The upcoming anniversary of the 1967 June War, or the Six Day War, is an opportunity to reflect on the power of identity and ideology.
Israeli paratroopers (Zion Karasenti, Yitzak Yifat and Haim Oshri) at the Western Wall on June 10, 1967. Photograph by David Rubinger. Licensed for Vision.org by Getty Images Editorial.
A significant reminder of the ongoing Middle East conflict comes with the 40th anniversary of the day the Old City of Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces on June 7, 1967. Israelis will commemorate Jerusalem Day on May 15-16, the equivalent date on the Hebrew calendar this year. From the perspective of Jerusalem, nothing was more significant in the war than the Israeli capture of its eastern half, including the Temple Mount.
According to Ha'aretz journalist and novelist Amos Elon, the Western or Wailing Wall suddenly became “a monument in the domain of memory and of faith” for the Israeli people. Within Israel, the capture of the Temple Mount catalyzed the desire to make something profoundly religious out of the otherwise political. Even the nonreligious became religious that day.
On June 7, three Israeli military leaders strode through the Lion’s Gate and made their way to the Western or Wailing Wall—Uzi Narkiss, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin. Dayan was defense minister and an avowed secularist. But he was soon announcing, “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.”
The power of historical identity motivated many Israelis at the time. In the words of Jerusalem’s former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti, “[We felt] that we were joining hands with our ancestors.”
Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur had been born in the Old City and led the paratroopers who were the first soldiers to arrive at the Temple Mount. He told the soldiers who had gathered at the Wall, “It is impossible to express what we feel in words. We have been waiting for this moment for so many years.” When he paid his own visit to the Western Wall, he connected with his past. He wrote: "Despite the great congregation, I had to undergo my own private experience. I did not listen to the prayers, but raised my eyes to the stones. . . .
"I remembered our family visits at the wall. Twenty-five years ago, as a child, I had walked through the narrow alleys and markets. The impression made on me by the praying at the wall never left me. My memories blended in with the pictures that I had seen at a later age of Jews, with long white beards, wearing frock coats and black hats. They and the wall were one."
On June 12, he assembled with his paratroopers on the Temple Mount and spoke to them even more pointedly in the language of identity: "You restored the Mount to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall—the heartbeat of every Jew, the place to which every Jewish heart yearns—is once more in our hands."
Gur continued, "During the War of Liberation, mighty efforts were made to recover for the nation its heart—the Old City, the Western Wall. These efforts failed.
"The great privilege of finishing the circle at long last, of giving back to the nation its capital, its center of sanctity, has been given to you."
Much of this material, its sources and much more is covered in Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.
Next time, Uzi Narkiss rejects a suggestion from a religious leader to destroy the Muslim shrine, The Dome of the Rock.