Sunday, May 16, 2010
Jerusalem Day of Triumph And Tears
June 7, 1967: A Day of Triumph & Tears
At 10:20 on June 7th 1967, the third day of the Six-Day War, Raphael Amir of the Israel Broadcasting Services announced, "At this moment we are going through the Lion's Gate in a jeep with the Deputy Chief-of-Staff and the commander of the Central Command. I am now in the shadows cast by the gate. Now we are in the sun again, in the street. We are inside the Old City. The soldiers are up against the walls." In the background could be heard noises of shooting and soldiers shouting, "To the Wall! To the Wall!"
The Old City - As Yet Unconsidered
Two days before this, the notion that Israelis would be touching the stones of the Western Wall had not even been dreamt of. On the first day of the war, the Israeli government met in the cellar of the Knesset. Above the noise of the screaming Jordanian bomb shells, Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister, opened the meeting, explaining, "I understand that you have heard a review of the battle situation and I assume that tonight we will have to discuss the continuation with regard to Jordan, if they continue their attack. It all depends what subjects will occupy us, particularly Sinai."
Though later that evening, it became clear that the Sinai campaign had been successful, Jerusalem and various neighborhoods along the Jordanian border continued to be subjected to the onslaught of bomb shells and snipers. It was decided that Motta Gur's paratroopers would break into East Jerusalem to link with the Israeli unit on Mount Scopus that was under attack from the Jordanians.
Thinking About The Old City
It was not until later that evening at 8:30, that the notion of entering the Old City entered the battle plans. At a meeting at the Evelina de Rothschild girl's school, which served as the headquarters of the paratroopers brigade, Motta Gur, the regiment commander of the paratroopers, explained his plan of attack. This went further than opening up a route to the Old City, for it included the Old City itself. In response to this revelation, the room hushed, awaiting the reaction of commanding officer of the Central Command, Uzi Narkiss. After a short pause Narkiss declared, "The plan is authorized. Take these objectives and lets see how things develop. And you, Motta, keep thinking about the Old City all the time."
The stage was set.
"The Temple Mount is in Our Hands!"
The battles in East Jerusalem continued for one night and one day. On Wednesday morning, June 7th, the paratroopers stormed into the Old City by way of the Lions' Gate and immediately advanced to the Temple Mount. Over his communications system, Motta Gur made the historic announcement, "The Temple Mount is in our hands." The paratroopers gathered on the plateau of the Temple Mount, and then began to rush towards the Western Wall.
Above the sounds of a shofar, and soldiers singing "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav," Motta Gur described the scene to radio listeners all over the country: "It's hard to express what we're feeling in words. We saw the Old City to our right when we were on the crest of Augusta Victoria. We enjoyed the view and now we are hoarse from so much shouting and the excitement of coming in at the head of this convoy. Our half-track broke open the gate and went over a motorbike. It went through the Jordanian camp and we were the first to get up to the Temple Mount, in great excitement. Moishele, who's been my deputy for many years, took some men and ran to raise the flag above the Western Wall. Now the whole Old City is in our hands and we are very happy."
Dayan at the Wall
At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, Major-General Uzi Narkiss returned to the wall with Chief-of-Staff, General Yitzhak Rabin and the Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. In his diary, Narkiss detailed the occasion. "We arrived at the Western Wall. The crowd now is larger than this morning. Cheering soldiers clear a place for the Minister of Defense and his entourage and we all get to the Wall. Dayan takes a piece of paper from his pocket and pushes it in a space between two stones, Koby Sharett asks him what was written on it and Dayan replies, 'May there be peace on Israel.'"
Minutes later, Moshe Dayan read out the following statement, "We have returned to our most holy place, never again to leave it. To its Arab neighbors, the State of Israel extends its hands in peace, and assures all other religions that it will maintain full freedom and honor all their religious rights. We have not come to conquer others' holy places or to curtail their religious rights but to guarantee the unity of the city and live in it with the others in harmony."
The President of Israel Must Go Up to the Wall!
Despite all the dignitaries, army officers, politicians and rabbis who had visited the wall, there was one notable absence. The President of Israel, Zalman Shazar, had not yet seen the Wall. The arrangements for the President's visit are described in Uzi Narkiss' book, Jerusalem is One. When Narkiss was told that the President wanted to visit the Wall, he tried to the persuade Shazar that the situation remained far too dangerous. The President persisted, spelling out his opinion in no uncertain terms, "Young Man! Pay attention! The President of Israel must go to the Wall! I am not talking about Zalman Shazar. He is already an old man; what he could do in life, he's already done. It is not important whether he lives or dies. But the President of the State of Israel must go to the Wall. It's in your hands! I ask you to consider what security arrangements can be made for the President of Israel and then give your estimate of the risk involved. If it is very serious, I will not go, 'lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.' But if the risk is not very great, the President will go up to the Wall." The President of the State of Israel immediately set off for the Wall.
A City Redrawn
In the next weeks Jews once again prayed at the Western Wall and walked freely in the Old City. On June 7th 1967, the lines of division in Jerusalem were redrawn and Jerusalem was once again reunited.