A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 7, 2013

A June 7 Military History Footnote: Why Did the Generals Enter the Old City From the East?

In my post two days ago for the 46th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, I used a photo that has become iconic from June 7, 1967 (left) showing senior Israeli Commanders entering the Old City of Jerusalem. (Left to right: Jerusalem area commander Gen. Uzi Narkiss, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and then-IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin.) They are entering through the gate known as the Lion's Gate or St. Stephen's Gate. It is the only open gate on the eastern side of the Old City.

Those familiar with the Old City of Jerusalem but unfamiliar with the course of the 1967 war may wonder, if until June 1967 Jerusalem was divided between an Israeli-controlled new city to the west and the Jordanian-controlled east, why did the Israeli generals enter from the east?

The particular course of the Battle for Jerusalem explains the reason.
Armchair General

After a major early morning battle at Ammunition Hill to the north (map), Israeli paratroop units advanced from there and through two other axes across the 1949 ceasefire lines in the Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz neighborhoods, modern Arab neighborhoods north of the Old City. After securing the Augusta Victoria Hospital hill north of the Mount of Olives, the Israeli paratroops found themselves to the east of the walls of the Old City.

Another iconic and often reproduced photo from June 7 shows the 55th IDF Paratroop (Reserve) Brigade on the Mount of Olives with the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock in the background. The 55th's commander, then-Colonel Mordechai ("Motta") Gur, is the black-haired man without a helmet seen in profile in front of the Dome of the Rock.

Shortly after the photo was taken, Gur's troops entered the Old City through the Lion's Gate. When soon thereafter he broadcast the famous words "The Temple Mount is in Our Hands!" he became known throughout Israel; by the mid-1970s Gur would be the IDF Chief of Staff.

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