Looking down on the Old City of Jerusalem from its strategic vantage point on Mount Scopus, the Israeli Defense Force was preparing to strike the Jordanians.
For the last 19 years Jerusalem had been divided. In the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan had captured the eastern part of the city, including the Old City and the Temple Mount, the location of the ancient Jewish Temples and Judaism’s holiest site.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were evicted from the Jewish Quarter, synagogues were destroyed and the neighboring Mount of Olives cemetery – Judaism’s oldest and holiest – was vandalized. Since then, Jews were barred from their holy sites in eastern Jerusalem, despite the promise of religious rights in the 1949 armistice agreement.
In the early morning of June 7th, Israeli paratroopers advanced on the city, using no artillery so as to preserve the ancient site. After battling for hours and suffering numerous casualties, the Israelis prevailed.
Israeli Army Radio broadcast a cry now famous in the annals of Israeli history – “Har Habayit Beyadenu, Har Habayit Beyadenu!” – the Temple Mount is in our hands, the Temple Mount is in our hands.
Paratroopers and Israeli army officials streamed into the Old City to pray at the Western Wall, and hung an Israeli flag on the Temple Mount. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish sovereignty.
Israeli troops then began to advance into the areas surrounding Jerusalem. The historic biblical cities of Hebron and Bethlehem were captured with little to no resistance, as was Gush Etzion. The West Bank, the historical birthplace of the Jewish people, and biblically referred to as Judea and Samaria, was once again part of a Jewish state.
The battle on the Eastern front was nearly over. But in the north the fighting continued.
In just three days, Israel successfully neutralized the threat from Egypt in the South and Jordan in the East, with Arab forces in retreat in the West Bank.
But on June 8th, an Israeli plane mistakenly attacked the USS Liberty, an American electronic surveillance ship sailing offshore. Though the attack was called off when the mistake was discovered, 34 American sailors were tragically killed. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol conveyed his “profound condolences” to the United States.
On that same day, Israeli forces consolidated control of the West Bank. During the 19 years that Jordan controlled the area, Israel’s width at the narrowest point was a barely defensible nine miles, leaving Tel Aviv and all of central Israel vulnerable to Jordanian artillery.
Now that Israel controlled the West Bank, Israeli-controlled territory grew to 44 miles wide and could be more easily defended.
But more than just territory needed for security, the West Bank held great religious and historic importance. Also known by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria, this was the ancient ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, the dwelling place of Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It had always been central to Jewish identity and Jews had maintained a continuous presence there for 3,000 years.
That it was back in the hands of the Jewish state was a deeply moving event for many people around the world.
Meanwhile, Israeli advances toward the Suez Canal in the south ultimately led Egypt to accept a ceasefire late that night. But Syrian artillery continued to rain down in the north, drawing Israel into battle on the Golan Heights.
Throughout the war the Egyptian media under President Gamal Abdel Nasser had been falsely reporting military victories against Israel. But on June 9th, Nasser could no longer hide the truth. He appeared on national television, and while primarily blaming the US and Britain for providing Israel with massive military support – which was a false accusation – he admitted the defeat of the Egyptian army, and resigned his office. But, after receiving an outpouring of Egyptian public sympathy the next day, Nasser promptly withdrew his resignation.
With Egypt and Jordan defeated, Israel turned its attention toward Syria.
For decades, the Syrian military looked down on Israel’s Galilee region from the Golan Heights, and regularly shelled northern Israeli cities, towns and communities. Since the end of the 1948 War, over 1,000 rockets and shells had been fired on Israel, with Syrian terrorists regularly infiltrating the border to attack Israeli civilians. Over 120 Israelis had been murdered.
With Syria still conducting attacks despite the defeat of Egypt and Jordan, Israeli troops moved on the slopes of the Golan Heights, taking control of all the roads and access points to the strategic plateau. But the battle for the Golan continued, with firing on Israeli communities still underway.
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