On June 7, 1967 a troop of Israeli soldiers entered the Old City of Jerusalem. It was the third day of war. For the first time in nineteen years, Jews were standing before the Kotel, or Western Wall. Their victory was transmitted succinctly by radio: “Har ha-Bayt be-Yadenu”. “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
This event is perhaps the climactic moment in “Six Days of War“, Michael Oren’s widely revered history of the Six-Day War. Later in the book we are reminded of the allusion: to the six days of creation. It is almost impossible to imagine the euphoria that greeted the Jewish world and the sense of despair that descended over the Arab world as a result of this conflict. We still live with them today.
But all’s fair in love and war, as they say. Or is it? In the moments following the arrival of the Israelis to the Kotel, Oren relates an exchange between Gen. Uzi Narkiss and chief rabbi of the IDF, Shlomo Goren. Goren proposes the destruction of the two Muslim shrines standing on the Mount: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Narkiss ignores the proposal. The Friday after the war ended Moshe Dayan–then Minister of Defense–would pray there with Muslim worshipers.
Blow up the mosques–was Goren crazy? Perhaps just a little messianic and a touch meshugge. The point is not that one rabbi got carried away with his chutzpah, but that ultimately his plan was shot down. That is, someone decided to do the right thing–even in the midst of a war. Perhaps this is a negligible footnote to a much more unhappy tale: that of the last forty years. Sure, there’s still an occupation going on. And most Palestinians haven’t yet reconciled themselves to the idea of Jewish sovreignty. We have entered the era of “three states for two peoples“. But the mosques still stand on the Haram al-Sharif, and Muslims still worship there every Friday.
Marc Alan Coen – also in the NEWYORKERS section of this blog.