Six-day war: Israeli paratrooper and Palestinian recall conflict 50 years on

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Six-day war: Israeli paratrooper and Palestinian recall conflict 50 years on
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Yitzhak Yifat, who features in David Rubinger Western Wall photograph, and ex-soldier look back: He said, Please stop. And then he took the famous picture

Dr Yitzhak Yifat, an Israeli paratrooper in 1967, was the central figure in David Rubingers famous photograph of three Israeli soldiers celebrating the capture of the Western Wall.

I was 23 then and a corporal. When Gamal Abdel Nasser [the Egyptian president] blockaded the Suez canal, Israelis were being called up. I wasnt called up at first I was a teacher then but on 23 May I was back home in Tel Aviv when I heard the doorbell ring. I opened it. I saw a boy and girl, both soldiers. They had my call-up order and in a few minutes I had prepared a backpack.

Azzam Abu Saud, a former economist and businessman, later a novelist. At the outbreak of the six-day war, Abu Saud, then a student on his summer holidays, volunteered to join the Jordanian forces.

My family had a house in what was then the Mugrabi neighbourhood next to the Western Wall [destroyed after the Israeli conquest]. I was 19 and living with my family in Beit Hanina [in eastern Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control.] The day the war started, June 5th, Id returned from university in Cairo for the summer. My father gave me some money and told me to go to Jerusalem to buy some meat and vegetables we needed.

Yitzhak Yifat

On the first day of the war, I was with my unit in a kibbutz near Tel Nof airport. We were waiting to board planes to jump in and capture El Arish [in Egypts Sinai]. News came that Jordanian planes had started to bomb Jerusalem and there were casualties in the city. I saw our battalion commander looking preoccupied. He said: Were taking buses to Jerusalem.

Yitzhak
Man in the middle: Yitzhak Yifat, who is the central figure in the famous photograph. The late David Rubinger is visible in the background. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum for the Guardian

At midnight we got to Jerusalem. Women and girls came out with trays of coffee and cakes. I started to have toothache. Luckily, a woman came out from a building next to where we were standing and said: My husband is a dentist. If someone needs help, this is the moment.

He gave me a local anaesthetic and the pain disappeared. Then we started to go in the direction of Ammunition Hill [one of the Jordanian positions]. By then, it was the early hours of Tuesday.

Azzam Abu Saud

I was on the bus in to Jerusalem when we started hearing about the war. Jordan didnt enter the war until 10 oclock when it was announced on the radio on the bus. So some of the other young men thought it good to volunteer to defend Jerusalem, so we decided to go to Jaffa gate to the Old City. There was a prison then opposite King Davids Tower.

The Jordanian army was there and we said we wanted to volunteer. They got some jeeps and took us to Ras al-Amud [then a village just outside the city walls, now part of Jerusalem] and put us in a truck. We thought we were going west but they took us to a training camp near Jericho. We arrived around 11 and they gave us some military clothes. Then around two in the afternoon the first Israeli planes bombed the camp.

Azzam
Azzam Abu Saud, a former Palestinian economist and businessman and later novelist, who was in Jerusalem when war broke out on June 5 1967 and volunteered to fight with the Jordanian forces. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

The part they bombed first was the toilet and the kitchen. Then at six sharp the second Jewish planes attacked the camp and hit the weapons store and carried on bombing from six till sunrise the next morning. By then we were hiding in some small caves in the area.

Yitzhak Yifat

We could hear the sound of the Jordanian bombing. It was the early hours of Tuesday now. When we got close to Ammunition Hill we took positions. There was barbed wire around the base and one of the soldiers blew it up and then we entered.

The trenches were very narrow and the fire was very heavy. One of my friends was next to me and was hit by a bazooka and died. We continued running and got into hand-to-hand combat. We kept going forward and the Jordanians fought really well.

At some point I ran out of bullets. I stood aside and tried to change the cartridge. I saw a Jordanian soldier aiming at me from close range. I jumped on him, hit him with my rifle and kicked him between the legs then shot at him. I was injured slightly but the Jordanian soldier was dead. A few hours later, in the morning, we had finished and conquered the hill [the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in Jerusalem].

Azzam Abu Saud

After the night of bombing at the camp it was now Wednesday morning. The order came to go east to Jordan and they sent two buses to evacuate the camp. The buses werent enough so I stayed in the camp. But the buses didnt come back. They were bombed on the way to Jordan near the Jordan river. Then at six in the evening we were ordered to walk east to the bridge.

It was a very bad situation. On the road to Jordan we saw a lot of vehicles. Soldiers dead, hanging over a truck.

We reached the bridge at nearly midnight thirsty, hungry. A truck took us the next morning towards Amman in Jordan and told us they were looking for the remainder of us from the camp 99. Then we went to Zarqa to the main camp of the Jordanian military and asked the soldiers what to do. They didnt know. So we went to the road and hitchhiked. I went to the town where I had some relatives. I was safe and I burned my uniform and put on civilian clothes. I stayed in Jordan and later returned to university in Cairo.

Yitzhak Yifat

After the fighting on Ammunition Hill we were sent to Augusta Victoria hospital on Mount Scopus, then to the Old City. That all took a day. Around midday, we entered the Old City through Lions Gate.

We lost one of our main officers in the fighting at Augusta Victoria but there were no big battles from Augusta Victoria until the Temple Mount, although approaching the Temple Mount there were snipers.

We entered the area of the Kotel [the Western Wall] through the old Mugrabi gate. In those days there were houses [now demolished, including a home belonging to Azzam Abu Sauds family] only two metres (7ft) from the wall. It was a very exciting moment to see the huge stones after 2,000 years of waiting.

It was the second day of fighting for me. It was incredibly exciting and emotional to touch the stones of the wall. David Rubinger [who took the picture of the paratroopers celebrating at the Western Wall] hadnt been with us.

Then suddenly he showed up in the afternoon. He was lying on the ground and said: Please stop. And then he took the famous picture.

Then the news came from the northern border that Syria was shelling, so there was a decision that we would go to the north. But we didnt get there as the ceasefire happened.

Azzam Abu Saud

The rest of my family had stayed at home in Beit Hanina. On the Thursday morning they saw Israeli military vehicles passing on the main road. On the Saturday morning my two sisters walked into Jerusalem to see the rest of the family in the Old City. The Israelis were inside al-Aqsa mosque. The entrance of our houses was through the mosque through the Mugrabi gate. Everyone was safe.

The Israelis later demolished that area to have enough space for Jews to come to the Wailing Wall and pray. They started asking people living in their houses to evacuate. That was in September. When my father heard he went to see mayor it was early 1968 by then. The mayor told him sorry. And the houses were all demolished.

Yitzhak Yifat

I didnt know then what the result of the war would be. I can say that the results of the war were bad. We realised that we had conquered another people. A whole people. And now it seems we cannot now get to a true peace, a real peace.

This is a result of the same war. To tell the truth, I dont know how to change it. Every day we have incidents like this.

Azzam Abu Saud

Right now, I am not optimistic, but I think that the occupation will end sooner or later. In 50 years. In 100 years. The winner will try to keep what he gets as long as they can.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/29/six-day-war-israeli-paratrooper-and-palestinian-recall-conflict-50-years-on

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