Blog Series: Six Day War: 50 Years On

Tamir Oren, Executive Director, Stand With Us UK

Will the Last One Out, Please Turn Off the Light

Understanding the Six-Day War

"We are sitting right now on the ridge and we are seeing the Old City. Shortly we are going to go into the Old City of Jerusalem that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City... The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!”.

These were the words of the commander of the Paratrooper brigade, Lt. General Mordechai (Motta) Gur, as he approaches the Old City. A few hours later, General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the IDF, sounded the Shofar at the Western Wall to signify its liberation.

To Israelis and Jews all over the world, this was a joyous and momentous occasion. Many considered this as a miracle. Rising from the ashes of the holocaust to a victorious war against those who seek to destroy us, where the common saying before was for "the last one to please turn off the light" as an expression of pessimism for the upcoming war with Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, the Egyptian President, and his allies.

A lot was told and discussed about the Six-Day War- The surprise airstrike that defeated the Arabs’ air-force capability, the immediate change in the size of the country and its implications, and more.

But whenever I think about the Six-Day War, I think about the battle of Ammunition Hill. For me, this is the place that showcases the atmosphere in Israel during those days- The sacrifice, the change in how Israel perceived itself, and how it was seen from the outside.

Ammunition Hill was a fortified Jordanian military post in the northern part of Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem and the western slope of Mount Scopus and it was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War.

The paratrooper brigade, the brigade that many years later, I served in as a young Officer, was given the mission to mount the Hill and defeat the Jordanians, who were the obstacle to reuniting Jerusalem.

This is a story of courageous and motivated young soldiers who were unwavering and fought on, even though the odds were stacked against them.

The size of the Israeli assault force was based on incorrect intelligence, which detailed the Hill as being defended by a single platoon. When the ground assault began, the Jordanian Force defending the Hill was equal in size to our Assault Force, not the one third of its size, that had been anticipated by Israeli Central Command.

The song which was written after the war describes the fear, the hope and the victory of the few remaining soldiers who fought for the Jerusalem that we know today. This song and its descriptive lyrics play in my mind every Memorial Day.

 

We breached through the rocks

Into the fields of fire and mines of the ammunition hill

In front of fortified bunkers and 120 mm mortars

Only hundred and some lads on the Ammunition Hill

……

we left only medics behind and ran on, blindly to the Ammunition Hill

We went down into the trenches into the nooks and paths.

And into the death in the tunnels of the Ammunition Hill.

And no one asked "where to?" whoever stood in the front fell.

Maybe as they say, we fought like lions, but the people who still wish to live

shouldn’t have been there on the Ammunition Hill.

……

Seven we returned to the city smoke ascended from the Hill

The sun rose in the east on the Ammunition Hill

For fortified bunkers and for our lads, our brothers,

Who stayed forever in their twenties on the Ammunition Hill.

 

As a Paratrooper commander, we used to conduct our final march as part of our basic training, to the Ammunition Hill, to Jerusalem.

Walking for 80km from central Israel to the Capital and receiving the desired red beret in a ceremony above the tunnels of the Ammunition Hill, where "our brothers who stayed forever in their twenties"   fought and won, was and still is a deeply moving experience for me.

Today Israel faces many challenges – from economic to security. But whenever I remember Ammunition Hill, I am filled with pride and I gain perspective. I feel that this battle wasn’t for nothing, and we can proudly say that we are a thriving nation which is willing to fight for its existence.

Hundreds of soldiers today see this place as a place of sacrifice but also victory. A place that reminds us that no one will be turning off the light in Israel anytime soon.