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Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
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An Unintended Conquest

At 9 a.m. the announcer began addressing directly a score of Egyptian air force and army commanders. “Colonel Jamal Ser Aly, commander of El Arish Airdrome: Where is your airport? Nothing has remained. We hope you have succeeded in fleeing. Major…, your son is only three months away from graduation. He would want to have his father there. Colonel…, your son is waiting for you in Cairo. It’s a pity for you to be killed.”

* * * * *

All day long the projector crew waited apprehensively atop the Histadrut Building for nightfall. In lighting up targets for the artillery observers, the men knew, they themselves would become the most visible target for the Jordanian guns.

Dennis Silk, a British-born poet, had always believed that in peacetime a searchlight unit was a suitable assignment for an “artiste” like himself, but that in war the job carried exceptional hazards. He worked as a proofreader at the Jerusalem Post and vividly recalled a story he had once handled about a retaliation raid against a Syrian position. The Syrians had thrown on a projector that was eliminated by Israeli fire in 20 seconds. Silk had already been assigned to a searchlight unit at the time, and read the story with a pang of empathy for the Syrian crew.

After darkness had settled in, the crew was ordered into action. The projectors were hauled out of their enclosures and trundled into the open. Silk felt unexpected exhilaration in the physical effort of pushing his projector up a ramp and into battle. Jerusalem was spread out below him in the throes of apocalypse. The lull had ended and every quarter in the Jewish part of the city was being pounded by shellfire. Tracers raced toward each other across no-man’s-land, and flares hung suspended on the horizon like Chinese lanterns. An officer on the roof shouted “light” and ducked behind the parapet. Like a man pulling the switch of an electric chair in which he himself was sitting, Silk reached up and yanked the projector handle.

Mike Ronnen saw the light suddenly flick on, illuminating the Arab positions on Ammunition Hill opposite him. From far to the rear came the sound of guns. Seconds later the area in the spotlight erupted in smoke and flying debris. The light switched off, but before his eyes had grown accustomed to darkness again the projector was holding another position in its glare.

For the men in the trench, who had endured an unremitting pounding from the Jordanians since morning, the sight was euphoric. It was as if someone was putting a giant finger on their tormentors and crushing them. A massive barrage hit beyond the Arab quarter of Shuafat to the north, the direction from which the Jordanian 25-pounders had been firing. The enemy shelling became even more frenzied; shells hit just behind Ronnen’s trench, making an ugly clanking sound before exploding. The shells were red hot and coming in so low that Ronnen could read his watch in their glow.

A paratroop brigade assigned to break through to Mount Scopus reached Jerusalem at dusk in civilian buses and the men debarked in the Bait Hakerem quarter. Commanders departed for hasty surveys of the front line before returning to Bait Hakerem to drew up their attack plans in apartments of local residents.

Lt. Colonel Yossi Yaffe and his company commanders, assigned the key Ammunition Hill sector, waited until darkness before approaching the border. Accompanied by a Jerusalem Brigade intelligence sergeant, they entered a building directly opposite the enemy strongpoint. The sergeant took out a set of keys and opened the door of an apartment on the top floor, leaving the light off.

Yaffe looked out the window at a discouraging scene. Streams of tracers spewed from dozens of bunkers running the length of the enemy line. The ground sloped gently upward from the Israeli side for 150 meters, rising abruptly beneath the enemy positions in a 5-meter-high bank. His men would be moving up a slope straight into fire from the bunkers. The air photos indicated two thick rows of barbed wire concertina on the Jordanian side of no-man’s-land but he could not make them out in the darkness.

About the Author: Abraham Rabinovich is a former reporter with The Jerusalem Post who covered the Six-Day War. His classic account of the conflict, from which this essay was adapted, has just been published in a revised and expanded eBook – “The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest That Echoes Still” – available at Amazon.com.


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