JERUSALEM by BARRY SHAW.
JERUSALEM is the one and only capital of the Jewish people.
For all their protests it is not the capital of the Islamic people. How many capitals do they want? They have Mecca and Medina. They have Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Tehran and Beirut, Cairo and Baghdad, Tripoli and Sana’a. The Palestinians have built their national infrastructure with Israeli approval in Ramallah. This is where their government offices are. This is where their President and Prime Minister sit. This is where their dead leader is ceremonially entombed.
Some would say that the Islamists want to add Cordoba and London, Paris, and Berlin, New York and Ottowa to their collection in their global jihad to their desired Caliphate. One thing is certain. Jerusalem is a primary goal in their crusade for world dominance. It has nothing to do with the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state.
Jerusalem is the cradle of the three main religions, but its origins date back to Jewish heritage and history. Throughout the centuries it has been the scene of conquest and pillage. Despite the long history of creation, development, and beautification of Jerusalem by the Jews, it has been the altar of the destructive power of invaders in which the Jews have suffered most.
The Jews, as they are doing today, were the ones who united the city, nurtured it, and made it a light of freedom to all.
Yet, there are those, Jews among them, who, to placate a seething Islam disguised as Palestinian nationalism or Pan-Arabism, would sacrifice Jerusalem and carve it up in a regressive gesture with little understanding of the consequences.
It is instructive to study Israel’s motivations, mindset, or lack of them, prior to the outbreak of the 1967 war as it faced a survival-threatening war of aggression by multiple Arab armies. There is great relevance in learning from the pages of history when countering the misinterpretation of events as expounded in a false Palestinian narrative today.
In May 1967, the movement of Egyptian armoured divisions into the Sinai and the closing of the Tiran Straits by Nasser that prevented ships heading for the Israeli port of Eilat put Israel on a war footing. Soldiers were mobilized in readiness for an outbreak of hostilities with an Egypt that was being whipped into violence by General Nasser.
This was to be a war with horrendous losses for Israel. The country discreetly began preparing 30,000 graves. In Jerusalem, the municipality bulldozed a large area near Mount Herzl in readiness for massive funerals. Estimates of Jerusalem dead ranged from 2000 to 6000 with even more expected to be seriously wounded. Such was the gloomy mood of the country as Israelis, and the world, watched Nasser position his troops and recruited neighbouring Arab armies to join him in battle.
Meanwhile Israel’s beleaguered Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, was being pressured by Russia, America, and Britain, not to open the war, even if to do so would put Israel in a slightly better strategic position. President Lyndon Johnson told Israel’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” Echoes of Israel’s position today against a nuclear Iran.
The Israeli generals advised the Prime Minister not to rely on dubious promises of international assistance. Hadn’t Israel been let down in the past by false promises of so-called allies? They warned the political echelon that inaction was making a weakness out of the IDF’s deterrence. It was a stormy meeting in which the cabinet was split. Yigal Allon sided with the generals warning that an Egyptian strike against Israel could come at any time.
“Whoever is first, even by half an hour, will win this war,” he warned.
The atmosphere was so tense that a retired and worried David Ben-Gurion was concerned that there may be a military coup by Israel’s generals if the politicians did not accept their military advise.
“This would be a final disaster,” he told a friend. “I am very anxious.”
The danger of a coup was very real. General Ariel Sharon told some of his colleagues that if the cabinet would not listen and act the generals would have said, “Listen, your decisions are endangering the State of Israel, and since the situation is now very grave you are requested to step aside.”
Eshkol needed a friend in Washington to help rearm Israel and Israel could not take that risk of positioning America not to support Israel in time of battle and beyond.
On May 30th, King Hussein of Jordan flew to Cairo and signed a military pact with Nasser which was identical to the one that Egypt had signed with Syria. Jordan had missed the last war. Hussein could not afford to miss this one. His own people would not accept Jordan to remain neutral twice. When King Hussein returned to Amman he was met with wildly cheering Jordanians at the airport, eager to go to war against Israel.
At that time, Moshe Dayan, the new Defense Minister, and Uzi Narkiss, Commander of the Central Front, stood on the peak of a hill known as The Castel and looked over the Judean Hills. It was possible to make out Israeli and Jordanian positions dug into the landscape facing each other on the approaches to Jerusalem.
The Jordanians had the advantage of controlling the main artery linking Jerusalem to the coastal plain including all the major towns of Israel. At this meeting they decided to strengthen the IDF’s defensive positions. Dayan went from position to position where he repeated his command to strengthen Israel’s defensive positions against the Jordanians. They was no thought at that time of opening a front against Jordan, such was the serious concern of the impending outbreak of war by a massive Egyptian assault.
Dayan’s tour of the military positions was interrupted with a call for him to report to the Prime Minister’s office which was in Tel Aviv. Jordan’s military alliance with Egypt had changed the mind-sets both in Jerusalem and in Washington. Israel’s Prime Minister Eshkol now saw war as inevitable. On June 2nd, he formed a war cabinet that included the Opposition, including Menachem Begin. America was tied up in its war in Vietnam. If the United States continued to prevent Israel from acting in its own defense it would have the moral obligation to intervene if Israel were attacked. This would have been militarily challenging to America. The decision to go to war was set on that date. It was made by Eshkol, Dayan, and Yizchak Rabin. The decision was to be put to the cabinet for approval two days later.
Iraqi forces were on their way to Jordan. Egypt was throwing massive number of troops into the Sinai so quickly that several units were left without food and water for a couple of days before supplies could reach them. Israel wanted the war to be confined to the Egyptian front. The IDF did not have any overall battle plans against Jordan.
At the decisive cabinet meeting on June 4th, several ministers requested the war to be delayed but Eshkol insisted that further delays would increase the number of casualties. Washington had not given Israel the green light to open the war but the red light had gone off. Dayan informed the cabinet members that if Egypt struck at Israeli air bases and “will do to us what we want to do to them” it would, at a stroke, remove Israel’s main card in this war. He further advised that the deployment of Egyptian troops showed that they intended to cut off the southern Negev and capture Eilat in conjunction with Jordanian forces. The Egyptian commando force deployed in Jordan could easily deploy to Beit Safafa, an Arab town half in Jordan and half in Israeli Jerusalem, which would be a knife into the heart of Jerusalem causing a massacre.
Early on June 5th, the Commander of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, General Odd Bull, who was headquartered in Government House on the height of southern Jerusalem, received a phone call requesting him to go to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Sirens had gone off prior to receiving this phone call, and Israeli Radio was reporting heavy clashes on the Egyptian front. On arrival, he was given a message for King Hussein that said if Jordan kept out of the war Israel would take no steps against his country, but that if Jordan did join in the war then Israel would fight with all means at its disposal.
The reply that Israel received from King Hussein was that Israel had started the war and that Israel would be receiving his reply by air. Within half an hour, Jordanian planes hit Netanya causing little damage, but they did destroy a transport plane at a small civilian airfield.
King Hussein was informed by the Egyptian High Command that three quarters of the Israeli air force had been destroyed and that the Egyptian army was pushing north toward Beer Sheba. Jordan opened fire in this war two hours after the Egyptians. Morale was high. Radio Cairo was reporting spectacular gains in Arabic. Hundreds of Arab men demanded arms at the police stations in Arab Jerusalem. Holding the Jordanian line from the Damascus Gate to Ammunition Hill was the tough fighting force of the King Hussein Battalion. Another held the Old City while others controlled Abu Tor, the Augusta Victoria above the Mount of Olives, and Sur Baher in the south of the city.
As Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek, watched the battles, he saw Jordanian guns methodically blowing his city to pieces.
The goals of the Israeli cabinet declared “The government has decided to take military action which will liberate Israel from the military noose tightening around it.” In the cabinet, Menachem Begin called for liberating Jerusalem, and Yigal Allon said that Israel should either annex it or ensure access to the Jewish holy places. At this point it was still a minority view. The emphasis was the Sinai front, the capture of Sharm el-Sheikh which controlled the Tiran Straits, and the defeat of the Egyptian army.
No decision was taken against Jordan until the Arabs seized Government House from the United Nations. This galvanized the Israeli command. Attitudes towards Jordan were now shifting. Initially, intentions were to keep the Jordanian front quiet. At the time that reports were coming in to Israeli Command of astounding Israeli successes against the Egyptian air force and troops, the Jordanians were intensifying their assaults on the eastern front. They were firing not only against military targets but also against the Israeli civilian population. Despite Jordanian aggression, Rabin and Dayan agreed on a second ceasefire appeal which was delivered to King Hussein by General Bull. When Jordanian fire did not stop restraint against the Jordanians was lifted. The Jordanians, through Ata Ali, were preparing an attack on Mount Scopus, the location of the Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University. This enclave behind Jordanian lines had been set at the conclusion of the 1948 War of Independence in which Jordan had over run most of Jerusalem including the Old City. They had destroyed all the ancient synagogues inside the walled city as well as desecrating the Jewish gravestones on the Mount of Olives. Now, a generation after, a handful of reservists prepared to dig in to defend the symbols of a reborn Jewish homeland on Mount Scopus from further Jordanian attacks. It would become a pivotal battle in prying Jerusalem out of the hands of the Jordanians.
When an Israeli member of the Mixed Armistice Committee told his opposite number in Jordan that the Egyptian Air Force had been destroyed, the Jordanian officer did not believe it and boasted that “We’ll soon be in Tel Aviv!”
Up to this point, King Hussein’s main enemy had been Egypt and Nasser who had deceived him with lies about the battle situation. At 12.30 p.m. Nasser phoned Hussein to tell him that the Egyptian Air Force was bombing Israel when he had no planes left to bomb anything. The absence of Israeli counter claims at that time seemed to lend substance to Egyptian High Command claims.
As Israeli ministers made their way to a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem they could hear the Jordanian shelling and the sounds of battle. Smoke was in the air and fires were burning. This was to be a historic meeting with biblical references. They were reminded that David Ben-Gurion had, after the 1958 Sinai Campaign, been harangued by President Eisenhower for wanting to retain the Sinai as a buffer zone for Israel. Ben-Gurion had also been threatened by Russia. Now they had to discuss Jerusalem and consider world opinion while conducting a war of survival. They even questioned what would be the Vatican response to Jewish sovereignty over Christianity’s hold places even though nobody seemed to have objected to guardianship of these religious sites when Jordan controlled Jerusalem and was destroying Jewish holy places.
The proposal put forward by Abba Eban that the capture of the Old City was clearly in response to the Jordanian military assault and deference to the retaining of it be kept for a later consideration was adopted for its pragmatic and actual reasoning. The resolution stated
“We are going to take the Old City of Jerusalem in order to remove the danger of bombardment and the shelling incessantly being carried out by Jordan.”
Most of the ministers were sure that, once the Israeli flag had been raised over the Old City, Israel would never disown a central relevance to its national being and aspiration. The memory of Jerusalem had sustained the Jews as a people throughout history. Now the opportunity was there for the reborn Jewish state to liberate the holy city.
That night the news from the south was that, for the first time, Israel was fighting on Egyptian territory. Speaking on Israeli radio, Yizchak Rabin told the nation that Israeli troops had reached El Arish in Sinai, and that Jenin had fallen indicating progress against Jordanian forces. Then Moti Hod, head of the Israeli Air Force, announced that Israel had destroyed 400 enemy planes.
The battle for Ammunition Hill was long and bloody. In other places Israeli troops captured Government House and Sur Baher. The IDF had not yet gone on the offensive at Mount Scopus. A message from the Jordanian capital said that tank reinforcements were on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem. Loud explosions could be heard as Israeli jets attacked this convoy, wiping it out. General Narkiss’s troops had been reinforced by a reserve brigade led by Colonel Motta Gur, who had been diverted from the southern front to assist in the battle for Jerusalem. They attacked by the most direct route and through the heart of the strong Jordanian defense around Ammunition Hill. At the height of the battle King Hussein called Egypt’s Nasser for advise and instruction. Nasser told him, “We had a few problems at the beginning, so what? We’ll come out of it all right. Our planes have been bombing Israeli airfields since early morning.”
Hussein must have known that Nasser was lying.
The bravery of the Jordanian solders at Ammunition Hill saved Jordan’s reputation. They weren’t helped by the desertion of their officers. The lack of officers among the casualties at the hospitals on the Jordanian side was telling. On the Israeli side it was the performance of the IDF officers that won the day as they led their men into bitter, often hand-to-hand, fighting in the trenches of the defense system. The casualty list on the Israeli side was high among the officers that fought on Ammunition Hill.
Across a wide front the Jordanians were in retreat. King Hussein requested a ceasefire. It was rejected by Moshe Dayan who said he was ready to discuss peace terms with Jordan, but not a ceasefire.
Early on June 7th, General Haim Bar-Lev ordered General Narkiss “You are to take the Old City but with common sense,” meaning to avoid heavy casualties, and to protect the holy and ancient sites. There was no battle plan on how to capture the Old City. No details were drawn up through which of the seven gates the city should be taken. Instead, Narkiss heard Gur ordering his men to break in to the Old City through the Lion’s Gate that faces the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. Narkiss raced after Gur’s men in his jeep accompanied by General Bar-Lev.
“Let’s not go in if it’s just to go out again.”
“We’ll never leave again,” replied Bar-Lev.
The Old City was liberated at the cost of two paratroopers. Fewer than a dozen Jordanian soldiers were killed. The rest fled or surrendered. Damage to holy places was minimal. Guards were posted the keep Israelis from entering the Al-Aksa and the Dome on the Rock mosques. A Vatican representative reported to Rome that damage “was so minimal it hardly seems possible there was a fierce house-to-house battle there.”
The secular general, Motta Gur, declared to the IDF Command, and to the world, that “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat. The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
With that message biblical prophecies came true. Religious and secular, Jew and Christian, were awed by that moment on June 7th, 1967.
It was only when Israeli intelligence picked up an order from King Hussein to his troops to withdraw to the eastern banks of the Jordan River that Moshe Dayan order Rabin to take over the territory on the West Bank of the river.
Dayan, Rabin, and other senior officers sat in the basement command post in Jerusalem to consider Israel’s position as the war was reaching its conclusion.
“How do we control a million Arabs?” asked Rabin.
It is a question Israel is still asking itself 45 years later. One thing is as relevant today as it was then, and also in 1995 when, in his last address to the Israeli Knesset just one month before his assassination, he declared that Israel must retain the Jordan Valley “in the broadest sense of the word.”
Today there are discordant voices. Many hold that Jerusalem must remain undivided, the united capital of Israel.
Others favor relinquishing East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Arabs. But have these people really considered the real estate implications of what they are asking for? Do we really want to surrender Jerusalem to the enemies of Israel? Is it certain that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is a pragmatic peace partner seeking a permanent pragmatic solution? Or are they playing a deceptive game of gaining territorial concessions while rejecting the notion of ever living in peace alongside the Jewish State of Israel? And what are the chances that Hamas will, sooner or later, take over the Palestinian Authority and, with it, control of the West Bank to enhance their grip on the Gaza Strip? Is this the time that Israel should seriously, if ever, grant such significant, sensitive, and defenseless land concessions to an enemy still bent on Israel’s destruction?
Some of those who call for the removal of Israeli presence in that part of Jerusalem are regressive Jews. It is shocking how Jews who, during the Passover Seder service, can sing “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem!” then call for an Israeli withdrawal. Does this ancient prayer have any significance for them? Do they ever recite the ancient promise “If I forget you, Oh Jerusalem, may my right hand wither!" Do they really want their fingers to fall off? This ancient longing and belonging for Jerusalem goes way back to the days of exile when the Jewish People were in Babylon longing to return to Zion. Suddenly it seems that, like a spoiled child with an unwanted but expensive toy, the desire to cherish Jerusalem fades with its possession for certain Jews who are easily led to dispense with our heritage for a vain altruistic, but baseless, reason.
Let’s look at the real estate involved should Israel divest from east Jerusalem in a vain peace gesture to placate the Palestinians and a world made up of the vicious and the naïve.
Should Israel foolishly withdraw from parts of Jerusalem, as the world demands, these are just some of the property assets that will be transferred to Palestinian hands;
The Old City of Jerusalem and, with it, the Temple Mount. The Western Wall of the old Temple. The Jewish Quarter with its synagogues. The Christian Quarter with the Church of the Holy Sepulcre and the Via Delorosa. The City of David. David’s Tomb. The Room of the Last Supper. The Garden Tomb. The Mount of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane. The Rockefeller Museum. Hadassah Hospital, and the Hebrew University.
I suppose, when Hamas takes over the Palestinian Authority, the university name will be changed to the Islamic University.
In researching my new book, to be called “God Supports Israel! Do You?” I was taken to the roof over David’s Tomb which is outside the walls of the Old City to peer over the rooftops at a distant Temple Mount. This was the closest vantage point afforded to Jews to the Temple Mount when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem. It was from there that they prayed in the direction of the ancient Temple, and from there repeated the ancient prayer “Next Year in Jerusalem!” They were in Jerusalem but not in its true heart. Can anybody doubt that a determined Israel will not retain possession of its Jewish heart?
So let me ask you. Who do you prefer to the Guardians of the major holy shrines of Jerusalem, to keep them safe and open to all?
Israel? Or Hamas, and the Islamists?
Footnote. I am indebted to Abraham Rabinovich and his e-book edition of "The Battle for Jerusalem” for some of the insights into this subject. A fascinating read that puts today’s events into historic perspective.
Barry Shaw, Author of ISRAEL RECLAIMING THE NARRATIVE. WWW.ISRAELNARRATIVE.COM