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50 Years after 1967 War: Quarter of Israeli Casualties Died in Jerusalem Occupation Battle | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli chief-of-staff, Yitzhak Rabin (R), Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (C) and Central Region Commander Uzi Narkiss in Jerusalem during the 1967 War. (AFP)

Tel Aviv – The recently released Israeli documents on the 1967 War revealed that the decision to launch the war did not officially include the occupation of East Jerusalem. For decades, Israel claimed that Jordan had sparked the war despite its urging, through the US embassy and international monitors, not to do so. Israel had asserted to Amman that it would not be the first to launch a war, adding however that it would retaliate with great force if it was attacked by Jordan.

According to the Israeli account, King Hussein surprised Israel in early June 1967 by declaring a joint defense alliance with Egypt and that the Jordanian army was under the joint command of General Abdul Hakim Amer. Furthermore, Israel claimed that the war began in Jerusalem when a Jordanian force opened light fire at 9:27 am. Israel did not retaliate however. Another Jordanian unit then occupied the buildings of the foreign mandate official in Jabel Mukaber. This prompted the Israeli attack.

The recently released testimonies and documents revealed however that a number of Israeli commanders had decided that they wanted to find any means to declare war and occupy Jerusalem and the West Bank. To that end, they pressured the political leadership, represented by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, both of whom were appointed to their posts just four days before the break out of the war. The political pressure was led by extreme right Minister Menachem Begin, who claimed that the issue was a “national and religious liberation.” Labor Minister Yigal Allon said that this would be Israel’s response to “its failure to liberate Jerusalem in 1948.”

The documents, which detail the minute by minute account of the Jerusalem battle, revealed that commander of the Israel Defense Forces units in the Central Region Uzi Narkiss had contacted Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek on the first day of the war to inform him that should everything go as planned, the war will ensure that he will be the mayor of a unified Jerusalem.

Narkiss then ordered lead rabbi of the army, Shlomo Goren, to prepare the shofar ahead of blowing it for prayer at the Buraq or Wailing Wall.

Goren told Narkiss: “You will make history.”

He also said that the occupation of Egypt’s Sinai in the south will mean nothing compared to the occupation of Jerusalem.

Narkiss later told one of his officers: “Inform the general command that I will carry the blame if the Wailing Wall is not occupied.”

The documents revealed that a trio of Israeli leaders sought to occupy Jerusalem for personal reasons.

Lieutenant General Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade reserves, later declared: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

Dayan later placed a message among the stones of the Wailing Wall, calling for peace for all the Israeli people.

Narkiss then said that the minister of security had visited the Temple Mount (Aqsa courtyard) and asked that the area be closed off. When it was proposed that Jews be allowed to enter the area, it was feared that Muslims will claim that Israel was “desecrating” a holy site. He therefore proposed leaving security in the hands of a “Muslim brigade” of the Israeli army. Narkiss eventually decided that civilians will be barred entry and only army units would be allowed in.

The documents also revealed that fierce fighting had erupted in several Jerusalem neighborhoods between Jordanian and Israeli forces. Some 182 Israeli soldiers were killed to 400 Jordanian ones. This is considered a large number when compared to the 779 soldiers that Israel lost on all of the war fronts. Some 21,500 Arab soldiers died in the war.

On June 10, 1967, three days after the occupation of East Jerusalem, the Israeli army ordered the evacuation of the Moroccan Quarter that is adjacent to the Western Wall of the Haram al-Sharif. It went on to demolish 1,355 houses in the Quarter along with the Moroccan and Buraq Mosques. At the same time, Israeli forces were evacuating the remaining Arab residents of the Jewish Quarter ahead of the arrival of Jewish settlers.

The documents revealed that Kollek, after holding talks with former Premier David Ben-Gurion, had taken the initiative and executed the plan to demolish and raze the Moroccan Quarter. He justified his decision by saying that there was a need to expand the area for the great number of Jews who will visit the Wailing Wall.

In April 1968, Israeli authorities announced that they had seized the lands of the Moroccan and Jewish Quarters. Nothing remained of the Moroccan Quarter except for the Moroccan Bridge that links the Buraq Wall to the Moroccan Gate. The Israeli operations in the area eventually led to its collapse and a wooden bridge, that still stands to this day, was constructed in its place.

On June 11, 1967, the occupying forces dedicated convoys for Jerusalem residents seeking to leave for Jordan on condition that the evacuees sign a statement saying that they left the area out of their own free will. The residents however had learned from the major disappointment of 1948 and only a few complied with the request, while the overwhelming majority chose to remain in East Jerusalem.

Soon after, East Jerusalem mayor Ruhi al-Khatib, issued a statement after meeting with members of the municipality, calling for people to lay down their arms and preserve order. The municipality declared on June 13 that it was working with the military occupation to return life in the area to normal as soon as possible. A similar statement was released by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

About two weeks, and after Khatib’s refusal of Kollek’s request to unify the municipalities of the two cities, the members of the East Jerusalem municipality were summoned to a meeting with the military police. They were informed of the army’s decision to dissolve the municipality and terminate its members’ service. On June 27, three weeks after the end of the war, the Israeli Knesset approved three laws that paved the way for Israel to impose its authority over East Jerusalem and preserve the holy sites, which was seen as a cover for its actual occupation for the city.