Today (May 24th) is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

The newest addition to the Jewish calendar and an Israeli national holiday, Jerusalem Day is held on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar—six weeks after the Passover seder and one week before the eve of the holiday of Shavuot.

In June 1967, 28 Iyar was the third day of the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem’s Old City fell to Israeli forces.

As we discussed in prior posts, Jerusalem Day celebrates this reunification of Israel’s capital city, when the IDF essentially brought the holy city back to Jewish sovereignty. It also commemorates the two-day (June 6-7, 1967) hard-fought battle for Jerusalem, when the elite 55th Paratroopers Brigade, led by its legendary commander General Motta Gur, liberated Jewish holy places from an illegal and immoral Jordanian occupation.

Our prior posts on the battle for Jerusalem:

Now, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has released a new film, “In Our Hands: the Battle for Jerusalem”. It celebrates Israel’s 1967 victory by closely following the soldiers who valiantly fought in the battalions of the 55th Brigade, capturing the eastern half of the Holy City.

Their heroism gave Jews across the planet and Israelis (including Christian and even Muslim Israeli citizens) access to holy sites that had been denied to them for nearly two decades.

It also made possible the restoration of the many synagogues, cemeteries, and other vestiges of Jewish life that Jordanian authorities had spent nineteen long years dynamiting, looting, ransacking, and befouling (“In Our Hands” opens powerfully with footage of this devastation of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, which according to newspapers of the time had the “look of Stalingrad or Berlin in World War II.”)

Over 700 movie theaters across America played CBN’s docudrama on May 23—the eve of Jerusalem Day—at 7:00pm local time in a special one-night-only Fathom Events presentation.

Most of the cinemas were reportedly sold out.

I had the opportunity to watch it last night at a packed Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse, NY. It was an incredibly meaningful way to usher in the celebration of Jerusalem Day with family and friends.

With its inspiring reenactments, it’s ideal to see this film on the big screen (one of my favorite scenes that a computer or TV screen can’t possibly do justice: IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren holding a Torah aloft as he runs through the narrow alleyways of the Old City, making a beeline for the Temple Mount and dodging Jordanian sniper fire along the way):

[In Our Hands | YouTube screenshot]

Encore presentations are scheduled for select movie theaters. A listing and further information for ticket purchases can be found here.

For those who can’t make it to an encore Fathom Event, the film is set to be available on DVD, Blu-Ray and for digital download on June 5.

The release is deliberately timed for the first day of the 1967 war, when Jordan began a relentless bombardment of the civilian areas in the western half of Jerusalem (the shelling hit the President’s Residence, the Hadassah Medical Center, the parliamentary building and 900 other buildings in the Israeli-controlled part of the city—killing 15 civilians and wounding over a thousand).

CBN’s Film is a “David and Goliath Story” Come to Life  

As noted in the earlier post, what happened on Jerusalem’s battlegrounds during the Six-Day War is well-documented.

There are literally hundreds of books, scholarly journal articles, feature films and documentaries, and opinion editorials that address these monumental events for the history of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

In advance of the semi-centennial of the Holy City’s reunification this year, new materials about the reconstitution of Jewish Jerusalem have also been released. They include some never-before-seen black and white photos of worshippers at the Western Wall immediately after it was liberated.

Researchers will also now be able to mine the recently unsealed secret transcripts—935 pages worth, reflecting some 100 hours of deliberation—of the highly classified Israeli government committee that managed the country’s military affairs and basically “ran the Six-Day War.”

To this body of work, CBN’s docudrama is a noteworthy addition.

With a run-time of one hour and 41 minutes, the documentary isn’t really a comprehensive or complete re-telling of Israel’s lightening victory, as director Erin Zimmerman acknowledged in an interview last week.

Still, for those less familiar with the history, I thought that the movie did a terrific job of conveying the “emotional rollercoaster” that Israel’s government and its citizens experienced during the run-up to the war.

Particularly compelling are the reenactments of the belligerent speeches from Arab leaders in the weeks before the fighting.

As I wrote in my prior post, in the spring of 1967 the Arab media was saturated with calls to annihilate the young Jewish state. But there’s nothing quite like seeing and hearing on the big screen the unhinged clamoring for Israel’s destruction.

It’s no wonder that Jews worldwide talked about the possibility of a second Holocaust or that Israelis began stockpiling body bags, anticipating tens of thousands of both IDF and civilian deaths.

So basically “In Our Hands” underscores the resilience of the Israeli people against unbelievable odds.

As one reviewer of the film writes:

at the end of the day, the film is about more that the telling of Six Day War; it is about the survival of the Jewish people, which yet again escaped annihilation.”

“In Our Hands” Retraces the Decision to Reunify Jerusalem

Israel’s government and its military commanders debated and agonized over the decisions they faced in May and June of 1967.

They struggled to make sense of the unfolding events in Egypt and Syria, as the full scope of Arab military preparations to drive the Jews into the sea became increasingly clear.

They hesitated before directing the IDF to break the Arab choke ring by launching a preemptive air attack on Egypt’s Air Force bases in the Sinai on June 5, and made the fateful decision to cross over into the Old City only after Jordan’s King Hussein ignored one last offer for a cease fire.

Even up to the morning of June 7—it “wasn’t at all taken for granted” that Israeli forces would even go into the Old City.

[Commander Motta Gur & His Paratroopers Wait for the Order to Retake the Old City | In Our Hands | Movie Still | Credit: CBN]

CBN’s new docudrama highlights this “deep anxiety and ambivalence” of what has become known as “The Waiting.”

It does so using archival footage; first-hand testimony from surviving members of the 55th Brigade; and interviews with a number of experts (getting several cameos is MK Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and author of the war’s definitive study: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East).

These offer viewers a wealth of insight into the decision making process. They show how despite Jordan’s deplorable and unlawful actions, Israel had no designs on the Jordanian-controlled portions of the city.

That is, the possibility of peace with Jordan was viewed as more important than reclaiming Jewish heritage sites in any practical or physical sense.

So it’s pretty clear after watching the first half of the film that there wouldn’t have been any war or any ‘occupation’ in the absence of Arab state belligerence.

Some Memorable Scenes from “In Our Hands: the Battle for Jerusalem”

CBN’s new film depicts how the war was waged on multiple fronts, with Israel ultimately succeeded in defeating three enemy armies, and capturing huge portions of territory.

By the time the UN Security Council declared a cease fire after some 130 hours of fighting, Israel had tripled its size. It added roughly 42,000 square miles to what Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once called the post-1948 War of Independence’s “Auschwitz borders”.

The scenes of Motta Gur coming up with battle plans and then choosing his key commanders are helpful for fleshing out key aspects of the military operation.

[In Our Hands | Movie Still | Credit: CBN]

But the best parts of the movie by far are the exciting dramatized reenactments of what the paratroopers themselves experienced in the battle for Jerusalem.

These reenactments were filmed on location in Israel, including at Ammunition Hill, the Rockefeller Museum, the Mount of Olives, the Tower of David and more.

Filming took 17 days using Israeli crews and more than 100 actors and extras (the film stars Israeli actor Sharon Friedman who brilliantly plays General Motta Gur).

In these remarkably well-researched scenes, the film transforms into a compelling and emotional “Israeli version of Band of Brothers” (estimates vary, but by most accounts some 780 Israelis and roughly 20,000 Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians died during the week of fighting; in the one bloody night of trench warfare at Ammunition Hill, 36 Israeli paratroopers and 71 Jordanian soldiers were killed).

Much of the documentary follows the courageous soldiers that made up the 55th Brigade. They were men from all walks of life who had trained for weeks to do a parachute jump in the Sinai only to have that mission aborted and to be ordered to turn around and “go into an urban warfare situation that they were not trained for.”

[Paratroopers watch IAF planes head toward the Sinai on June 5, 1967 | In Our Hands | Movie Still | Credit: CBN]

As director Erin Zimmerman remarks:

They went in blind and had to improvise at every turn. The bravery through the firestorm and blood and guts of that fight; it was amazing to me that they ended up victorious despite the odds.”

The battle reenactments in the trenches at Ammunition Hill are particularly well done.

But also moving is what happened after the fighting was over, for example when the paratroopers at Ammunition Hill bury the Jordanian soldiers who were killed in battle, erecting a makeshift tribute to their bravery:

[In Our Hands | Movie Still | Credit: CBN]

The reenactments at the Western Wall are also touching, including the one of the colonel helping an Arab woman give birth, and the one when a soldier teaches his non-religious friend how to pray for the first time:

But if I had to pick a favorite reenactment it would be where Yoram Zamosh, the company commander of the 71st battalion, and some of his troops are hosted for dinner by a Jewish family in west Jerusalem.

While seated at the dining room table, Zamosh is given an old Israeli flag to take with him into battle. It turns out the flag belongs to the family’s matriarch, who had to flee the Old City in 1948 after the Jordanians ethnically cleansed all Jews from the territory that came under their control. She asks Zamosh to put the flag back where it rightfully belongs (this moving scene is embedded in this short video clip):

As it happened, Zamosh did get the chance to keep his promise—he and his men hung that very flag above the Western Wall on June 7. A photograph of this triumphant moment has become one of the iconic images of the 1967 war:

CBN Gordon Robertson’s Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem

“In Our Hands” unexpectedly wraps up with Gordon Robertson, the CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, offering a 10 minute analysis of the film’s significance.

Robertson is the son of the famous Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson, who reportedly also had a long-standing interest in creating a film about Israel’s extraordinary 1967 victory.

In his remarks, Robertson notes how the Jewish people’s return to Zion is a fulfillment of biblical prophesies—and thus is of incredible importance to Christian faithful.

But Robertson devotes most of his remarks to current events. A sharp critic of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he basically argues that the Palestinians aren’t currently credible peace partners.

He also shares with the audience how important it was that the film’s production coincided with the UN Security Council’s passage of Resolution 2334, which declares east Jerusalem and even the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter to be illegally occupied territory.

According to Robertson, the shameful resolution made the crew more cognizant of how “In Our Hands” wasn’t just about making the 1967 war come to life on the big screen—it was also about dispelling the lies of the anti-Israel global movement by “proclaiming the truth about Israel’s past and present.”

Robertson ends his monologue on a positive note though.

For him, the very fact that Israel was able to enter into peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan—two countries dedicated to wiping Israel off the map back in 1967—shows that even the “impossible is possible.”

Conclusion

Yom Yerushalayim marks the day when a 2,000 year historical injustice was reversed and when the Jewish state’s certain defeat was transformed into an incredible victory.

[In Our Hands | Movie Still | Credit: CBN]

But the Christian Broadcasting Network’s new docudrama is a reminder that Jewish heritage was liberated and a massacre was averted not merely because of Israel’s superior military tactics and training, or the bravery of the men in the IDF’s 55th Brigade. The message of the film is that what happened on June 7, 1967 (the 28th day of Hebrew month of Iyar) was a miracle, not least because it was so unexpected.

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Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman