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Volume XI, No. 2,839 • June 7, 2012

ISRAEL | More About: Six Day War



On June 7, 1967, exactly 45 years ago today, Israel Defense Forces paratroopers advanced through the Old City towards the Western Wall, bringing Jerusalem’s holiest site under Jewish control for the first time in 2,000 years.


The leader of the brigade, Lt. General Mordechai (Motta) Gur, communicated the unfolding events to his company commanders by radio: “Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City.…” Then, after an intense battle, Gur uttered his now-famous words, “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!”


As General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the IDF, sounded the Shofar at the Western Wall, Jews the world over rejoiced.


Yet the celebration was not borne out of planned conquest or any “imperialist” impulse. Despite the now-prevailing anti-Israel narrative, the capture was spontaneous, a response to Jordanian aggression. In a statement at the Wall immediately following its liberation, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan conveyed Israel’s peaceful intent and pledged to preserve religious freedom for all faiths in Jerusalem: “To our Arab neighbors we extend, especially at this hour, the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved…”.


Israel’s desire for peace was expressed before, during, and after the Six-Day War. Despite the greatest triumph in the Jewish state’s brief history, achieving sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, Israel pled for peace, a plea which should be internalized by all those who deny Israel’s ongoing efforts to forge reconciliation with the Arab world.


On June 27, 1967, the Knesset extended Israel’s legal and administrative jurisdiction to all of Jerusalem. King David’s capital was, after 2,000 years, officially reunified.


Israeli Reactions to the Recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem:

For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you came—you, the paratroopers—and returned it to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall, for which every heart beats, is ours once again. Many Jews have taken their lives into their hands throughout our long history, in order to reach Jerusalem and live here.… You have been given the great privilege of completing the circle, of returning to the nation its capital and its holy center.… Jerusalem is yours forever.”—Commander Motta Gur, to his brigade.

We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.”—Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

The Wall was before us. I trembled. There it was as I had known it—immense, mighty, in all its splendor.… Overcome, I bowed my head in silence.”—General Uzi Narkiss, Head of Central Command during the Six Day War.

I felt truly shaken and stood there murmuring a prayer for peace.… We stood among a tangle of rugged, battle-weary men who were unable to believe their eyes or restrain their emotions. Their eyes were moist with tears, their speech incoherent. The overwhelming desire was to cling to the Wall, to hold on to that great moment as long as possible.”—Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin.


Jewish Ideas Daily, June 4, 2012

Forty-five years ago Monday, on June 4, 1967, Israel and the Jewish world were in suspense. Today, we recall the Six-Day War as a stunning martial victory by the Jewish state; but on the war’s eve, this outcome was wholly unforeseeable. Indeed, the odds appeared firmly stacked against Israel; that is why its victory became such an inspiration to Jews worldwide—an experience as formative, to the generation that watched it, as the Holocaust and Israel’s founding were to the preceding one.

But how did war break out? Michael Oren, historian of the war and current Israeli ambassador to the United States notes, “Even a discussion of a context must have a starting point,” even if this point represents a somewhat “arbitrary choice.” One starting point is Soviet-backed Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. He came to power in 1954 and by 1956 had already fought a war with Israel in the Sinai. Israel routed the Egyptians in that conflict but withdrew from Sinai after promises that it would have freedom of navigation through the vital Straits of Tiran, off the Sinai coast. As insurance, the United Nations put a peacekeeping force on the armistice line.

Nasser was also president of the United Arab Republic, a union between Egypt and Syria, and made the UAR position on Israel clear. “I announce on behalf of the United Arab Republic people,” he declared in 1959, that “we will exterminate Israel.” Egyptian Fedayeen guerrillas mounted cross-border attacks. There were occasional Israeli reprisals.

Another starting point is Yasser Arafat, who in 1964 led an abortive attempt by al-Fatah terrorists to infiltrate Israel. In that year the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which Arafat would later lead. The PLO’s announced goal was to liberate the “usurped part” of the “Palestinian Arab people’s homeland”—not from Egypt, which held Gaza, or from Jordan, which held the West Bank, but from Israel.

Tensions also mounted with Syria, which was engaged in a dispute with Israel over access to water resources. Israel also had larger reason to fear Syrian plans. “We have resolved,” Syria’s then-Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad addressed Israelis in 1966, “to drench this land with your blood, to oust you as aggressor, to throw you into the sea.…”

Levi Eshkol, Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister, prepared for war but hoped for peace. “There is no lack of temperance and responsibility on our part,” he wrote to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. “On the other hand, the problem is not solved indefinitely by inaction.”

Egypt and Syria showed no such ambivalence. “Our basic goal,” Nasser reaffirmed in 1967, “is the destruction of Israel.” Syria’s Information Minister said the coming battle would be “followed by more severe battles until Palestine is liberated and the Zionist presence ended.”

Supporting the Syrian mobilization, Nasser moved Egyptian troops into the Sinai in May, 1967. On May 16 he ordered the UN peacekeepers out. British Foreign Secretary George Brown reacted acerbically: “It really makes a mockery of the peacekeeping work of the United Nations if, as soon as the tension rises, the United Nations force is told to leave.” On May 22 Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran, denying Israel the access it had been promised in return for withdrawing from Sinai. The blockade was an act of war. Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban explained, “There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the head.”

Israel was also at an enormous disadvantage in personnel and equipment. Egypt and Syria had expanded their alliance to include Jordan, Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco. All began to contribute forces. The Arab armies numbered 550,000 men, with 2500 tanks and 950 aircraft. Israel had 240,000 under arms, 800 tanks, and 300 aircraft; it faced a very real possibility of annihilation.…

Israel faced a political crisis as well: Eshkol was losing popular confidence.… On June 1, Eshkol relinquished the post of Defense Minister to Moshe Dayan, former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a hero of the Sinai War, and invited Menachem Begin, leader of the opposition Herut Party, into the Cabinet. Israel now had a national unity government.

The country’s mood changed overnight, and Ezer Weizmann, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered his famous line: “The Arabs have surrounded us again—poor bastards.…”

The following is excerpted from Abraham Rabinovich’s
The Battle For Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest That Echoes Still

If Israel had its way at the start of the Six Day War, Jerusalem might still be a divided city and the West Bank still under Arab sovereignty.

On the eve of the war, Moshe Dayan had told the Israeli commander of the Jordanian front, Maj-Gen. Uzi Narkiss, as they surveyed Jordanian positions outside Jerusalem, that the upcoming war would be focused entirely on Egypt. “You must avoid any action that would entangle us with Jordan,” said Dayan, about to take over as defense minister. With the bulk of its army deployed on the Sinai border, the last thing Israel wanted was another front opening to the east.…

With the launch of Israel’s preemptive strike against Egypt on the morning of June 5, the UN’s senior representative in Jerusalem, Gen. Odd Bull, was summoned to the foreign ministry and given an urgent message for Jordan’s King Hussein. If Jordan kept the peace, it said, Israel would too.…

The king had already made his choice. On May 30 he had flown to Cairo to sign a defense pact with President Gamal Abdel Nasser. On his return, an exultant crowd, gripped by war fever, lifted his car at the airport with the king in it. Never had he been so popular. The pact with Nasser, Hussein told the American ambassador, was his “insurance policy.”

It was, however, a policy that carried a high premium, obliging Hussein to turn over command of his army to an Egyptian general, Abdul Moneim Riad. Two hours after fighting began with Egypt, Jordanian guns opened up all along the eastern front. Riad’s mission, to draw off Israeli forces from Sinai, was one that served Cairo’s interests, not Amman’s. Jordanian commanders wanted only a static exchange of fire unless it became clear that Egypt was winning. Yet Riad immediately ordered a tank brigade in Jericho to proceed via Hebron to the southern part of the West Bank in order to threaten Beersheba, headquarters of Israel’s Southern Command.

To get to Hebron, the tanks would have to take a road that skirted Government House, Gen. Bull’s headquarters in southern Jerusalem. It was decided in Amman to occupy the UN compound, which abutted Israeli territory, despite the likely diplomatic repercussions in order to shield the road from Israeli attack.

Artillery pounded the Jewish half of the divided city for hours but Israel’s reaction, in keeping with Dayan’s directive, was restrained. However, when a company of Jordanian soldiers crossed into Israeli territory from the UN compound, Narkiss ordered the Jerusalem Brigade, composed of local reservists, to drive them back.

What abruptly changed the nature of the confrontation from a limited skirmish to all-out war was a report on Cairo Radio that Jordan had captured Mount Scopus in northern Jerusalem. Since 1948, Israel had maintained a 120-man garrison on Scopus, an enclave behind Jordanian lines. The garrison was rotated monthly under UN protection. Cairo Radio was in fact mistaken—there had been no attack on Scopus. But the report was taken in Israel, correctly, as a statement of intent.

A paratroop brigade commanded by Col. Mordecai (Motta) Gur was dispatched to Jerusalem with orders to break through the formidable Jordanian defenses and link up with the Scopus garrison. Narkiss also ordered a mechanized brigade to push its tanks and half-tracks through the hills north of the city and block Jordanian tanks coming up from Jericho before they reached Scopus.

As the day progressed and the dimensions of Israel’s success against Egypt became clear, mindsets began to shift. In the Cabinet, proposals were voiced for the capture of Jerusalem’s Old City, which had been on nobody’s agenda when the war started that morning. The Old City was strangely remote from the High Command’s thinking, as if its capture was too much to aspire to. Contingency plans existed for attacking virtually any significant target in the countries surrounding Israel but there was no plan for taking the Old City, which was literally a stone’s throw from Israeli Jerusalem.…

Capture of the Old City was opposed by ministers who feared that the world—particularly the Vatican—would never accept Jewish rule over the most sacred sites in Christianity. They noted that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had caved in to Soviet and American demands that he pull out of Sinai in 1956. And Jerusalem counted more than the sands of Sinai.…

Eshkol issued a non-committal statement saying the Old City would be taken in order to put a stop to the fire coming from it—leaving open the possibility that withdrawal might follow.…

Israeli officers were at the forefront of the fighting and took disproportionate casualties. Half the paratroopers fighting on Ammunition Hill, the main Jordanian strongpoint, were either killed or wounded within a few hours. Among the 14 officers who led them onto the hill, the ratio was even higher—four killed and six wounded. In the hospitals on the Israeli side of the city, wounded soldiers often asked that their officers be treated first.

By the second evening of the war, the capture of the Old City had become inevitable as the dynamics of battle carried the paratroopers to its gates. Before dawn, the Jordanian commander, Brigadier Ata Ali Haza’a, informed Governor Khatib that he was pulling out. All but two of his officers had deserted.…

A few hours later, Gur’s halftrack burst through Lion’s Gate into the Old City. Israel had concluded, almost as an afterthought, that the return to ancient Jerusalem was a dictate of history that a Jewish state could not ignore.

The following is a partial transcript of the June 7, 1967 live broadcast
by Voice of Israel Radio of the capture of Jerusalem’s Old City
(the Hebrew audio can be listened to here.)

“Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.

[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]

[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]

[More soldiers’ footsteps.]

The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.


We’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.


Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands! All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing!…

Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day.…]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are Thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]

Soldiers: Amen!

[Soldiers sing “Hatikva” next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel.…

On Topic

The Myths Of 1967 And Today’s Realities Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2012
Gerald M. Steinberg
The Myths Of 1967 And Today’s Realities
What Six Days Achieved Contentions, June 5, 2012
Jonathan S. Tobin
What Six Days Achieved
The 6-Day War: Forty-Five Years Ago the World Changed The Lid , June 5, 2012
Jeff Dunetz
The 6-Day War: Forty-Five Years Ago the World Changed


Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Prof. Harold Waller Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)

Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)

Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

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