El Jadid (New Gate) and Bab Abed El-Hamid (for the Sultan), this is the highest gate in the city wall and provided French Catholics with easy access in and out of the Christian Quarter. It differs from the Old City's earlier gates because it lacks any ornamentation and has no strategic curve at the entrance to foil enemy onslaughts.
UNTIL 1967 when Jerusalem was reunited, the road from here to Damascus Gate was strewn with twisted barbed wire and remnants from scorched armored vehicles. Called No-Man's Land, this was the border between Israel and Jordan for 19 years. During that time, New Gate was blocked up and the Jordanian New Gate Outpost was established on top.
One day, a patient at the French Hospital across the road leaned out a window and coughed, her false teeth dropping right into No-Man's Land. It took meticulous maneuvering and the goodwill of Israel, Jordan and the United Nations, but in the end, accompanied on all sides by representatives of the Mixed Armistice Committee, a nun from the hospital was permitted to search for and retrieve the lost set of teeth.
The beautifully landscaped area from here to the end of Rehov Hatzanhanim is some compensation for the seemingly never-ending construction of the light rail. The municipality is to be congratulated for cleaning up the majority of garbage that covered the grungy grounds that festered here during the previous municipal administration.
Below Notre Dame there is a turn-off for Rehov Ha'ayin Het. The strange name has a deep meaning: the letter ayin in Hebrew corresponds to the number 70,  while het is eight. Together they refer to the 1948 Arab massacre of 78 Israelis traveling in a convoy toHadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.
Where Rehov Hatzanhanim swerves to the left and becomes Rehov Hel Hahandasa, look back up at Notre Dame: from 1948 to 1967 Israeli soldiers facing Jordanian positions on the walls guarded Jerusalem from its rooftops. Now glance to the right, behind the crowded parking lot, to see a row of shops and one relatively high reddish-stone building standing out from the others. This was a Jordanian position that the IDF called Monkey Post, apparently referring to the fact that Jordanian soldiers would climb onto the roof to watch the goings-on between soldiers and their lady friends atop Notre Dame.