The Six Day War and the world today Part 3: ( Everything, Nothing; The Battle for Jerusalem)

For those with a cinematic bent, yes, the above references a line in the underrated movie from a few years ago, “Kingdom of Heaven” a fictional account of Salehedin’s recapture of Jerusalem from the English Crusaders.

Asked what Jerusalem meant by the Orlando Bloom Character, Salahedin turns and replies “NOthing…. EVERYthing.” Truer words have never been uttered.

To review:

The Israeli’s, because of previous negotiations with King Hussein (as a reference, Hussein’s Grandfather Abdullah, had been assassinated by Arab extremists because of his overtures to the Israelis’ ) had begged Hussein to keep Jordan out of the war.

The King was, to some degree, stuck. He risked alienating the Arab world if he stayed out, but he risked being wiped out if he entered…

Millions of words have been written on the subject, but I believe the psychological underpinnings may ultimately have come down to Hussein’s belief, as a Hashemite, a sect that views themselves as the direct descendants of the prophet Muhammed, that his duty was to protect Harm al Sharif, or the Temple Mount.

Among Jews, there is a joke, Three Jews, four opinions. In no case was this more true than in the idea of what to do with regard to Jerusalem.

From the small (yes very small at the time) orthodox community that believed that there could be no Israel without Jerusalem, to Moshe Dayan, who, as quoted in yesterday’s post said he would never want to be saddled with that “Vatican”.

In fact, Dayan felt that all efforts should be to secure the new city; bypass the old city; head into what is known as the Qidron valley, and head to the West Bank to secure the lands lost in 1948 and proceed to the natural geologic boundary between Israel and Jordan. The Jordan River.

It was the river, after all that had been the source of so much conflict over the proceeding years. With control over the water supply, Dayan reasoned, Israel’s non war time position would be greatly strengthened.

Note: with their world leading de salination technology, and the geometric increase in water usage since 1967, Israel, does still largely control the water situation, providing water to Gaza, and the West Bank.

Oh, didn’t know that huh? Yes, read that again, Israel supplies civil services to those areas that provide the rockets and human bombs that are killing their citizens.

Won’t read that in the NY Times, huh?

But I digress.

In large measure, the decision about Jerusalem was made for the Israelis.

The Jordanians had destroyed virtually all of the Jewish relics in the Old City after 1948 and during their 20 years of control.

In addition, bombardments were being launched by the Jordanian units stationed there.

So, at 2:21 in the morning when Hussein changes his mind, and, driving through the Jordan valley, decides to resume fighting, his fate is sealed.

In NY, diplomacy is frantic. The Soviet Union and the US are flabbergasted at Nasser’s refusal to accept a ceasefire, so new plans are being drawn up.

In the North, Iraqi’s and Syrians are increasing their bombardment from the Golan, so Abba Eban is given a directive to delay for a few days, if possible at the UN.

Levi Eshkol, the Israeli prime minister would ultimately convince the Cabinet to approve the conquest of the old city. Dayan, the dashing, eye patched General, secular and a true career soldier, was enough of a politician to not resist.

It is important to understand the conflicts, or divisions in Israel at the time.

In 1948 and before, Jerusalem had been an international city, Run by the British. At the declaration of the state of Israel, there were, as there are now, 4 “quarters” to the old city.

Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian. And these divisions were not cosmetic, but real.

The Jewish and Armenian sections lie in the West of the city, the Christian and Muslim, East.

As discussed in the section on Israel, the population of the country consisted in the ’40’s of the Sabra’s or original residents, the Holocaust survivors, and the refugees from Arab lands that were ejected in 1948.

But, particularly since the Suez crisis, there had been immigration. And the much of the immigration was now religiously inspired, or at least considered.

At the end of the week, I will print a story about a general who fought in the battle of Jerusalem in 1948, but suffice to say, the guilt felt by that first generation of Israelis was overwhelming.

What had been an open, international city, was now closed to Jews and Christians alike.

The Israelis had desperately (thanks to an American colonel, Mickey Marcus) fought to overcome the Arab siege of Jerusalem in 1948 so that the UN would not declare the armistice when Israel had no access to the city.

They managed to do this, but retained access only to the “new city”.

FYI, the new vs. old city. The old city is the walled city. The walls were originally built in Biblical times and were extended out over the centuries, finally principally settling on their current position during the crusader period and in some cases the Ottomans.

It was only in the 1800’s that any real settlement outside the walls occurred. Before that, the area around was a wilderness (hard to believe if you go there now. It would be like NY in pre revolutionary days). Rocky and unforgiving, if you were stuck outside the gates at night, you most likely would not survive due to raiders, Bedouins thieves, etc.

Many immigrants at that time came because of the Jewish belief that one resident of their town, should be “delivering” their prayers to the temple. Same as biblical times.

Finally in the 1800’s the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem declared that living outside the old city still satisfied the requirement of coming to Jerusalem and neighborhoods immediately began to spring up. First among these was Talpiot, in the southwest corner of the city.

1n 1844 Jews were once again the majority of the population, after 1800 years.

So, the loss of the old city in 1948 was a devastating blow to that generation. It created an emotional scar that could not be healed.

As in all things military, 20 years is more than a full generation. Many of the soldiers fighting on the streets of Jerusalem had never known an open Jerusalem. Even their officers were young children the last time Jews had been in the old city.

But, by 7:27 that morning, June 7th, a small unit of paratroopers stood poised at Herod’s Gate, armed with 3 archaeologists, ready to once again reenter.

Now, the walls of the old city are broken by gates, as in all biblical cities. The gates were the only way in and out, and of course were not built to allow tanks to pass. If you have ever seen an ancient walled city, you know the gates have immediate turns, as a defensive measure.

The gate nearest the Temple Mount is rather unfortunately known as the “Dung” gate and yes, that is why. In biblical times, ding would be carted out this way. On the Northern side of the Temple Mount is what is known as Lion’s Gate. Southwest of the Dung gate is Zion Gate. Further West is the Jaffa Gate. This is the principal entrance to the Armenian quarter and the gate most commonly seen as you ascend the hill from the New City’s downtown.

Most photographs that you see today of the “golden dome” are taken from the area just inside the Dung gate.

The Temple Mount runs the entire Eastern length of the old city.

It looked then, very different than it does today. In fact, it is changing every day as excavations reveal more and more of Herod’s Temple Mount.

It was the excavation of the tunnels running the full length of the Mount that caused a violent uprising in the 1990’s leading to dozens of deaths with Palestinians bombarding the visitors to the Western wall below.

As the night progressed into morning, Hussein again had a change of heart. He contacted the Americans practically begging for a cease fire. The Americans forwarded some of these requests, but it was largely considered futile as he had apparently no control over his troops to fulfill a ceasefire (communications had been lost in the battle between Amman and Jerusalem). In addition, the Israeli’s now felt the need to continue.

A tentative cease fire was agreed to, but Jordanian positions in the old city kept firing at the Israelis. Eshkol told the Americans that if Hussein could tell them exactly when firing would stop, he would stop the advance into the old city.

This was impossible, because, as mentioned above, communication had been lost. Dayan gave the order to approach and retake the Jewish holy sites as quickly as possible. It was also ordered that under no circumstances were any of the Muslim or Christian holy sites to be hit by an artillery or heavy arms fire.

The paratroopers who had been poised at Herod’s Gate were ordered to approach the Lion’s gate, closer to the Western Wall. They began fighting their way facing Jordanian sniper fire.

At 9:45 Sherman tanks fired into the Lions Gate which was blockaded by a bus. Simultaneously attacks were made at all of the gates. The soldier who led the attack at the Lions’ gate was Capt. Yoram Zammush, a religious Jew who had been promised to be the first to reach the Western wall.

At the same time, the small paratrooper unit had reached the plaza on top of the Temple Mount. After suppressing Jordanian sniper fire, Mordechai “Motta” Gur radioed his general, Uzi Narkiss, and uttered the words that Jews and Israelis the world over know by heart.

“Har ha-Bayit be Yadenu” The Temple Mount is in our hands. (literally “the house on the hill is in our hands” )

At this moment, the essential nature of Israel changed.

The young, secular soldiers who had known only a secular Israel, with no access to the biblical sites, were overcome with emotion.

Tears replaced gunfire everywhere and as the rest of the Israeli units fought their way through the streets to the Western Wall, they all became observant Jews.

The pictures of soldiers standing in the tiny alley that was left (it is now an open plaza) praying at the wall, most not even knowing the traditional Jewish prayer, the “Shema” touched the stones that had been built 2000 years before.

Soon, Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Narkiss would be photographed in what is now the iconic picture of the war, striding through the Lion’s gate, into the old city.

And at that moment, Israel was forever changed. Everyone knew it, even Dayan.

The humiliation of 1948 was gone, and the connection to antiquity was palpable to everyone.

Israeli’s from all over immediately began flocking to Jerusalem. Just to see it, to touch it.

It is still a similar experience for Jews today who have never been there, the first time they gaze upon the stones, pray at the wall and meditate.

Dayan had with him Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Schlomo Goren, who told him to immediately blow up Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock.

Dayan refused. It had been decided by Prime Minister Eshkol during the night, that the governing authorities of the different religion’s holy sites would remain and be consulted.

The Waqf, or Muslim Committee that oversaw The Dome of the Rock and AL Aqsa were consulted as was the Vatican. The IDF was ordered to do nothing to the mosques on the Temple mount.

For those that don’t know, you can go back in my blog and see a history of the Temple Mount.

It is built on Mt. Moriah. The peak of the point is a huge boulder. Jews believe that this is the boulder to which G*d ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Muslims believe this is the rock from which Mohammed ascended to heaven.

That is why the temple was built there by Solomon. It is why the Romans replaced the Jewish Temple with their own temple of Jupiter and of course why it is called the Dome of the Rock.

If you are able to go in today, you can still see the rock.

Later in the week I will discuss my feelings about Dayan’s decision, but it was also tied to the difficulty of the various Jewish religious opinions.

In biblical times, only certain Jews, the high priests, were allowed into the temple. Orthodox Jes consider it a sacrilege to walk onto the top of the Temple Mount because while we have a pretty good idea of where the temple was, we don’t know exactly.

So, the orthodox say you cannot walk there, and excavations cannot take place with in the Temple Mount (something the Waqf has continuously, consistently violated and the cause of current danger of the collapse of the entire structure).

At the exact moment that the Western Wall was liberated, an Israeli tank division had reached Jericho. Shortly, that city would be liberated and the road to Hebron was clear.

Jordan’s strength had been reduced by 80% as the Israeli’s found abandoned tanks and the population began to evacuate.

Hussein appeared to his advisers a broken man. He was the only Arab leader who had gotten anywhere near the fighting. He knew that he had made the critical mistake of listening to Nasser and then overriding him.

He was now given the “permission” by Nasser to engage in conversations with the “West” (US). This was strange in light of the fact that additional ceasefires had been proposed in the Security counsel all day, agreed to by Abba Eban for the Israeli’s but rejected over and over again by the Egyptians.

Now, however, Hussein’s agreeing to a ceasefire, alerted the Israeli’s that the war was nearing an end.

The need to deal with the Iraqi’s and Syrians in the north was now a time critical situation. The final push to reopen the Strait of Tiran was also ahead.

Finally, Hussein began mounting defenses for what he believed would be the Israeli’s push over the Jordan, onto the east bank and to Amman.

All over the Arab world, the leaders were scrambling to avoid what now seemed an inevitable Israeli control of Egypt, Jordan, and in a matter of hours Syria.

But still, it was nothing… everything. Jerusalem was free and for the bulk of Israeli’s nothing else mattered.

In the words of Yithak Rabin, the tough little soldier who started his career in the underground, became a general and then signed the Oslo agreements with Yasser Arafat, his bitterest enemy. Who would be assassinated for that peace overture and at his funeral be called “My brother” by King Hussein, Rabin had been born in Jerusalem and had led the fighting there in 1948.

“This was the peak of my life. For years I had secretly harbored the dream that I might play a role…in restoring the Western Wall to the Jewish people… Now that dream had come true, and suddenly I wondered why I, of all men, should be so privileged.”

That day he said “The sacrifices of our comrades have not been in vain… The countless generations of Jews Murdered, martyred and massacred for the sake of Jerusalem say to you, ‘Comfort yet, our people; console the mothers and fathers whose sacrifices have brought about redemption'”.

The world was now a different place.


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