Witness to the battle for Jerusalem
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Witness to the battle for Jerusalem

Former soldier to tell story of city’s reunification

In six days the Israel Defense Forces destroyed the Egyptian air force, defeated the Jordanian army, and reunited Jerusalem. Next week, Rabbi Gil Nativ, one of the paratroopers who liberated the capital in 1967, will tell the story as he witnessed it from the trenches.

Nativ, speaking at Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom on Thursday, May 3, will also show slides made during his brigade’s battle against the Jordanians.

"Some of them are really rare, taken by a soldier in my company," Nativ told The Jewish Standard in a phone interview Tuesday. "He had the guts to take photos under fire. No other soldier was thinking about taking photos."

Like most of the others in his unit, Nativ was not a commissioned officer when the conflict began. At ‘0, he had completed his required military service a few months before the war began. But when the IDF called him up for reserve duty, he felt bound to go.

Nativ’s unit had originally been ordered to parachute into the northern Sinai to fight the Egyptian army, not the Jordanians. At about 1 p.m. the first day of the war, though, the brigade received new orders to proceed to the Jerusalem neighborhoods north of the Old City. The order to enter the walled city came later. The orders took the unit by surprise, and the soldiers were not well-prepared because they had been organizing for a different mission, Nativ said. But even as bullets flew by, Nativ remembers, he had no doubts that the mission would succeed — because of its righteousness.

"It was the nature of the time and the atmosphere for young Israelis," he said. "We considered ourselves not occupiers but liberators of the Old City."

Unlike the stories surrounding the historic battle, though, Nativ’s unit did not see the Western Wall during its fight.

"We entered the Temple Mount from a different direction," he said. "Only a small group of soldiers saw the Western Wall."

Although Nativ said his talk would not be political, it is difficult to separate politics from the history and aftermath of the conflict. "The whole concept of a different people, of a Palestinian people, actually developed along the years after the Six Day War," he said. "The Palestinian Arabs developed their own national identity. Its uniqueness [differentiating it from the Jordanian identity] was not clear to them even beforehand."

Nativ believes that Israel should not rule over the Palestinians, who have developed a national identity and, in his view, deserve a country of their own. Therefore, areas in which Israel did not create a Jewish majority in the past 40 years should be given to the Palestinians in some sort of peace deal. But, he said, "Jerusalem is different."

"We have, in fact, created a Jewish majority in most of the areas that we took in Jerusalem. Even if not," he said, "Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. It’s different in that respect."

While critical in some ways of the Israeli government, he stressed that people should not forget that Israel as a Jewish state is "a historical justice" and a response to 19 centuries of persecution of the Jewish people as a minority all over the world.

Nativ said he will focus on the war as an important historic event in the lives of the Jewish people, and not on the current tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We launched the Six Day War not because we were an aggressive nation trying to annex more land, but because we were fighting for our lives and our very existence," he said. "The Six Day War in my memory was a justified war."

After the war, Nativ came to the United States but returned to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was then he felt connected through religion, which led him to become a rabbi in Israel’s Masorti movement, affiliated with the Conservative movement in the United States.

"The Jewish traditions and Jewish values are the core and the essence of the alliance between Jews in Israel and Jews around the world," he said. "It was obvious in the Six Day War, but even more obvious in the Yom Kippur War."

For more information about Nativ’s presentation, call Cong. Beth Sholom at (’01) 833-‘6’0.

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