Battle for Jerusalem Set Stage for Half-Century of Conflict

Eyewitness Saw Fractious History Unfold on Temple Mount

Fresh Off Boat: Five days after arriving in Israel, Abraham Rabinovich, center, found himself on the newly conquered Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 1967.
courtesy of abraham rabinowitz
Fresh Off Boat: Five days after arriving in Israel, Abraham Rabinovich, center, found himself on the newly conquered Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 1967.

By Abraham Rabinovich

Published May 08, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Late in the afternoon on June 7, 1967, sober dark suits and homburgs mixed with the paratroopers’ battle dress as the leaders of the nation began to arrive at the Western Wall, most of them looking dazed. The paratroopers were, for the most part, too young to have seen the Wall before, yet young enough to have expected that one day they would — through peace or war. On the other hand, few of the veteran political and religious leaders had believed they would live to see it again.

With shots still ringing out periodically, the plan to bring Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and his party through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim quarter was dropped. Instead, the dignitaries were led in through Lions’Gate and across the Temple Mount, a route that did not require passage through residential quarters. Accompanying Eshkol were two chief rabbis, the Askenazi with a top hat and the Sephardi with a turban.

The two men who had led Jerusalem through the siege of 1948, not always amicably, were standing together at the Wall — Dov Joseph, the former governor of the city, and David Shaltiel, the former military commander. The Haga, or civil defense, district chiefs who had shepherded the city’s population through the current crisis arrived together. The one religious officer among them led them in prayer. All were weeping.

Two venerable rabbis arrived on the Temple Mount in a recoilless rifle jeep that had been specially dispatched by a chaplain to bring them, their white beards bending in the wind as they clung to the vehicle. The pair consisted of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, leading spiritual authority for many in Israel, and the saintly Talmud scholar known as the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen. The Nazir had made, years earlier, a vow not to leave his house and his studies for the outside world. The vow could be waived on infrequent occasions, such as funerals or weddings, but three people — adult Jewish males — were needed to grant permission. When he asked the three men with him in his apartment if he had their permission to leave for the Western Wall, they repeated three times, in unison, “You may.”

At the Wall, the Nazir went immediately to the stones and began a solitary prayer, but Kook acted with strange indifference. He stood in the midst of the crowd, chatting absently with an old friend, asking the address of a mutual acquaintance and commenting on a religious tome he had just written. Suddenly, as if a door in his mind had just opened, the rabbi burst into tears and threw himself at the Wall, spreading his arms to embrace the stones.

While piety marked the scene in the cramped alley before the Wall, power dominated the monumental stage of the Temple Mount above. Long lines of Arabs were silhouetted against the sky as they moved across the platform of the Dome of the Rock guarded by helmeted paratroopers cradling Uzis. The Arabs, all in civilian dress, were ordered to kneel in lines facing a stone wall, their hands on their heads, until they were called individually for interrogation. Some of the prisoners were older men, but many young men with military bearing could be seen among the rest. Their interrogators identified some as soldiers by dog tags or compass straps that they had retained after discarding their uniforms.


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!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • 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.