For those too young or not even born when Israel captured east Jerusalem and the Old City in the Six Day War of 1967, let me relate what I saw as a journalist.
I am prompted to write this piece after King Abdullah II of Jordan said, “denying Islamic and Christian rights in Jerusalem will increase violence.” The American-educated monarch was only five years old at the time of the war, so this article will hopefully enlighten even His Majesty, whom I once posed with for a photograph in Washington, D.C.
In the aftermath of the war I was among a number of journalists taken on a tour of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek. He narrated in fluent English as he led us among the ruins of sites holy to Jews.
We saw the willful destruction of synagogues that had stood for centuries. Now they were only rubble and gaping holes. Donkeys and other animals roamed amidst the debris.
The desecration was not the result of war but the deliberate outcome of explosives set off by the crack Jordanian Arab Legion. The demolitions were in violation of Armistice Agreements signed between the combatants in 1949.
I saw more of the sacrilegious Jordanian vandalism on east Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, overlooking the crenellated walls of the Old City. Jews so venerate this cemetery that many come from afar to be buried in the hallowed ground, opposite the Golden Gate at the Old City, where it is said the Messiah will walk through on Judgment Day.
The cemetery had been ravaged and pillaged on a colossal scale during the 19 years of Jordanian possession. Graves were open and rifled. Arabs, seeking free booty for building materials, had looted headstones, all with Hebrew inscriptions. The hordes that pilfered and ransacked the Jewish cemetery had left behind a wasteland of uprooted graves and smashed identifications.
I watched a couple praying beside a restored headstone. When they had finished I asked who lay buried there and how had they had pieced together the gravestone. The woman from Brooklyn told me her mother lay below. Her tombstone had been shattered but the couple had managed to gather up some fragments and reconstruct it with new fillers.
I took a bus ride close to the village of Bethany, where the Arab Legion had built a military camp. I walked by the path flattened with Jewish tombstones. It led to a latrine where the roof had Hebrew lettering on headstones from a Jewish cemetery.
The final atrocity during 19 years of Jordanian rule over east Jerusalem was the barring of any Jew to the Western (Wailing) Wall, the shrine next to the holiest of all, the Temple Mount. Over it now soars the Dome of the Rock mosque. The Israeli government forbids Jews from praying on their sacred site, in deference to Arab sentiment.
Since biblical times, Jews have lived in or looked towards Jerusalem, remembering their psalmist’s prayer:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Anthony S. Pitch is a former journalist in America, England, Israel and Africa, and author of award-winning non-fiction history books, including “Our Crime Was Being Jewish.”