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.
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When one Arab put down his hands, a paratrooper barked at him and motioned with his Uzi to get them back up. A swarthy sergeant major commanding the guard detail cautioned his men, “They’re prisoners, but they’re also human beings.” The Arabs were overwhelmed by the display of might casually bristling about them. Intelligent Jordanians had believed that the Jordanian army by itself could defeat Israel and that the present debacle was as incomprehensible as it was humiliating.

One prisoner slumped against a tree with his eyes closed as if he were hoping the nightmare would disappear when he opened them. When a plane roared low overhead, tears flowed through his closed lids, and his hands trembled. “They’re afraid,” a young soldier said to a reporter watching the scene, “but we won’t harm them.” Colonel Daoud Daoud, the Jordanian liaison officer to the Mixed Armistice Commission, had been captured the day before, outside the walled city. It was he who had filed the protest against the Independence Day parade in Jerusalem three weeks earlier. Shaul Ramati, the Foreign Ministry official who sat opposite him at that meeting, was told of his capture. Ramati contemplated visiting him, but decided that it would embarrass his old acquaintance. The colonel was released after a short time. (He would, three years later, become the prime minister of Jordan.)

A score of Arab dignitaries, including Governor Anwar al-Khatib, the chief judge of the religious court and the police chief, were kept together. A number of other senior officials were rounded up from their homes during the day. Many expected to be shot. On the Temple Mount, soldiers instead offered them water from their canteens and sometimes cigarettes, which they lit for them. “It’s your king who started this,” a soldier said to one of them.

The paratroopers were bronzed and unshaven, and some had draped Arab kaffiyehs around their necks. On the Dome of the Rock platform. a group of officers surrounded by the antennas of their radiomen watched warplanes circling beyond the Mount of Olives and darting down somewhere above the Jericho Road, which had not yet been taken. Civilian vehicles mobilized as supply trucks, including milk and produce trucks now laden with military equipment, were parked on the esplanade. Exhausted soldiers climbed into the cabs of the trucks to nap. At the far end of the plaza, cheers went up from soldiers gathered around an officer who had just finished addressing them.

The Old City had been taken at the cost of two paratroopers killed inside the walls and one outside. Just before dawn, the Jordanian commander had led his 500 soldiers out through Dung Gate, the only gate shielded from the Israelis. They walked down the Jericho Road and crossed Allenby Bridge into Jordan. Had they chosen to fight in the warren of alleys, there was a good chance that they could have delayed the Old City’s capture until the United Nations called for a cease-fire. About a dozen Jordanian soldiers who remained behind were killed in final skirmishes, and many more were captured.

Damage to holy places was minimal. Although the Temple Mount had been used as a firing position and an armory, the only damage to it, besides some bullet nicks, was that done to the door at Al-Aqsa Mosque, whose lock had been blasted open by a paratroop lieutenant when army knapsacks were found outside. The lieutenant was reprimanded, and a guard was posted at the mosque’s entrance.


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