Father, Son, Stone by Allan H. Goodman
Part One – War
I am Nuri. I grew up in the holy city, al-Quds. When I was eighteen, my grandfather and I walked onto the Noble Sanctuary and into the courtyard between the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.
We stood at the end of a long line, waiting to enter the Dome of the Rock. My grandfather, ninety years old, leaned on me and spoke in his halting, precise Arabic. Soon a security guard recognized my grandfather and escorted us inside, ahead of the others.
“Stay as long as you like, please,” the guard whispered to us.
The cool interior of the Dome of the Rock embraced us. My grandfather led me along the railing that surrounded the rock in the center of the dome, away from the tourists and other visitors.
“I need to tell you a story, Nuri.”
I smiled. My grandfather was always telling me stories about his life.
“This one is a long one. I hope you have time today, and maybe some time tomorrow.”
“I always have time for you, jiddo.”
My grandfather hugged me and kissed the top of my head, as he had done countless times.
“You know that when you were a child, Jews used to pray next to the Noble Sanctuary.”
“Of course,” I said. “I studied it in school. They prayed in a plaza that used to be in front of al-Buraq’s Wall. They called it the Western Wall. They stopped praying there when I was five years old. Everyone knows why.”
My grandfather smiled.
“Everyone thinks they know why,” he said. “But they don’t know the whole story.”
I looked at my grandfather, my eyes wide with wonder. He never ceased to amaze me.
“And you are going to tell me?”
He led me to a small bench against the wall. We sat and he began to speak.
The morning sun was warming the runways
at Tel Nof Airbase in
Amos Eitan, the brigade’s junior intelligence officer, watched as Meir put down the shaving brush and picked up his razor. Meir’s hands shook.
“Careful, Meir. Don’t cut your own throat before the Egyptians get their chance.”
Meir raised the razor, steadied his hand, and drew it across his face. As he did, he could hear the engines of the transport planes warming up on the runways not far from the paratrooper barracks.
Amos picked up his parachute backpack and other gear.
“Hurry up, Meir. We’re heading out.”
Meir dropped his razor in the sink and quickly wiped his face with a towel. Blood smeared from small cuts on his chin.”
“The war hasn’t even started, and you’re bleeding already.”
Amos was wrong. The war had started. A half hour earlier, Israeli jets had streaked west, emerging from the rays of the rising sun, destroying most of the Egyptian air force on its runways.
The paratroopers fell out onto the area adjoining the runway. The smell of fuel wafted in the air as the transport planes gunned their engines.
The men arrayed themselves with their gear in the morning sun and looked expectantly as the planes dropped their boarding ramps. The commander of the 55th Brigade raised his voice over the roar of the engines.
“Men of the 55th Brigade, you have been chosen for a special mission.”
Meir and Amos craned their necks forward, trying to hear above the engine noise. Before the commander could continue, three large trucks rolled up next to them. The commander’s next announcement sent the men reeling in disbelief.
“Leave your chutes on the ground where you stand. The trucks will take us to our combat assignment.”
The paratroopers groaned. They could not believe this was happening to them.
Amos turned to Meir.
“Trucks. We’re not going to get the red patch.”
The red patch was the paratrooper emblem received by
those who parachute jump during combat. During the
The men of the 55th Brigade dumped their paratrooper gear on the ground and lined up next to the trucks. The commander of the 55th Brigade could see the disappointment on the paratroopers’ faces.
of the 55th, you have been chosen to liberate
The men cheered as they raced to the trucks.
General Mordechai Gur,
field commander of the Israel Defense Forces—the IDF—stood on the terrace of
the Intercontinental Hotel on the
His gaze focused on the
The glow from the twin domes faded as the sun set.
The third day of the war dawned clear
and hot. The paratroopers of the 55th Brigade crouched just outside
the Lions’ Gate in the walls of the
Meir breathed deeply in the increasing heat and gagged. “Donkey piss,” he muttered. “This place reeks of donkey piss.”
A sniper’s bullet whizzed by his left ear, and he pulled his helmet down tighter over his forehead.
Gur remained in his outpost on the
Amos, Meir, and the other paratroopers had maintained their positions in an alley outside the Lions’ Gate since sunrise. Suddenly, the battalion’s commanding officer received the order from Commander Gur over the radio.
The commanding officer pointed his finger toward the Lions’ Gate. Amos raised his rifle and fired directly over Meir’s head, causing stone to ricochet into the narrow alley. This gave Meir cover, and he raced through the gate followed by about twenty of his fellow paratroopers.
after giving the order to take the
A boy stepped into the narrow street from a doorway. Clad in a loose-fitting shirt and cotton pants, wearing sandals, he looked unconcerned at the advancing chaos and battle garb worn by the Israeli troops. He held up his hand, and the paratroopers stopped in amazement.
“al-qubbat as-sukhrah? al-masjid al-aksa?” the boy spoke in Arabic.
Amos understood. “He will lead us to the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The boy pointed south through an alley. They could see the gold crown of the Dome of the Rock protruding from over a wall.
Gur’s half-track turned into the alley. The
paratroopers ran ahead and burst into the courtyard on the
Commander Gur radioed General Uzi Narkiss at Central Command.
bi yadenu!” The
paratroopers secured the
Uzi Narkiss left Central Command in his jeep and
headed toward the
they stood on the
“Now is our opportunity to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Do this and you will go down in history.”
General Narkiss was stunned. The consequences of destroying the Muslim holy site were unthinkable. General Narkiss did not reveal Rabbi Goren’s remark until many years later.
Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan entered the
watched several paratroopers rush to the edge of the
“hakotel! hakotel!” The Wall! The Wall!
Meir signaled to Amos. They rushed to the staircase and climbed down the narrow stairs. The stones of the Western Wall, ha-kotel ha-maaravi, usually referred to as the Kotel, loomed gray and white in a narrow alley bounded by houses. Rabbi Goren sounded his shofar as he squeezed into the alley. Some paratroopers reverently touched the Kotel. Others embraced it. Many wept.
Rabbi Goren began an ancient Hebrew prayer.
“Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive . . .”
The soldiers joined in, “. . . and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.”
Several paratroopers hoisted Rabbi Goren onto their shoulders and twirled him as he blew a shofar again and again.
felt numb, remembering that many of his fellow paratroopers had
been wounded or killed in the fighting. He had no religious feeling for
the capturing of the
A paratrooper took a camera from his backpack. Amos pulled Meir next to him. Meir was oblivious as the paratrooper took their picture in front of the Kotel.
Dusk settled over the
“Rabbi,” Moshe Dayan said softly, “we have some decisions to make, and we need to make them quickly.”
Rabbi Goren nodded but said nothing.
“We can’t sit here and celebrate, ignoring the millions of Arabs in this world who would gladly blow us off the face of the earth for doing what we did today.”
Rabbi Goren cleared his throat and nodded again.
“We will be under pressure from our own people as well as the Arabs.”
Goren placed his hands on Moshe Dayan’s shoulders,
looked him directly in the eyes, and recited an ancient Hebrew prayer, “May the
The Muslim call to prayer reverberated again through the evening air, as if in response to Rabbi Goren’s prayer.
Later that evening, Moshe Dayan stood in
the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock. A military reporter asked for a
statement. Moshe Dayan said, “We have returned to the holiest of our sites and
will never again be separated from it. To our Arab neighbors,
Amos stood guard at the bottom of the staircase leading from the Kotel to the
“ana imam. ureedu tatakalumu lakum.” I am a religious leader. I want to speak with you.
Amos motioned the man to come forward as the paratroopers held their guns steady. The man spoke again.
“tatakalamu arabiyata?” Do you speak Arabic?
Without hesitation, Amos responded in Arabic.
“naam. jayidun jiddan.” Yes, very well.
The man began speaking rapidly. Amos nodded and motioned to the paratroopers.
“He says he needs to speak to someone in authority. Check him, and then I can take him to the command tent.”
paratroopers frisked the man. Amos escorted him up the stairway to the
Night had fallen. Meir looked up,
observing the order of the night sky. He knew that the war was still raging on
other fronts. Yet peace had come to
The soldiers approached Meir. One spoke.
“This man says Rabbi Goren is waiting for him. Please escort him to the command tent.”
Meir motioned the man to follow him.
When they reached the top of the staircase, Meir saw Amos standing outside the command tent as if he were waiting for someone.
Amos came to them quickly.
“Please follow me,” Amos said to the Orthodox Jew as he led him into the command tent.
Meir stood guard outside the command tent with several paratroopers. About two hours later, Moshe Dayan, Rabbi Goren, and the Orthodox Jew left the command tent. They approached Meir and the other paratroopers.
“The Kotel is secure, I assume?” Dayan asked.
“Yes, sir,” Meir answered. “There is a contingent below along the length of the Kotel.”
Moshe Dayan, Rabbi Goren, and the Orthodox Jew descended the staircase. They came back up the staircase an hour later and returned to the command tent. Soon Amos came out with the Muslim man. Amos was speaking Arabic to him. He led him down the staircase and returned to the command tent alone. Several minutes later, Moshe Dayan and Rabbi Goren escorted the Orthodox Jew to the staircase, and several paratroopers led him away.
Amos joined Meir later that night as Meir was resting on a sleeping bag against the wall of the Dome of the Rock.
“You seemed heavily involved. What happened in there?” Meir asked.
Amos smiled and waved his hand.
“Nothing,” he said, dismissing the question. “There’s nothing I can tell you.”
By the sixth day of the war, most of the
fighting had ended. The entire nation was euphoric. Politicians and the public
discussed many changes. Former prime minister David
Ben-Gurion proposed tearing down the walls of the
The Knesset received many recommendations for naming the war, including The War of Life, The War of Survival, and The War of Peace. Ultimately, the Prime Minister’s Office chose the Six-Day War, which is what the press had begun calling the war shortly after it ended. In hindsight, the name evoked the religious aura of the six days of creation and thus a renewal of the State of Israel.
Moshe Dayan and Amos Eitan, together with high-ranking
military officers of the IDF, ascended the
in a gesture of goodwill, the conqueror ceded back control to the conquered.
The administrative control over the
That evening, Amos and Meir met at
a small sidewalk cafe on
Meir cradled his chin in his hands, staring at the
“It seems unreal, Amos. We’re both twenty-two, and we’ve survived a war.”
Amos exhaled slowly, reached under the table into his backpack, and withdrew a small package wrapped in brown paper.
“Remember the paratrooper taking pictures? He gave me this.”
Meir opened the package. Inside was a framed photograph of himself and Amos at the Kotel.
“Thanks, Amos,” Meir said. “What’s next for you?”
“I’m not sure. I’m going back to my kibbutz for a while. What about you?”
Meir looked at Amos.
want to go to
Amos laughed. “You are always the one with the questions. You’ll be a good attorney.”
Meir was silent for a few moments, and then he leaned forward.
“I have to ask again, Amos. Who were the Muslim man and the Orthodox Jew? What did they say?”
Amos crooked his neck and puffed smoke rings skyward.
“I told you, I can’t speak about what happened.”
“But we risked our lives to capture the
Amos nodded but remained silent. Meir looked him in the eye.
“Amos, what happened? Why did we give back the
Amos shook his head.
“Meir, please. No more questions.”
Amos finished his beer, stood up, and dropped money on the table.
“The beer is on me. l’hitraot. I’ll be seeing you!”
stood up and shook hands with Amos. Amos turned and walked down
Why did we give it back?
Part Two – Collapse
My grandfather paused.
“Let’s take a walk outside, Nuri. I need to stretch my legs.”
As my grandfather stood and steadied himself, the security guard came over to us. He shook my grandfather’s hand and spoke.
“Whenever you come back, come find me at the guard’s station and you won’t have to wait in line.”
My grandfather said, “shukran,” and the guard smiled at me.
We walked out of the Dome of the Rock and into the morning sun. I led my grandfather to a bench shaded by a canopy. My grandfather sat and patted the bench next to him.
“Sit. We are going to be here awhile.”
I sat close to my jiddo. I sensed he was anxious to continue with his story. He put his arm around my shoulder.
“I am not boring you, Nuri?”
“Good. There is much more to tell. There is another person who fought in the war who is important to the story. Do you remember Ezer Zadok?”
“He was prime minister when I was born, jiddo.”
My grandfather nodded.
“We are going to move ahead to 2014, several years before you were born, when he was prime minister.”
We sat, and my grandfather continued his story.
END OF EXCERPT