My Jerusalem: Rabbi recounts Six-Day War memories

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem from Abu Tor.
(photo provided)

Jerusalem is the city I love, where I feel at home, the city I know better than the palm of my hand. For her streets, open markets, smells and tastes of her dishes, I yearn daily.

Born and raised in the holiest city in the world, the prettiest place on earth, I grew up in a neighborhood where my parents let me play in the streets, knowing that I was safe.

However, I always knew there were places you could not go, places that were dangerous.

My neighborhood was on the border with Jordan. One of our neighbors lost a leg stepping on a mine when he accidentally crossed into the “no man’s land.” Another was killed by a sniper in one of many cross-border shootings.

I knew from the moment I could walk outside where our army posts were, and which were theirs.

There were houses close to the border with bullets holes in their walls, a reminder of the danger of living so close to the enemy.

Every guest was shown the border; it was the attraction of our area.

When I was 4, we visited my mother’s family in New York. I wanted them to show me the border, and was upset to hear there wasn’t one. I could not fathom that there were places with no borders, where enemy soldiers were not pointing their guns at you.

Then, when I was 6, the Six-Day War began, which would wipe out the borders.

I remember the war clearly. When Jordanian shelling of our neighborhood began, I was at preschool. We hid in the bomb shelter for hours. When the shelling stopped, my older brother, who was 11, came running to take me home.

We ran as fast as we could, but the shelling started again and we ended up running under Jordanian bombardment. My dad had been recruited to the army reserves before the fighting, so I cannot imagine what my mom was going through waiting for us to rush home under attack.

My parents’ house was 150 yards from the border. For three days, my brothers, my mom and I sat in the corridor of the house, the only room with no windows. Bullets and shells fell on the building. On the third day of the war, we were finally able to go to the toilets without risking our lives.

The danger and the knowledge of clear borders in my beloved city are still there. Jewish kids still grow up in Jerusalem knowing they better not go to its Palestinian neighborhoods (Palestinians make up 37 percent of city’s residents) and Palestinian kids know well that they will be in danger if they end up in a Jewish neighborhood.
The mutual hate, racism and violence that both populations show one another make the borders clear to every Jerusalemite.

At age 6, I understood for the first time, that the city I love is not only mine. More than the war itself, I have clear memories of the days that followed. The first time we went to the Old City – my first visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) – I tried so hard to feel its sacredness, kissing its ancient stones.

More than anything, though, I remember the surprise guests that came to our house – its original owners.

My parents live in a beautiful stone house in a South Jerusalem neighborhood called Abu Tor. In Israel, their kind of house is called an “Arab house” – houses built by Arabs in what used to be Arab neighborhoods before their capture in 1948. At that time, the Arab residents ran away and became refugees.

A few days after the war’s end, we heard a knock on our door, we opened it to a very old lady (that is how she looked to my 6-year-old eyes) and her son. The house was theirs before 1948; they left it, running from the Israeli soldiers who captured their neighborhood. My parents who were Israeli army veterans bought the house from the government for close to nothing.

The young man and his mother were from the Nashashibi family, a well-known family in Jerusalem. The lady shared many memories from living in our house. To her, it was her house; she never sold it or gave it a way.

The hardest moment was when she asked about the jewelry she left behind when they fled; she wanted to look for it and was sure we were hiding the jewels from her. The look of shame, defeat, weakness and embracement on her son’s face is still clear in my memory.

At that moment, it dawned on me that our house was not only ours, and our neighborhood was not only mine.

I did not realize it then, but if we do not learn how to share the land – the land we view as ours and whose Palestinian residents are invisible to our eyes – if we do not learn how to divide it with the Palestinians, some of whom had fled or were chased away, then our children and Palestinian children will be forever condemned to live in a dangerous city.

In that case, they had better learn quickly where it’s safe to play.

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