Warily, They Conquered East Jerusalem

Israel's '67 Leaders Had No Plans To Take Over Arab Quarter

Holy Conflict: The future of Jerusalem is perhaps the thorniest issue dividing Israelis and Palestinians. But Israel never planned to rule over the entire city and captured it almost by mistake in 1967.
getty images
Holy Conflict: The future of Jerusalem is perhaps the thorniest issue dividing Israelis and Palestinians. But Israel never planned to rule over the entire city and captured it almost by mistake in 1967.

By Abraham Rabinovich

Published May 23, 2012, issue of May 25, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Israel’s ministers had a lot on their minds when they woke, 45 years ago, on June 5, 1967. Jerusalem’s Old City, however, was not even a passing thought.

The day before, at the regular Sunday Cabinet meeting, they had approved the launching of a pre-emptive air strike against Egypt within 24 hours — “To do to them what they want to do to us,” as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan put it. Jordan had figured in the discussion only tangentially, as Dayan had explained that all efforts would be made to keep it out of the war.

Yet 48 hours after the first shot was fired in Jerusalem, the Israeli flag would be flying over the Old City despite the previous absence of intent and despite the grave apprehensions of a number of ministers.

How did that dramatic change, one that is today at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, come about so offhandedly?

The short answer? Unintended consequences.

The shorter answer: Things happen.

A few days before the war, Dayan had surveyed the Jordanian lines with the front commander, the Israeli general Uzi Narkiss, and said that the upcoming war would be focused entirely on Egypt. “You must avoid any action that would entangle us with Jordan,” Dayan told him.

With the bulk of Israel’s army poised on Egypt’s border, the last thing Israel wanted was the opening of another front. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a message to King Hussein via the United Nations as the Israeli planes were returning from destroying the Egyptian air force in the first hours of the war: We will not attack you if you don’t attack us. Narkiss’s troops had orders to respond to Jordanian fire with restraint and to avoid escalation.

In signing a defense pact with Egypt, however, Hussein had handed over command of his army to an Egyptian general, Abdel Moneim Riad, whose intention was to escalate as much as possible. To draw off Israeli forces from the Sinai, he ordered a Jordanian tank brigade to threaten Beersheba from the West Bank. To protect the tank route, Jordanian troops occupied U.N. headquarters in Jerusalem, which abutted the road, and moved several hundred yards into Israeli territory. Despite this incursion, which was driven back, and the fact that Jordanian artillery was pounding the heart of Israeli Jerusalem, Israel agreed to a renewed U.N. request for a cease-fire. Jordan refused.

What finally ended Israeli restraint was an announcement on Cairo Radio that Jordanian troops had captured Mount Scopus, an Israeli enclave behind Jordanian lines. Since 1948, Israel had maintained a garrison of 120 troops on the mount, rotated in U.N.-protected convoys. No attack had in fact been launched on Scopus, but Israel saw the broadcast as a clear statement of intent. A paratroop brigade commanded by Mordechai Gur, a colonel, was dispatched to Jerusalem with orders to break through to Scopus.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.