How Israel Deceived Jordan for 19 Years Straight in Jerusalem

Two Israeli veterans explain how Israel sneakily beefed up Mount Scopus in the run-up to the Six-Day War

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Jerusalem seen from Mount Scopus. For 19 years, Israel violated the 1949 armistice agreements.
Jerusalem seen from Mount Scopus. For 19 years, Israel violated the 1949 armistice agreements.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

For 19 years, Israel violated the 1949 armistice agreements that ended the War of Independence. The violations took place on all fronts: Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, and especially in the demilitarized zones overseen by UN observers.

The most blatant and daring violation took place on Mount Scopus, at the time a demilitarized enclave, an isolated Israeli outpost in the heart of Jordanian East Jerusalem. By order of the government, the new Israel Defense Forces smuggled banned weapons to Mount Scopus while the soldiers disguised themselves as police officers guarding the enclave.

Then as today, Mount Scopus housed the buildings of the Hebrew University and a branch of Hadassah University Hospital. The idea to establish a university for the Jewish people was first raised in 1882 by a rabbi and University of Heidelberg mathematics professor, Zvi Hermann Schapira.

Five years later, he submitted his proposal to the First Zionist Congress in Basel, but no decision was made. Only 16 years later, in 1913, did the 11th Zionist Congress vote to establish a university in Jerusalem; it chose Hebrew as the language of instruction.

On July 24, 1918, with the British now in control of Palestine before the end of World War I, the Zionist movement secured British consent to lay the university’s cornerstone. The ceremony was attended by the British commander, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, the leaders of the local Jewish community and the mufti of Jerusalem, Kamel al-Hussaini.

The biweekly convoy to Mount Scopus, in the 1950s. Credit: Deror avi / Alef Project

In 1923, Albert Einstein, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years earlier, was an ardent supporter of establishing the university and a member of its academic council. He visited the country, and there on Mount Scopus, delivered the first scientific lecture in the university’s history, on the theory of relativity.

About a year later, in 1924, the first two institutes, chemistry and Jewish studies, began operating on Mount Scopus, and on April 1, 1925, the official opening ceremony took place. Among the 10,000 invitees were Alfred Balfour, who had penned the Balfour Declaration, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel and poet Haim Nahman Bialik. He referred to the event as “lighting the first candle in dedication to Israel’s spiritual life.”

A forward postbehind enemy lines

Agreements signed at the end of the War of Independence between the IDF and the Jordanian army, under the auspices of the United Nations, regulated the transport connections between West Jerusalem and the Mount Scopus enclave.

It was agreed that two convoys per month of 85 police officers and 35 civilians (15 allowed to visit for only a few hours at a time and 20 who maintained the university buildings) were permitted to visit the enclave. The Jordanian army was responsible for the security of the convoy in hostile territory, with UN observers accompanying the Israelis driving up to Mount Scopus. The convoys set out in two armored buses, each accompanied by a UN observer and two Jordanian soldiers.

Students at the Mount Scopus campus, Northern Jerusalem, in 1935.Credit: Zoltan Kluger / GPO

These and more details appear in Yossi Langotsky and Nehemiah Zerachovich’s book “In the Footsteps of the Jerusalem Battle Trails in the Six-Day War,” which came out in Hebrew last year. Zerachovich, a soldier in the paratroopers’ reconnaissance unit who was wounded in the battle for Jerusalem, is a veteran educator who makes sure the brigade’s legacy is passed on.

Langotsky, a geologist, is also a retired colonel who won a Medal of Honor as commander of the so-called Jerusalem Patrol during the Six-Day War. He later established and commanded the Special Operations Division and was the technology chief at Military Intelligence. In recent years, he has warned about the threat of the attack tunnels into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon.

In a chapter dedicated to the Mount Scopus enclave, Langotsky and Zerachovich argue, with the aid of maps, that the Israeli government always intended to deceive the Jordanians and deploy soldiers disguised as police officers on the mountain.

The IDF attached great importance to the enclave because of “Mount Scopus’ unique advantage as a forward post behind enemy lines,” the two write. “Three days before heading up, the soldiers took part in briefings and weapons training, including [training] that was legally permitted in the enclave. Tailors provided the fighters with police uniforms, under whose guise they went up the mountain.

“Before each convoy was deployed, the soldiers had to submit to a detailed roll call in the presence of UN observers and Jordanian soldiers at the border crossing at Mandelbaum Gate. This process, essentially a very thorough weapons check, lasted four hours. The soldiers’ gear was spread out and the UN observers searched it. Even groceries and other items bought at the canteen weren’t spared.”

The ceremony of the opening of the Hebrew University, on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, in April 1925.Credit: the Matson (G. Eric and Edith)

Despite this, over the years the IDF managed to smuggle many banned weapons onto Mount Scopus. Under the armistice agreement, the Israelis in the enclave could possess small arms used during the War of Independence: 50 English rifles, 35 Sten submachine guns and four machine guns manufactured before 1947. The smuggled weapons were more modern, including 48 Uzis, 42 Belgian-made FN rifles, 46 machine guns, 10 bazooka projectiles, 14 52-mm mortars, eight German machine guns, two 81-mm mortars, two 20-mm antiaircraft guns, two-way radios and large quantities of ammunition.

The smuggling methods, Langotsky and Zerachovich write, were perfected over the years and carried out by Military Intelligence’s technology unit. Bags containing weapons were tucked underneath the armored vehicles en route to the enclave or concealed in gas cylinders and fuel barrels.

“The three RCL jeeps and the two antiaircraft guns were taken apart, hidden on the roofs and sides of the buses, and put back together upon arrival. Barbed wire, essential for defense, wasn’t allowed on Mount Scopus. To defy the ban, a secret factory was set up to make barbed wire from metal rods left over from housing construction before the War of Independence.”

The king and his people

The smuggling operations on Mount Scopus were kept secret even from the soldiers who served in the enclave. Only a handful of commanders were in the know.

Meanwhile, a runway was built, communication devices were installed, and observation posts were set up on the roofs of the university buildings. With the help of the security forces, intelligence officers stationed on the mountain could tap the Jordanian army’s phone lines and learn about its intentions for the enclave.

“The secret to the success was this compartmentalization – strict secrecy that ensured that no one knew what anyone else knew,” the authors write. “On Mount Scopus, the commanding officer, a major, was referred to as ‘the king.’ His aides, the skeleton staff of the permanent command, were called ‘the king’s men,’ and the common soldiers were called ‘the people.’”

For historical accuracy, it should be noted that Jordan also violated the armistice agreement, which the parties signed in Rhodes in April 1949. The agreement stipulated that the cultural and humanitarian institutions on Mount Scopus would enjoy free access, and there would be free access to the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives.

Jordan never fulfilled its obligations. The faculties of Hebrew University were kept shut, and except for the force that stayed on the mountain and the convoys servicing them, access to the buildings was not permitted.

The university thus had to move to temporary structures in the city, and in 1953 the construction of the Givat Ram campus in the west began. Most of the university’s faculties were transferred there, except for the medical school, which relocated to Hadassah’s Ein Karem campus in 1964, while the agriculture faculty moved to Rehovot.

In any case, Jordanian soldiers were stationed around the enclave, surrounding it with outposts. The big fear was that the Jordanian army would attack Mount Scopus and take it over.

To prevent this, patrols by day were accompanied by night missions to prevent infiltration by Jordanian troops and the residents of the nearby village of Isawiyah. Several skirmishes took place; in one, four Israeli soldiers and a UN observer were killed.

Sunday evening a week ago, as Jerusalem Day began, riots broke out between Palestinian youths from Isawiyah and Israeli security and police forces at the gates of the Mount Scopus campus. It’s as if nothing has changed in the 73 years since the War of Independence and the 54 years since East Jerusalem was conquered and the city was “unified” – a daily mirage that hovers over our lives and the life of the city, and in the past week unfortunately over the entire country.

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