There are pictures that are etched in the collective and national memory for generations, becoming a milestone in the history of the nation.
Such is the case of a photograph of the Israeli paratrooper weeping at the Western Wall. His was an outburst of emotion over the liberation of the Old City and the holy places, for the first time ever under the control of the State of Israel.
Forty years have passed since then. The paratroopers who fought in Jerusalem visit Ammunition Hill each year. There they honor the memory of those who fell in the battles to liberate Jerusalem, and listen to carefully hewn speeches delivered by the Prime Minister—a post held by ten different men since 1967—about the unity of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.
Everyone talks of Jerusalem’s splendor, and sings songs of praise for the city. But each paratrooper who fought in Jerusalem knows, as other Israelis do, that there is an enormous gap between the festivities of Jerusalem Day and the lackluster reality of Jerusalem on other days.
Naomi Shemer who, in her song Jerusalem of Gold described the alleyways of the Old city, the color and the sanctity, didn’t mention the poverty and the misery. Nor did she speak of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that exist apart, or of the Arab villages annexed to East Jerusalem, inhabited by those who consider themselves part of the Palestinian polity though they hold an Israeli identity card.
During the battle for Jerusalem 40 years ago, none of the combat soldiers stopped to ask how a united Jerusalem would look. There was never a dilemma concerning the liberation of Jerusalem; for 19 years Jews prayed for the unity of Jerusalem. Regardless of their political affiliation or outlook, Jerusalem was within the Israeli consensus.
It took only a few shells fired from Jordan towards Jerusalem for Motta Gur’s Paratroopers Brigade to receive the order to capture the Old City. The Paratroopers’ Brigade conducted a bloody battle to liberate the city.
Forty years later, sacred aura surrounding the conquest of the Old City has faded, as have many notions that prevailed in Israeli society in those days.
Between then and now we have undergone a tectonic change. We have come from days of joy celebrating the power of the Jewish people which in the flash of six days witnessed the IDF reach the banks of the Suez Canal, the pinnacle of Mt. Hermon on the Golan Heights, the liberation of Jerusalem, the banks of the Jordan River and conquest of the West Bank; to the present time when the majority of Israelis welcomes the day when a Palestinian state will arise, when Jerusalem will be united only in its Jewish neighborhoods, with the Arab neighborhoods becoming part of the Palestinian state.
Anyone who experienced the liberation of Jerusalem forty years ago will not easily consent to dividing it anew. However, the realistic among these liberators recognizes the unlikelihood of fashioning a joint Jewish-Arab condominium in Jerusalem.
Motta Gur’s historic proclamation, “the Temple Mount is in our hands” was conducive to the passionate fervor of the battlefield—not the reality of our lives in which Jews are barred from ascending the Temple Mount. The last time a paratrooper in civilian’s clothing—Ariel Sharon—ascended the Temple Mount in the year 2000, the Intifada erupted, disrupting life for us all.
Reality is far from the glamour of songs and prayers. We will continue to yearn, to recount the bravery of the fighters, and to remember those who fell.
We will visit the monument of the parachutist commando unit every year in Wadi Joz. We will meet at Ammunition Hill. We will tell our children of the valor of our combat soldiers.
But we will not cover up the bloody dispute between the Jewish people and the Palestinian people: the crux of our conflict revolves around the struggle over Jerusalem and the holy places. And until this question is resolved, the quandary over the unity or separation of Jerusalem will linger.