Was there a battle on the Temple Mount during the Six Day War? New findings discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project point to at least an exchange of fire at Judaism’s holiest site during its 1967 recapture from Jordanian soldiers.
The sifting project has taken literally Paratroopers Brigade commander Mordechai “Motta” Gur’s famous pronouncement, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
Since 2005, the project’s trained and volunteer archaeologists have painstakingly picked through much of the 400 truckloads of earth that were illegally removed in 1999 by the Jordanian Islamic Waqf which administers the holy site, during a renovation of the Solomon’s Stables section of the mount.
Directed by Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira (Zweig), the project is under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University with the assistance of the National Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation. Currently, despite government assurances, it is facing financial uncertainty.
Among the half a million artifacts discovered during the sifting are dozens of articles — among them machine gun magazines, bullets, Jordanian coins, and uniform badges, which, the project claims, “may be related to the IDF’s arrival at the Temple Mount during the Six Day War.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is presenting a temporary display of some of the findings connected to the Six Day War, ancient ammunition, as well as some of the reconstructed floor patterns from Herod’s Temple courts, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter’s central square (near the Moriah jewelry store).
Well aware of the consequences from damaging the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Israeli shelling was positioned such that the Temple Mount should be spared. Indeed, it is widely thought that few Israeli bullets flew on the Temple Mount during the war; there should be little trace of spent Israeli weapons. (After capturing the site, however, it was discovered the Jordanians had stored crates of weapons on the Temple Mount.)
From 1948 until 1967, Jerusalem’s Old City was a no-go zone for Israelis and at the outbreak of the Six Day War, Israel had not prepared a plan to retake the area. According to a 2007 eye-witness account by journalist Abraham Rabinovich, “on the second night of the war, the government gathered to decide the fate of the Old City.” According to Rabinovich, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan advocated for surrounding the Old City’s walls and laying siege to it. He feared loss of life — and international political fallout — from a bloody battle in the holy sites.
Two other ministers, writes Rabinovich, opposed capture, whereas then-foreign minister Abba Evan suggested any conquest be spun as a military response to shelling.
Findings from the sifting project testify to a military response, which was collaborated by Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, who was with the paratroopers who entered the Old City through Lion’s Gate.
“As we entered the gate into the Temple Mount, paratroopers shot bursts of fire into the air to intimidate [the Jordanians], but Motta Gur immediately gave his famous order, ‘Cease fire! All forces cease fire! A holy place, do not shoot. The Temple Mount is in our hands,'” Bin-Nun told researchers with the sifting project.
The researchers also spoke with Yaakov Goldfine, a sniper in the Jerusalem Brigade who entered the Old City through Dung Gate. “I entered the gate and ascended the Temple Mount. It was easy to see how the Jordanians used the Temple Mount as a military fortification. In spite of that, our orders were not to shoot at the Old City with heavy weaponry or bomb it from the air. The neutralization of the Jordanian positions was done by the infantry forces, and it cost us lives,” said Goldfine.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is displaying many of its findings which may be connected to the Six Day War. Among them is a 25-round magazine of an Israeli made Uzi sub-machine gun — the personal weapon of every IDF commander — as well as several 9 mm bullets.
On one of the discovered 9 mm bullet casings was an inscription indicating a 1956 manufacture date. Another was manufactured in 1952 and, according to the project, has the Hebrew letters “MIT” (an acronym for the State of Israel’s Military Industry). Additionally, a 7.62 mm blank cartridge was found with a headstamp date of 1957.
According to the project, “These bullets and casings attest to the fact that during the Six Day War, antiquated ammunition was used.”
Following the 1948 War of Independence, Israelis were forbidden from alighting the Temple Mount until its recapture in 1967. Coins found by the sifting project attest to immediate Israeli presence after the war. Among those discovered are “four corrugated aluminum Agora coins,” which were minted in 1967 and 1968.
Some 40 Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom coins were also found, which were nearly all dated to pre-1967.
According to the sifting project, several post-1967 Jordanian articles have also been discovered in the rubble discarded by the Islamic Waqf, which “reflect the complex political situation on the Temple Mount.”