When the 1967 War and the 1977 Peace Visited My Home in Jerusalem
On the morning of June 5, 1967, I was on the bus to the high school yeshiva in which I studied. I had no idea that at that moment the Six Day War had started. From the heights of Jerusalem's Bayit VaGan neighborhood, near Mount Herzl, the sounds and sights of war seemed distant.
That changed when, hitching two rides to the center of town on my way back home that afternoon, I saw a burning bus, hit by Jordanian fire, and heard the shells and bullets reverberating downtown. Through backstreets, not visible from the Old City walls from which Jordanian soldiers were firing, I walked to meet my mother at Heikhal Shlomo, where she worked. From there we went home, a block away. When I entered my room, I realized that the war had paid me a visit. Luckily, I hadn't been there to meet it. My bed was covered with shrapnel from an artillery shell. There were also some stray bullets, which I still have in my possession.
On Wednesday, when Israel Radio announced the occupation of the Old City, I left the bomb shelter. It wasn't too long before the walls that separated Arab East Jerusalem from the western, Jewish part were torn down and Arabs from the former Jordanian Jerusalem, visibly confused, came to marvel at the Jaffa-King George junction, the only place in town with traffic lights. Resident of the western part of the city treated them with consideration, humanely and forgivingly, attitudes that have become rare in today's impatient and nervous Jerusalem. We, the Jewish teenagers of 1967, were also wonder-struck by the new sights. We used to skip school to again and again experience the marvels of the Old City's bazaars and buy cheap Chinese-made souvenirs of the kind that Israelis had not seen before. The open, united Jerusalem was a personal experience for me.
The anniversary of Jerusalem's occupation was a festive day at the military "hesder" yeshiva that I attended in Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc, south of Bethlehem). I joined the yeshiva in the summer of 1969. Two years later we built the settlement of Alon Shvut on an adjacent hilltop. One of my classmates was Yehuda Etzion, who later became a leader of the Jewish underground and served time in prison for planning to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.
The national euphoria of the 1967 victory was given religious significance at the yeshiva. Israel lost the Etzion Bloc on May 15, 1948, during the War of Independence, just before the establishment of the State of Israel was announced. It was reoccupied on June 8, 1967. The establishment of the state, the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of the sons of Gush Etzion to their homes together created a national-theological myth. The history of the Gush was identified with that of the State of Israel, and the two were identified with the mythical history of the Jewish people.
That national-theological myth was comprised of the displacement, the sacrifice, the yearning and the return. These components took on cosmic, messianic dimensions in the teachings of our yeshiva's rabbis and in the consciousness of their students. Real, down-to-earth history and politics were not welcome unless they validated the theological postulations of the Kook rabbis (Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, following in the footsteps of his father - Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook - was the spiritual leader of the settlement movement Gush Emunim). The superpowers, the European countries and the Arab states were perceived as entities whose sole intention was to disrupt God's plan.
That notion moved me to take part in Gush Emunim's demonstrations against U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's 1974 talks with the Israeli leadership over a plan for an interim arrangement with Jordan. We were the best and most available manpower for demonstrations: zealous, energetic, photogenic and disciplined. Yeshiva students used religious rites such as prayer and Torah study to impede evacuation of settlements or to prevent law enforcement authorities from breaking up illegal demonstrations.
During those romantic years, I used to walk every Friday night to pray at the Western Wall, crossing the Old City's markets on my way. I entered the Old City through Jaffa Gate and crossed Citadel Square, named after the adjacent David's Citadel - a Jewish and Zionist symbol. The square was renamed to replace Omar Ibn al-Khatab Square, which commemorated the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem in the seventh century. From there I crossed the bazaar through other streets renamed by Israel. When I stood in the Western Wall plaza, I did not realize that it was created after the Mughrabean neighborhood was bulldozed immediately after the war. Jerusalem's Arabs seemed to me to be passive pawns, a part of the fascinating and colorful Oriental set for the historical drama in which "good" Israelis fight "bad" superpowers and Arab states. The screenplay was co-authored by God and the State of Israel. I utterly rejected the view that the West Bank and East Jerusalem were "occupied." I saw the term as a foreign notion that was disconnected from reality.
I started changing on Friday, November 17, 1977. As I left home for the Western Wall, I saw before me, on the roof of the King David Hotel, the Egyptian flag hoisted next to the Israeli flag, indicating that the advance delegation for President Anwar Sadat's visit had arrived. It was a shocking experience. In the mid-1970s I had served in the Sinai several times as a soldier. Egypt to me was an aggressive enemy that had stunned Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Several of my childhood friends and my Gush Etzion yeshiva classmates had been killed in that war. On that Friday night, my one-dimensional perception of the Arab "other" cracked.
Following Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, I decided to study the modern history of the Middle East at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. I had always been interested in history and politics, but I only applied that interest to the Arab world after I started noticing its actual presence, rather than its theological presence. I realized that history is not theology.
And, as usual in Middle East history, the Palestinians came last. I applied my newly-acquired realizations to the Palestinians gradually, after the failure of Israel's war against the PLO in 1982, following the PLO's moderation throughout the 1980s and after the first intifada of 1987. In my mind, the Palestinians turned from passive to active, from fighting to ruin my country into having a political agenda and an intention to co-exist with me. I focused on researching the Palestinians' society and politics. Observing the participation of Jerusalem Palestinians in the intifada and the turning of East Jerusalem into the political center of the uprising, I gradually came to realize that the notion of a "unified Jerusalem, in which Jews Muslims and Christians live together in harmony" was fiction. My city, rather, is at the heart of a national conflict and is very much divided. Reality rather than my studies brought me to this conclusion. In my modern Middle East studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I did not have even one class on Jerusalem. According to the curriculum Jerusalem was part of Israel, not of the Palestinian territories; its Arab residents did not have a national identity. The curriculum reflected the Israeli mainstream view on Jerusalem. The intifada of 1987, the Madrid Peace conference in 1991 and the Oslo Accord of 1993 changed this view.
The 1993 Oslo agreements crystallized the disagreement over the future of the city, while offering an alternative to the confrontation: peace and coexistence with national and religious separation.
In Jerusalem, however, we also feel the price of not reaching an arrangement. Some of the most brutal Palestinian terrorist attacks of the second intifada took place in my neighborhood and on the road I travel daily.
The lessons I learned in my academic studies and as a lifelong Jerusalemite, I applied with my Israeli and Palestinian friends when we agreed in 2003 to the Geneva Initiative, a draft final status peace agreement. Turning this common ground into everyday reality is a challenge that still awaits us.

Translated by Ori Nir. First published in the newsletter of Americans for Peace Now.