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An American in Jerusalem Witnesses Battle for Temple Mount

IDF paratroopers in Old City during Six-Day War, 1967 (Photo: GPO)

As Jerusalem celebrates fifty years of reunification, memories have rushed back for many who were alive and in the Holy Land during the Six-Day War. One such witness was Abraham Rabinovich, at the time a young American journalist plunged into wartorn Israel, who shares with The Times of Israel his firsthand account of being on the ground during the battle for the Temple Mount:

The background murmur of news from the Middle East had suddenly taken on a different pitch. It was mid-May 1967; Egypt was moving its army into the Sinai desert, expelling UN peacekeepers and closing the Tiran Straits to Israel-bound shipping. I had started work a few months before at a new daily on Long Island. On the last Sunday in May, I drove out of New York City and spent an hour walking up and down a country road to think it through. Should I? Could I? What would happen if?

The next morning, I told my editor that I had decided to fly to Israel to witness whatever was going to happen. If it were possible to consider my absence as two-week annual leave, I said, I would appreciate it. He agreed, even though I had not been there long enough to be entitled to leave time. “Two weeks,” he said. “War or no war.”

On May 31 I flew to Tel Aviv on a two-week ticket. Apart from yeshiva students returning to studies, one of the few passengers on the plane was Mandy Rice-Davies, who had been involved four years before in the Profumo sex scandal that rocked the British government. She was married now to a Tel Aviv nightclub owner. A yeshiva student pointed her out to me and she agreed to a brief interview. When I asked whether she realized that she was flying to a country that might soon be at war, she replied with British pluck. “Yes. That’s where I should be. I live there now.”

Five days later, I was in downtown Jerusalem when gunfire began to sputter along the line separating the Israeli and Jordanian halves of Jerusalem…

I spent much of the two days of the Jerusalem battle in the Musrara border area, seeing what I could of the Arab side of the city and talking with people in the shelters. Morale was high despite the furies outside. Israel Radio offered no hint of the progress of the war that first day, permitting Cairo’s claims of victory to go unchallenged.

Only after midnight did Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin come on air to announce that Israeli forces were deep in Sinai. He was followed by air force commander Motti Hod who, in a dry and weary voice, let drop the astonishing figure of 400 Arab planes destroyed, mostly on the ground. Israeli losses, he said, were 19 planes. When I emerged from a shelter at dawn, every car on the street rested on flat tires. The vehicles had been turned into sieves by shrapnel and the air was heavy with the smell from punctured gas balloons.

By the second night, the Jordanian shelling had stopped and I lay down to sleep in Independence Park. I was wakened in mid-morning by a piercing wail from an object that left a contrail behind it as it flew south, towards Bethlehem or Hebron. I made my way to The Jerusalem Post where I found Charlie Weiss, the chief copy editor, alone in the news room. There were reports, he said, that Israeli troops were already inside the Old City. I suggested that we see if we could get across...

Tags: Jerusalem , History , IDF

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