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The Unintended Historian

Yonoson Rosenblum

Israel’s 1967 war might have lasted only six days, but 46 years later journalists and historians are still arguing over what happened. Veteran journalist Avraham (Abe) Rabinovich, who has written extensively about Israel’s wars, rejoins the fray with the reissue of his landmark work, The Battle for Jerusalem: the Unintended Conquest.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

old manDecades later, it seems only fitting that an unintended conquest was covered by an unintended historian.

Like many people, I have been riveted by Avraham (Abe) Rabinovich’s Jerusalem Post descriptions of major battles in the Yom Kippur War — e.g., the tank battle at Chinese Farm on the Suez Canal and Avigdor Kahalani’s miraculous victory at Emek HaBacha on the Golan Heights against a vastly larger Syrian tank corps. While those accounts were subsequently expanded into his acclaimed book on the 1973 War, The Yom Kippur War: the Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East, this was not, in fact, his first book about an Israeli war. That honor went to The Battle for Jerusalem, his account of the 1967 Six Day War.

The later book has recently been reissued as an e-book in a substantially revised and expanded edition. But how did a former yeshivah bochur (nine years in Yeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Kluger on the Lower East Side), Brooklyn College graduate, US Army soldier, and journalist (he wrote for the Long Island daily Newsday and Suffolk Sun before joining the Jerusalem Post) become an expert on Israel’s wars?

Over an Erev Shabbos coffee, he relates how it all began, improbably, in a dentist’s chair.

 

A City under Fire

Rabinovich arrived inIsraeljust five days before the outbreak of the Six Day War. “I sensed that history was about to be made,” he says, “and I wanted to be there to witness it firsthand.”

He could not have guessed how firsthand. On the morning of June 5, 1967, he was just getting up from a dentist’s chair in downtownJerusalemwhen artillery started pounding. He ducked into the nearest building and noticed that it was theJerusalemMunicipalitybuilding. “I identified myself as a journalist and asked the guard whether Mayor Teddy Kollek was in his office and whether I could interview him. The guard called the Mayor’s Office, and I was told to go up to the fifth floor. From Kollek’s window, we watched smoke from the shelling rising around the city.”

Kollek told him he was going to visit one of the slum buildings on the border behind City Hall, and Abe followed along. The building’s residents, Jewish immigrants from Arab lands, were sitting on the floor of the lobby, the only space without a window. Kollek calmed them, and then went upstairs where soldiers were exchanging fire with Jordanian soldiers on theOldCityramparts about 40 meters away. In one room, a soldier was standing on a bed pointing his bazooka at a sandbagged position directly opposite him. As the mayor and Abe left, the noise of the bazooka being fired reverberated.

 

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