The battle for Jerusalem is in our hands (cont.)
My glory-stealing brothers
Uzi Eilam, today a researcher at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, served in a series of positions, including director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. But he will go down in history as the man who commanded the battalion that broke through the Lions Gate and captured the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Still, Eilam has reservations about Gur's famous order to break through.
"We arrived at the Mt. of Olives and from there he gives the order 'All forces to the Lions Gate.' That is an order that says nothing except to run in disorderly chaos." Eilam was worried about chaos at the narrow gate and sent the deputy battalion commander, Dan Ziv, and two companies to the Dung Gate.
Only a handful of Jordanian soldiers remained within the walls, and the capture of the Old City was a negligible event in military terms. With its end, a new battle began, one that continues to this day - a battle over the war's memory. Uzi Eilam says that "the war was too successful. Everyone was drunk with success, and in my opinion we paid dearly for things that everyone knows [to avoid] today."
Eilam says that the IDF did not learn operational lessons. "There was no acceptable investigation of the overall war. The only one who conducted an investigation was Motta, through his staff officers, and afterward he wrote his book. I conducted my investigation in the battalion, and I decided to suspend two company commanders and one deputy company commander. Motta wouldn't have done that."
One of the brigade's first activities after the battle was to produce a filmed re-creation, for public consumption. "That made us very angry," says Nir Nitzan, who is joined by many of the officers and fighters who refused to take part. Eilam was one of those. "In my opinion, war is a serious thing. I didn't like the festivities, it bothered me to take everything and to subordinate it to some public relations campaign. After the ceremony on the Temple Mount, I took my soldiers aside, I saluted them. In my opinion, that's worth far more than all the noise."
Zamosh, who served as a company commander under Eilam, describes a bad feeling among many officers in the battalion. "It began immediately after the war. We fought well, and there is no such thing as a battle without mishaps, but we lost one third of a brigade, 700 wounded and 100 dead, and we didn't see the brigade commander at any point. We didn't see the staff either. And the first thing [Gur] did even before the first meeting with the bereaved families was to travel to the United States at the head of a bonds delegation."
In the coming months, Arik Achmon was involved with collecting materials and conducting interviews with most of the officers and some of the fighters. His activity aroused opposition among many officers and combat soldiers, who felt that the enterprise was intended to enhance Gur's name and to whitewash the failures. They called the investigators "renovators." No other body in the army investigated the battle for Jerusalem and drew conclusions. Gur decided on the list of who would receive decorations and medals.
"He investigated the soldiers but not himself," says one of the senior officers in the brigade, who asked not to be quoted by name. The investigations led to Gur's 1974 book "The Battle for Jerusalem" ("Har habayit beyadeinu," in Hebrew). Many fighters and officers claim the book has inaccuracies. "Motta had a talent for talking and a talent for performing, and he knew how to present things. He knew to say 'the Temple Mount is in our hands,'" says the officer. "There are people who would succeed even in turning the conquest of Rafah [in the Gaza Strip] into an ethos, it depends who does it. The commander of Battalion 890 in the war, Yair Tel-Tzur, who was killed a month later, managed to call that phenomenon 'my glory-stealing brothers.'"
Yoske "Balagan" Schwartz is not angry at Gur. "There were mistakes and there were people killed by friendly fire, and we were shelled by our mortars," says Schwartz, who fought in Battalion 28 in the "death alley" battle. "We arrived at the Western Wall, a few hundred out of 1,200 people, but this contact with the Western Wall healed many wounds. War is not a concert, and we did our part. Let the big strategists say that things could have been done differently, in the dark, at night, under fire. Do you know how many friends I lost there? I'm a staff sergeant so don't ask me questions."
Even Schwartz, however, did not like the manner in which Gur tried to promote the story of the battle in the press. "A year after the liberation of the city, they invited me to come to Beit Agron and Motta Gur was sitting with journalists and told them to talk to me. I told them to leave me alone. Another time, Motta called us to headquarters in Jaffa and asked us to speak to journalist Moshe Natan [who wrote a book about the battle for Jerusalem]. We whispered 'no' to him, so he told the secretary to issue one-week tzav 8 emergency call-up notices. We told him, come on, we have work, and he replied 'So eat lunch and talk to him, or you'll get tzav 8 notices.'"
Colonel (res.) Moshe Peled, deputy company commander in Battalion 71, who later became an MK from the Tzomet party, and deputy minister of education, considers all the improvisations and the developments of the battle "one of the great successes of the IDF, and if I can say so from a political perspective, I see a miracle here. The biggest mistake was Hussein's, for entering the war and setting his own fate. The IDF exploited the attack on Armon Hanatziv and southern Jerusalem, and the leadership deserves a medal even for that. Had they begun to carefully check the conduct of the battle and had they delayed, I don't know whether the results would have been the same. I don't see Motta as a brigade commander who was thinking about his political life or about being chief of staff, that's maliciousness. He understood the greatness of the event, he had a winning card in his hand. This was the formative event of the State of Israel in all 59 years of its existence."
Nonetheless, Peled was not appreciative of the commemoration campaign. He, too, did not participate in the filmed re-creation, "I didn't like that entire performance. I understood the need for it, but I was repelled by it." Nor did he connect with the official ceremonies that take place each year on Ammunition Hill, and like most of his friends he prefers to participate only in the battalion memorial ceremonies next to the monuments built at the battle sites. "At the official ceremony you will find very few of the members of the 55th Brigade. They have taken over Ammunition Hill from us. We don't really have a place there."
And if that is how the paratroopers feel, what about the members of the other two brigades who fought in Jerusalem, and whose role has been forgotten?
You can't fight legends
Yossi Langotsky, the head of the commando unit of the Jerusalem Brigade, received a decoration, and after the war returned to the standing army, where he commanded a mysterious intelligence unit and twice received the Israel Security Prize. He feels, however, that he lost his place in history.
"A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to a Jerusalem Day ceremony from 'the Paratrooper Brigade, which liberated Jerusalem and crossed the Suez Canal.' I called Israel Harel [chair of the commemoration society] and told him that it wasn't nice, and that they shouldn't still be calling themselves the paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem; that there are others who deserve this title. He said 'You can't fight legends.'
"The professional truth is that the battle for Jerusalem was decided on the strategic level during the first 12 hours of the war. The battle team, of which the commando unit was the main body, cut Jerusalem off from the south Hebron Hills the moment we captured Armon Hanatziv and the 'Sausage' outpost that controlled the southern junction. In the north, the Harel Brigade, as early as 6 P.M., broke through from the direction of Ma'aleh Hahamisha [to the city's northwest], captured the outposts on Radar Hill and reached Shuafat at 4 A.M. The paratroopers began their battle only at 2 A.M. The question is whether there was any need to activate the paratroops, and if so then how. I have my doubts. Perhaps the paratroopers in general should be known as the ones who participated in an unnecessary battle and spilled a lot of blood. The Old City of Jerusalem would have fallen in any case, even without them."
Amos Ne'eman describes how on the morning of June 7, the two companies from the brigade stood in front of the Dung Gate while the paratroopers were still busy capturing the Mt. of Olives, with Augusta Victoria at its summit. "The gate was open, the Western Wall was 50 meters away, on the walkie-talkie I asked Arik Regev, the command operations officer, for permission to enter, and he replied 'You'll clash with Motta.' We waited for two hours. I told Arik that they were still far away and that our soldiers were Jerusalemites, they deserved to liberate the Western Wall. He told me that he couldn't give me permission to enter because all the higher-ups were with Motta and there was a decision that he would capture the Western Wall."
Dan Ziv, who entered with two companies via the Dung Gate, has an opposite version: "A week after the war Motta called me and told me, 'Listen, the brigade is getting all the glory but we have to give something to the Jerusalem Brigade, too. So what we've decided is that they were the first to enter the Dung Gate rather than you.'"
Langotsky, who is conducting a scholarly study of the battle for Jerusalem, says the soldiers of his brigade were involved in the capture of the Old City at the same time as the paratroopers. "They came along the eastern side of Mt. Zion and entered via the Dung Gate, arrived at David's Citadel and met up with the paratroopers there. But they weren't where the photographers were. We lost only 50 people and the paratroops lost 100, and the ones who wrote the books were Motta and his people. It was decided that it was only the paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem."
The 40 years that have passed since then have not taken the edge off the insult felt by Brigadier General (res.) Uri Ben Ari, 82, the commander of the Harel Brigade, at what he sees as the paratroopers' having snatched away from him its rightful legacy. "After the war," he says, "every command held a press conference, and Uzi Narkis described the battle from his point of view; after that we, the three brigade commanders, had to describe our battles. I was first, I spoke for some five minutes and told the whole story. Then came Eliezer Amitai [commander of the Jerusalem Brigade], and he also was finished after speaking for five minutes.
"Then along came Motta Gur, and took his unsuccessful battle - to put it mildly - and described where every private had gone and where he had fought and where it was difficult. He spoke about Ammunition Hill, which was not the most heavily fortified outpost in the sector; the 'Sausage' outpost captured by the Jerusalem Brigade and the radar outposts that we captured were more heavily fortified. Without the Harel and Jerusalem Brigades, Jerusalem would not have been captured, but that was the public's perception. The paratroopers did a lousy job and should have left this hill with their tails between their legs and gone home. It hurts the bereaved parents and the soldiers who fought, and that's what makes me angry, not my own personal glory."
Stop being hypocrites
Motta Gur committed suicide 12 years ago, when he knew that his cancer had defeated him, shooting himself with a pistol in his backyard. In his absence, Colonel (res.) Arik Achmon defends his memory. Achmon was the brigade intelligence officer, and during the war was "Motta's shadow."
He turned 74 a few days ago, and works as an administrative consultant to several of the large business firms in the country. He was drafted in 1951, but up until less than a year ago he still served as a logistical adviser to the IDF. Achmon insists that his investigation was serious, not a whitewash. "I interrogated everyone, down to the level of the individual soldier. Down to the last detail of the battle on Ammunition Hill."
Among other things, in the wake of Achmon's investigation, it was decided to quietly suspend the company commander who had not functioned on Ammunition Hill.
He explains the complaints of some of the officers that they had no contact with Gur during the fighting by "a totally decentralized approach. He gave freedom of action and only made decisions as to what could be relinquished." He is also convinced that during all the stages of fighting, the location of the command staff was optimal. Achmon rejects the claim that the conduct of the battle was influenced by the desire to capture the Old City. "We received a 10-minute order from Narkis, and he mentioned the Old City only in the last sentence, when he said 'And I hope that you will roll back the shame of '48.' It had absolutely no influence."
He responds to the complaints of the two other brigades by saying that at 9:30 P.M., when it was decided to attack at Ammunition Hill, "Ben Ari was stuck along the way in a minefield, and Amitai was stuck in southern Jerusalem. At the same time, the armored Jordanian brigade was already moving toward Jerusalem, and Gur didn't believe the air force could stop them. Narkis told us that 'the fate of Mt. Scopus is in your hands.' He gave us the opportunity to do it that same night or in the morning with 'everything we've got.' When it turned out that it was only four Fuga [aircraft] and two artillery battalions, Motta understood that it was irrelevant and decided to choose the night."
Similarly, he doesn't accept the argument of the Jerusalem Brigade soldiers that it was possible to advance without entering Ammunition Hill. "Langotsky and Ne'eman have no idea about the front, for them everything is considerations after the fact. How can you compare a plan for a convoy that gets into trouble to a battle of total encounter with the Jordanian army?"
Achmon agrees that the order to attack via Lions Gate seems weird. "Uzi Eilam was right, but what he doesn't know is that at this stage it was clear that there was no Jordanian fighting and that this battle was a dry run. Motta said that the fight would not be here, and then in a strange decision that I still don't understand, and that was in contrast to his entire personality, he ran around insanely with his diary. We found ourselves there before everyone. It seems weird, but in fact it was relevant, for the same reason that every morning instead of holding a radio he held a diary."
And if it seems strange that a brigade commander, in the battle of his life, wrote in his diary instead of giving orders via his radio, Achmon has an explanation for that, too. Gur simply saw far ahead. "Three months after the war we drove together to the Suez Canal. I told him that some among the senior reservists were discomfited by the legend he was deliberately constructing about the battle for Jerusalem and that it didn't suit us. He looked at me and said, 'I'm telling you and all your friends, stop being hypocrites. Thirty years from now, when your grandchildren hear about the Six-Day War, nobody will remember Raful, who conducted a far more serious war than ours from Pit'hat Rafah; the entire Jewish nation will remember the story of the brigade that liberated Jerusalem, and they will be inordinately proud of that."
We and the guys from Lebanon
But not all the paratroopers who fought in Jerusalem want to be part of the legend. Three years ago Dr. Shaul Weber, a historian from the Open University, published his book "Givah Ne'elma" (A Hill that Disappeared). Weber was a 25-year-old combat soldier in Battalion 66 who survived Ammunition Hill.
Weber's book is a combination of personal experiences and historical research. His critics claim that the research is defective. His conclusion is unequivocal: There was no need to embark on the Ammunition Hill battle with the timing and in the manner approved by Gur and Narkis. "The book was originally supposed to be published under the aegis of the memorial site at Ammunition Hill," says Weber. "But there was an argument in the administration between the conservatives, who said that the book is an iconoclastic attack, and those who said that it should be published anyway." In the end he published the book himself. Achmon, who was interviewed for the book, asked Weber whether he wasn't in need of therapy for shell shock.
"The battle was described in a well-oiled public relations mechanism. Among other things, it was a stage in Motta's political ambitions," says Weber. "Motta also had a very nationalistic awareness, and he thought this was an opportunity to build a political career. He succeeded. Besides, the paratroopers don't wash their dirty laundry in public. There's the tribal campfire and it orders us to keep everything inside."
Weber testifies that one of the things that made him publish his book was the eulogy delivered by Yitzhak Rabin, who was chief of staff during the Six-Day War, over Gur's grave. When describing the brief hours of preparation before the Ammunition Hill battle, Rabin said, "Had it happened today, there would certainly have been a commission of inquiry."
Weber knows that Rabin intended to compliment Gur and to mock the culture of investigative committees, but feels that unconsciously Rabin was referring here to the longstanding argument surrounding the battle. "Rabin spoke about how Motta took responsibility," says Achmon. "Today there would have been an investigative committee about taking responsibility in such a battle. We had 98 dead in Jerusalem, like the IDF in the fighting in Lebanon this past summer. But we will be remembered for eternal glory, and Lebanon will be remembered differently.
"We were the most screwed at the time. We had prepared for an entirely different battle, and were forced to enter one in which we had to take on the Jordanians. By every military parameter we were in a much worse situation than the units during the Second Lebanon War. But at the time it seemed to us a crucial battle and nobody questioned how many casualties there would be, it was a different ethos. The critical question was whether we would carry out the mission. And not to be cry-babies afterward, like those guys from the Alexandroni Brigade, organizing demonstrations with the funding of various millionaires and shouting in the streets with that publicity-seeking redhead."