Golan. Gaza. Sinai. The West Bank. The redrawing of the map after those Six Days in June has stirred passions and challenges that have lasted for five decades. But none have been as deeply felt and far-reaching as the unification of Jerusalem. Today, a look at those historic events through the people who were in Jerusalem on June 7, 1967.
Back then, Yossi Ronen was a rookie reporter for Israel army radio who found himself at the crossroads of history. While veteran journalists were covering the war in the south, Ronen had to get to Jerusalem to follow the Israeli forces as they made their way through the narrow streets of the Old City. Ronen describes the moment as he and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, neared the Kotel.
“Goren did not stop blowing the shofar and reciting prayers. His enthusiasm infected the soldiers, and from every direction came cries of ‘Amen!’ The paratroopers burst out into song, and I forgot my role as ‘objective reporter’ and joined them in ‘Jerusalem of Gold.’”
You can listen to Ronen’s report online – and even if you don’t speak Hebrew, you will still be able to soak in the emotion of the moment. The IsraCast website provides a full English transcript of the broadcast so that you can follow along.
Paratrooper Avraham Schechter was there too, “Was I dreaming? … I woke up and saw the Kotel. I came close, and starting praying, and the words of the prayer, the words I say each day, were different. … I felt someone was listening to my prayer up there, and pleased, and that it was accepted. I felt my body weightless. I was floating. Then I heard the shofar blowing and I got the chills and felt my body burning. Friends told me I cried like a child. I wrote home on a piece of scrap paper that I envied no one – I was in the unit that broke into the Old City and got to the Kotel.”
The Guardian spoke to nine people – soldiers, students and journalists, Jews and Arabs – who had witnessed the Six Day War. Nazmi Al Jubeh was a 12 year-old Palestinian schoolboy living just outside the Old City at the time. “There was shelling and bombing around our house, so our whole family went to my grandfather’s house in the Jewish Quarter. My grandfather didn’t allow anyone to leave, but from his roof I saw what we thought were Iraqi tanks driving down the Mount of Olives to our east.
“Soon after, we heard the troops in the street and my grandfather prepared a large urn of tea for them. He went out and came straight back. ‘It’s the Jews,’ he said and dropped the urn. No one wanted to believe that they were not Iraqis, but when it became clear everyone began to cry. … After four days of curfew our family set off for home. We walked down the steps towards the Maghrebi Quarter [the community that abutted the Western Wall] and there was nothing there. Just piles of rubble and bulldozers at work with Israeli soldiers dancing on the ruins.”
When he was interviewed on the 36th anniversary of the war, Teddy Kollek wasn’t rhapsodic about the war or its legacy. In 1967, Kollek had been mayor of Jerusalem for just over a year and was concerned about what he saw. “I felt this was too big a victory. I had very nebulous ideas about it, but it was clear this kind of victory wouldn’t bring us only good. … I think the ‘67 war was a disaster because it changed our ego – it made us so certain of everything, so absolutely…” The reporter asks Kollek if the country became arrogant? “Yes,” he responds.
Some images of the war have been seared into our collective memory: Rabbi Goren blowing the shofar at the Kotel; Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Revaham Ze’evi and Uzi Narkiss walking through the Old City. But THE iconic photograph of the Six Day War is the one of three IDF paratroopers – middle one with his helmet cradled in his hands – gazing upward, dwarfed by the Western Wall. That picture was taken by acclaimed photojournalist, the late David Rubinger.
He snapped the picture while lying on the ground – most of the recording focuses on how that photo became so famous through an accident of fate. Shortly after Rubinger took the shot, the photo was widely distributed and used without his permission. Rubinger saw his photo crop up in an unauthorized book and used by news services – sometimes with a mistaken credit. He even spotted it in a cigarette ad! At first Rubinger was furious but then he had a change of heart. Because it was so widely stolen and used, he became grateful to those thieves. They made it famous.