For 19 years Yerushalayim was a city divided, cut in two by the 1948 armistice line. After Israel’s War of Independence on November 30, 1948, at the time of the official cease-fire, Moshe Dayan sat with Abdallah Tell and UN mediators, slicing up Yerushalayim. Using a map scaled at 1:20,000, each side used a different coloured wax pen to delineate the furthest point under its control. Israel drew a red line and Jordan a green line. This is the origin of the phrase used to describe land that is “behind the green line.”
The 1948 armistice line in Yerushalayim stretched from Armon HaNatziv in the south of Jerusalem to Ammunition Hill to the north of the City. In many places the two lines converged. In addition, as the wax of the China graphic pens dried, the coloured ink lines spread out until they coved two millimetres of the map which equaled 200 meters. The drying ink caused a delicate problem as to where the exact boundaries were. For example, part of the neighbourhood of Musrara remained in a deadlock until an agreement was reached in July 1951.
Mount Scopus, where the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital are situated, remained in Jewish hands, although it was unequivocally within the Jordanian boundary. Twice a week, our soldiers disguised as policemen would travel in a convoy in order to be able to reach Mount Scopus to guard the area. The original sites of Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital were technically under the protection of the United Nations, but despite the “Mount Scopus Agreement,” the institutions were not permitted to reopen.
Jordan was a threatening enemy state.
Along the seam of the division line on the Israeli side, people lived in danger and anxiety. At any given moment the trigger-happy Jordanian soldiers might open fire on innocent civilians. Many times children playing in front of their homes were shot at. Mothers would scream to their children to take cover.
As time passed, both sides built walls and fences for defence and security reasons. The Jordanians had 36 posts around the City, as compared to Israel’s 19.
Our starting point on the walking tour is the gas station next to Liberty Bell Park. We begin our brisk walk though the suburbs, facing the old city walls that had been turned into a frontier-like no-man’s land from 1948 until 1967. Our first stop is the Har Tzion Hotel, at the Cable Car Monument, on Derech Chevron. Here, the Duke of Kent, who was member of the British Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, built a hospice for eye diseases in the 1880’s. At the time there were about four hundred different eye afflictions. The Ottoman army used the building as a weapons storehouse during the First World War. During the War of Independence fire from the Arab League made it impossible to reach positions on Har Tzion from the west of the City. At first the connection was maintained by means of a tunnel though the wadi. The tunnel made it possible to transfer supplies and evacuate the injured. This method obviously had its limitations.
Uriel Hefetz formulated a solution in December of 1948. A 200 meter (656 foot) steel cable was stretched across the Hinnon Valley, linking the Eye Hospital to the Israeli position on Har Tzion. It was only used at night, so that Jordanian Legion soldiers would not notice any activity. At the end of each night, the cable would be lowered down into the valley. The cable car reached a height of about 50 meters (164 feet) above the wadi. The rail cart could carry a maximum weight of about a half a ton. Three soldiers on each side were responsible for operating the cable car manually. The journey lasted about two minutes in each direction. Although it was used for only half a year, the IDF maintained it in perfect working condition from 1948 until 1967, in case it needed to be used again. The cable car was kept a military secret for twenty-four years, and its existence was only revealed to the public in 1972.
After using the footbridge, we turn right onto an enchanting pathway (Shaul A. Nachon Street), which leads below Mishkenot Shaananim and then we walk through its neighbouring suburb, Yemin Moshe. (There are 120 steps in Yemin Moshe). Both colonies were built on land purchased by the British philanthropist Lord Moshe Montefiore at the prompting of Rav Shmuel Salant, with funding from an estate left by Mr. Judah Touro. Mishkenot Shaananim was built in 1855, and Yemin Moshe was established in 1891.
Butterflies flit though the air, and the greenery is lush. Scarlet and red-pink bougainvillea bushes climb on walls and frame doorways. Diverse plants and beautiful flowers line the walkways. To our right in places where the thick vegetation is thinner or lower, we can view the Old City wall built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
These neighbourhoods were attacked during the 1929 Arab riots, but the residents successfully repulsed the attackers. And during the War of Independence the enemy surrounded the whole area for months. It held out heroically, but after a heavy assault in February of 1948, most of the residents fled.
The cease-fire lines established following the war turned the area into a the “no-man’s land” of a divided Jerusalem with the border between Israel and Jordan located in the Hinnon Valley. During the division period, the Ministry of Housing settled new olim, mostly from Turkey, in both neighbourhoods. Snipers on the Old City walls would indiscriminately fire at the residents, causing fear and chaos.
After the miracle lightning Six Day War the whole area was renovated. It was designated as an artist’s colony, and most of the residents who had suffered through the 19 years of terror were relocated.
The uniquely beautiful Beit Yisrael Shul of Yemin Moshe, founded in 1895 and maintained throughout the nearly two decades of the separation period, was slated to be turned into an artist gallery and studio. Rav Yehuda Leib Porush, whose forbearer Rav Shlomo Zalman Porush was among the founders of the shul, organized a demonstration of yeshiva boys to protest the renovation plan.
Eventually, the firm that had been given rights by Mayor Teddy Kollek to build an artists’ gallery in this place of worship, relented. Municipal approval for the renewed function of Beit Yisrael as a house of prayer and learning was given. The congregation was officially reconstituted in 1975, and in 1992, Rav Chanoch Yeres was engaged to serve the needs of the English-speaking members. Mishkenot Shaananim and Yemin Moshe are now upscale neighbourhoods where artists work in studios and sell their work in galleries.
Now we take the winding footpath that leads us to Mamilla, outside of Jaffa Gate. Following the approval of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, an Arab mob ransacked and burned much of the Mamilla district and stabbed some of its Jewish occupants. During the War of Independence, the neighbourhood turned into one of the main combat zones which led to the flight of both Jewish and Arab residents. After the Armistice Agreement that gave Israel the western three-quarters of Mamilla, the eastern quarter became a “no-man’s land” of barbed-wire and concrete barricades. Throughout the 19 years of the division of Jerusalem, Mamilla was subject to stone throwing, sniper, and guerrilla attacks by Arab Legionnaires from the Old City walls above it. After Israel built a barrier wall, the area became the home of new immigrants with large families and small financial abilities. It also became a centre for light industry such as auto-repair. After the unification of the city in 1967, the barricades that had lined Mamilla’s 19-year-old border were torn down. As a result of the many years of fighting and the resultant limited maintenance, many buildings on Mamilla’s eastern end were in shambles. Several historic buildings had to be condemned. In 1972 the city began to develop the neighbourhood. They evicted about 700 families, as well as communal institutions and businesses. These families were mostly Jewish immigrants from Arab states whose weak financial status left them vulnerable. For 19 years they had suffered as a live defence barrier. After they were evicted from their homes there was a steep increase in real-estate values in this former slum area. This became a key issue in the Israeli social upheaval of the 1970s and was one of the causes of the founding of the Black Panther movement in Israel.
The former Mamilla area, now called David’s Village, is a luxury neighbourhood. The apartments are mostly owned by those who live overseas and visit Israel a few times a year – causing it resemble a ghost town or most of the year.
From Kikar Tzahal we walk for about seven or eight minutes along Rechov HaTzanhanim (Paratroopers’ Road) and reach a gem of an area called Musrara in Arabic. In Hebrew it is known as Morasha and is outside the northwest corner of the Old City. The part of Musrara (Rechov Ha’ayin Het) we walk though was established by rich Christian Jordanian Arabs during the late 19th century. They built large, luxurious mansions in an attempt to escape the overcrowding in the Old City. These houses have grand entrances, beautiful masonry, and shingled roofs.
Until 1948 the Arabs of Musrara and their Jewish neighbours lived in peaceful coexistence. When the war broke out the Jordanian legion used the area to attack nearby Jewish neighbourhoods. This caused an exchange of population. The original Arabs ran away to the Jewish Musrara, and the Jews in the Jewish area fled to the area where we are walking.
After the armistice, a barbed wire fence between Jordan and Israel divided Musrara. During the early days of the State there was an extreme shortage of housing, and the Ministry of Housing settled olim there, mainly from North African countries. For 19 years almost daily, the alleyways and stone courtyards resounded with the thunder of Jordanian bullets. There were many casualties in Musrara, and Shabbos morning was the favorite shooting time for the Jordanian soldiers. This continued until the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967.
In the early 1980s the Jerusalem Municipality planned a project to improve the neighbourhood. Regulations were introduced which were designed to restore the neighbourhood to its former glory. The renovations were all to be done in the style of the magnificent existing Arab structures. Unfortunately, on many of these restored buildings, a clear line can be seen between the lower floors, built in the Arab style, and the upper floors, which look like modern apartment buildings. HaAyin Het Street is named for about 80 innocent people, mostly civilians, including doctors and nurses, who were murdered by Arab forces on April 13, 1948 in a convoy bringing medical supplies and personnel to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. The massacre was a gross violation of human rights, international military convention, and common decency. Morasha over the last decade has become more Hareidi. There is a large population of Breslover Chasidim living there.
Our last stop on the walking tour is north of Damascus Gate (Shaar Shechem), at the site where the Mandelbaum Gate used to be situated. This point was the symbol of the divided status of the city. In the 19 years of separation, this was the only crossing point between Jewish Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. The crossing was named after the four-story mansion of Rav Simcha Mandelbaum which stood in close proximity. Rav Mandelbaum built his home on this exact spot because he wanted to extend the northern boundary of Yerushalayim and make sure that a nearby Italian church did not purchase the plot. The villa was built between 1925 and 1929. When the foundations were dug, they found coins from the Bar Kochba period. Engraved on them where the words “freedom of YIsroel” and “freedom of Yerushalayim.” Rav Simcha claimed that these coins were proof that the third wall around the Old City extended to where his home stood. In fact one of the reasons Meah Shearim, which is close to Shaar Mandelbaum, was built where it is, was that the organizers calculated that the area is within the ancient walls of Yerushalayim.
During the War of Independence, the Mandelbaum House was a strategic military stronghold. In an effort to penetrate Meah Shearim, the Arabs first attacked Mandelbaum House. The Arabs succeeded in partially blowing up the building after the Jewish forces evacuated it. Today the renovated Mandelbaum House is a Breslover Yeshiva.
On our walking tour, we’ve witnessed the great kindness which Hashem did for Klal Yisroel forty three years ago, reuniting the divided city. It was a time full of great miracles still felt and seen today.
About the Author: Originally from south Africa, Vardah has been living in Eretz Yisrael since 1974 and the more she learns about our glorious Holy Land the more she gets to love this prime property that Hashem has given to the Jewish People. She is studying to be a tour guide and hopes with the help of Hashem, through this column to give readers a small taste of the land.
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