For Col. Shimon "Katcha" Cahaner, fighting for Jerusalem was an experience like no other.
Cahaner, who spoke at Cong. Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah on Monday, served as deputy battalion commander of the paratrooper unit that participated in the battle of Ammunition Hill in the 1967 Six Day War, considered one of the bloodiest battles in Israel’s history.
The site, whose name dates from World War I, was a maze of bunkers and trenches where some 1’0 Jordanian soldiers defended the eastern part of Jerusalem.
Colonel Shimon "Katcha" Cahaner speaking at Congregation Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, in Mahwah, about the Ammunition Hill projects. Photo Daniel Santacruz
The battle started on June 6 of that year about 1:’5 a.m. when the paratroopers brigade, about 150 soldiers under the command of Col. Mordechai "Motta" Gur, moved in to capture the hill. When it ended at about 5 a.m., 71 Jordanian soldiers and 37 Israelis lay dead.
With the Jordanians out of the way, Israeli troops advanced and conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, which Jordan had controlled since 1948. The east was Jordanian, the west Israeli.
The colonel reminisced about the battle and spoke about his current role as general manager of the Ammunition Hill National Memorial Site to a crowd of some 1’0 people.
Born in Tel Aviv 73 years ago, Cahaner was also company commander in the 1956 Sinai campaign and brigade commander, with the rank of colonel, in the 198′ Lebanon War.
Although he had taken part in several battles with the Israeli army, the fight for Jerusalem that day in June was different, he said.
At the battle of Ammunition Hill, "I felt I wasn’t fighting for myself but for all of us, you, and the Jewish people all over the world," he said.
The best testimony to the Israeli soldiers’ bravery at the battle came from the Jordanian soldiers who fought them, he added. Cahaner recalled that at a reunion at the site with his former enemies 10 years ago, the Jordanians said they "fought like lions, but you [the Israelis] fought like suicide people. Every time we tried to kill you, you jumped up again."
When the Israelis conquered the Old City, Cahaner said, he felt "electricity" upon touching its stones.
Cahaner wants Ammunition Hill to be the third most important site in both Jerusalem and Israel, after the Kotel and Yad Vashem.
"It is a symbolic place of heroism and of the values of the Jewish people and Israeli soldiers," he added.
According to Cahaner, some ‘00,000 people visit the place annually. Some ’00 paratroopers from 16 countries attended the recent Memorial Day commemorations there.
The site, west of Hadassah Hospital, is owned by the Jewish National Fund, which is engaged in a long-term project to renovate and preserve it.
Marc Leibowitz, U.S. chairman of the Ammunition Hill Project, told the Mahwah audience that the battlefield is rapidly becoming one of the many "mandatory" stops on a visit to Jerusalem. "Ammunition Hill is of tremendous significance for us," he added.
Jerusalem Day celebrations and the induction ceremony for Israeli paratroopers are held there. Ammunition Hill features a museum, a library, archives, and a database. The JNF projects include an educational center, interactive exhibits, and the refurbishing of fences, posts, and bunkers. The intensity of the battle will be recreated with sounds and the voices of commanders and soldiers. The cost is from $10 million to $1′ million.
Another JNF project is the Wall of Honor, which seeks to pay tribute to Jews who served in the armed forces of their respective armies.
The wall is meant to dispel the myth that Jews, with exception of the Israelis, don’t have a reputation for being warriors, said Leibowitz, who served as a volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces as a paratrooper from 199′ to 1994 and now makes his home in Scotch Plains. On the contrary, he added, they have served in the armed forces of their countries in disproportionately large numbers.
Cahaner, who owns a cattle ranch in Mount Gilboa and calls himself a "Jewish cowboy," is on a tour of five American cities to promote the Ammunition Hill projects.
More information can be found at www.jnf.org/ammunitionhill