Six days in June: Jerusalem

 

“Uvetardemat ilan va’even
Shvuyah bachalomah,
Ha’ir asher badad yoshevet /nitzevet
Uvelibah chomah.”

“And in the slumber of tree and stone
Captive in her dream
The city that sits solitary
And in its midst is a wall.”

 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) – Traditional Hebrew Folk Song

 

Jerusalem: a city divided within itself.

Jerusalem is a name which has been spoken of many times in the Jewish story, both in old and new times.

Oftentimes it has risen and fallen throughout the millennia, and borne witness to events of great sufferings and trials.

In June of 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem lay just outside of the cease fire line, which had been drawn up at the end of the War of Independence.

The reunification of Jerusalem: as an open, undamaged and undivided city; were the orders given to the Israeli ground forces; as the truth of the first days, strike was heard across the airwaves, amongst the people who anxiously looked towards their families’ protection.

As the early morning wailing of sirens were heard throughout the narrow lanes of the Old City, messages of deceit and malice began to cry out from Radio Cairo of false victories, and the Jordanian forces opened fire.

The 105 mm rounds of Jordanian Long Toms found ground amongst the outskirts of Tel Aviv, as directed by Lieutenant-General Abdul Munim Riad: overall commander of Jordanian forces.

Riad was an Egyptian, born in Alexandria and educated by the British in the rule of mathematics. He was therefore well versed in the use and application of artillery fire. He had dedicated thirty years of his life to the army and would ultimately be killed by mortar fire less than two years later, directing battle against his old enemy Israel, at the Bar Lev Line. Nasser named a street in Cairo after him, in memory of a good general.

As the hours of the first day grew long, false words were reported by Egyptian sources of great victories in the air.

Visual footage of Israeli jets travelling home for rejuvenation after their first day’s activity was reported by Radio Cairo as Egyptian Mirages heading the other way. The wider Arab world rejoiced at the supposed slew of victories against the accursed Zionist presence.

It was in the early hours of the second day, that the Israeli forces formed up in accepted sacrifice for a common good, on the unexpected side of a small hill just north of the Old City.

As the Jordanian army dug in, a small but determined force of Israeli soldiers attacked this high ground, on the western slopes of Mount Scopus.

Due to the civilian proximity of the ground, an aerial bombardment was forgone, and the Israeli forces limited themselves to an intense artillery fire upon the Police post. This however only proved to drive the Jordanian forces underground, awaiting the inevitable battle to come.

The task of capturing the Police academy hill was given to Uzi Narkis who led the 3rd company of the 66th Battalion of the 55th Paratrooper Brigade. A force of the second company was also to join in the battle which Mordechai Gur was to direct.

Over a period of four hours, beginning past midnight and ending before daybreak, a brutal and desperate struggle took place amongst an olive grove, following into trenches on a hill which would become known as Ammunition.

36 Israelis and 71 Jordanians would be killed before the sun rose. Many more wounded men, lying without water, called for help in their time of dying.

The order had been given by Moshe Dayan to keep all fire flat, especially in open areas about the Old City. This order was intended to keep destruction of the local area and populace to an absolute minimum.

No Israeli artillery fire would fall amongst the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old City, and Lieutenant-General Riad of the Jordanian forces: directing battle from his side; also chose not to open fire directly upon the central focus of victory.

His other decision was to re-direct Jordanian forces away from Jerusalem: in the hopes of controlling the roadway in, amongst the Ayalon Valley, upon a hilltop known as Latrun.

This hilltop’s strategic location was deemed vital to Riad when he considered the overall focus of the battle he was ordered to direct. He made this order with the assurance from Cairo that his troops would be covered from the air.

What was unknown to Riad, however, was the true destruction of not only the Arab Air force’s numbers, but their ability to organise effectively, due to the first days strikes on early Monday morning.

This nullification of the air as a competing arena made the overall occupation of the West Bank an inevitability in the hours to come.

In spite of this, a desperate ground assault by Jordanian forces was unleashed, focused south of the old city for the U.N compound.

The savagery of this fighting was to continue until the true reality of the Jordanian’s position became apparent and their vulnerability to Israeli air attacks drove them back.

As the orders were received to retire from the battle and retreat from this most venerated and hard-won land, some of the Jordanian forces chose to disobey, only to run back into the thick of the fighting, choosing to become martyrs ahead of the willing abandonment of so many of their people.

Without water but with a steady stream of courage, the Israeli forces eventually achieved an envelopment of the Old City and on the third day entered Lion’s gate from the East.

After a brief but intense battle upon the Temple Mount and as the local area was still being secured, a little-known search began for the holiest of Judaic relics: The Shofar (Rams Horn) and the jug of oil.

It was believed by some, that these sacred vessels of Messianic prophecy, as written of in the scriptures, could be found in a secret passage, in the desecrated remains of the Synagogue of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, the last hidden refuge of the sacking of Jerusalem, in 70AD at the hands of the Roman General Titus.

Whether these items were ever recovered has been kept a closely guarded secret to this day.

Unaware of the ongoing hunt for these treasures of antiquity, the Israeli Paratroopers continued with their more immediate concern of clearing out the last of the remaining Jordanian resistance.

Through a narrow lane, which wound its way uphill, they finally entered upon an open area faced by an enormous section of ancient wall.

Many of these Israeli troops had never seen this before up close.

In an instant of time, soldiers suddenly became supplicants: humbled in the presence of the story enacted before them.

What was to come, amid the anxious thoughts of the future, were set aside for a short time, as prayers were once again heard by the Jewish people, in the once more ancient city of Jerusalem.

 

Read the earlier instalments of this series below:

  1. Six days in June: betrayal, endurance and victory
  2. Six days in June: prelude to war
  3. Six days in June: Two reluctant leaders
  4. Six days in June: First strike
  5. Six days in June: Sinai and Golan

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