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Soldiers roamed the compound like tourists but were barred by sentries from entering Al-Aqsa or the Dome of the Rock. Two privates found the door to the Dome of the Rock temporarily unguarded late in the afternoon. They made their way to a balcony beneath the dome and tested the acoustics by speaking to each other from opposite ends. At one point, a third voice drifted up from the mosque floor. It was the paratroop commander, Motta Gur, summoning them down. An Israeli flag that had been hung from the top of the golden dome was ordered removed by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who had arrived later. He would, in a few days, order de facto jurisdiction of the Mount restored to the Muslim authorities.
In storerooms at the northern end of the Mount, a dozen soldiers poked through crates of weapons until they uncovered boxes of soft drinks. As they sat on a terrace drinking, they spoke with a foreign reporter about the Jordanians they had met in battle. “They were good,” one said, “but we were better.”
Despite the bewildering speed of events, the soldiers had plainly given thought to the political implications of the battle. “They can have all the rest back,” one said, “but not our holy city.” Anther spoke of keeping all or part of the territory captured in Sinai and the West Bank. (The battle for the Golan had not yet begun.) “They started the war.” One soldier advocated returning all the territory captured, including Arab Jerusalem, in exchange for peace. In this random discussion on the Mount before the last shots were fired, the template for the major positions that would occupy the political arena in the coming half-century (and counting) was laid out.
Abraham Rabinovich is the author of “The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest”, and of “The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East (Shocken, 2004)