On Jerusalem Day Israel celebrates the unity of the city but how unified is it?
By David E. Kaplan
“It’s ironic,” says my wife’s nephew visiting from Philadelphia, “that on Jerusalem Day where do you think in Jerusalem our group was most afraid to walk!”
Not in the Old City but in Mea She’arim; meaning; the supposed threat not from Arabs but from fellow Jews!
Keith and his wife Caroline Joffe were part of a large delegation from the US – Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia – which falls under the umbrella organization Jewish Federation of North America – and while the organizers “did not cancel our trip despite the war with Gaza, chose not to cancel our visit to the Gazan border to view the situation following ‘Operation Shield and Arrow’ even though the situation remained tense, but they did cancel our ‘Challah Baking’ tour through Mea She’arim,” said Keith.
Advertised as “not to be missed”, my American family chose the Challah Bake tour in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighbourhood instead of the alternate option of the famed Light and Sound Show, and were then told at the last moment:
“that it was unsafe to go because the last group to visit were attacked by the residents; spat on and subjected to verbal abuse and there was a strong likelihood of a repetition. We were aghast”
Some in the group were still keen to visit as they felt that as Jews visiting Jerusalem, no visit was complete without a visit to Mea She’arim. Their persistence was met with:
“The atmosphere was not right to visit at this point in time.”
The atmosphere was not right on Jerusalem Day? A day that celebrates and commemorates the “reunification” of East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem following the victorious Six-Day War of 1967,
I was reminded of people I know, people from my youth movement in South Africa, Habonim, who fought in that war and in Jerusalem.
One such is Ian Rogow of Tel Aviv; who in 1967 was a 31-year- old, married with young kids, fighting fiercely on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He recounts the battle in this letter to his family in Cape Town, recorded in a ‘book of letters’ by the late Muriel Chesler:
“On Monday, 5th June, my company was moved after dark to the front where kibbutz Ramat Rachel, east of Jerusalem, forks the border with Jerusalem. That night we took a terrible hammering, and the shells of heavy 120mm mortars and long-distance artillery beat down on us like hail storms.
It was a long night and the machine gun and rifle fire found only brief moments of respite during the dark hours.
I shall carry with me to the end of my days, the memory of the long, drawn-out, sibilant whistle that so ominously precedes the explosion of a mortar shell. At first, you’re frightened as hell, and you strain to push your whole body into your steel helmet like a snail retreating into its protective shell as you dig into mother-earth tighter, and wish your trench was deeper, and you think of God and pray. But you have to fight back, and soon you condition yourself against hitting the dirt with every bone-chilling shriek of an incoming shell.
By the time dawn broke, Ramat Rachel was safe and by nightfall, we were in Bethlehem; white flags flying from the rooftops and the Royal Jordanian army not in sight. The next day we were in Hebron, and here too, the white flags fluttered prominently from every roof-top.”
The remaining danger, Ian writes were:
“unseen snipers. We lost many a life to the bullet of a rifle fitted with a telescopic sight and triggered by a well concealed finger.”
Ian concludes this long letter of further wartime encounters through Gush Etzion with:
“Let our political successes match our military victory as some small compensation for the heavy price we paid – so as not to let down those who gave their lives for the gain we have made by the sword.”
In the heat of battle, prescient prose if ever there was from a war-weary soldier with a young family. Rogow’s message is valid today in 2023 no less than it was in June 1967 as an ever-increasing number of Israelis anguish that the gains won by yesterday’s brave soldiers are not being squandered by today’s foolish politicians. It should be prescribed reading for anyone entering politics to read Barbara Tuchman’s ‘March of Folly’, that reveals through examples of history down the millennia from Troy to Vietnam that governments pursue policies contrary to their best interest. They do so foolishly, knowingly, repeatedly and incomprehensibly they take in the proverbial ‘Trojan Horse’. Attired in alluring political verbiage to appear to “strengthen democracy”, Netanyahu’s “judicial reform” may well prove Israel’s ‘Trojan Horse’.
It does not have to be. What is more important – the coalition or the country?
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