The annual Jerusalem Day celebration, which Israel’s chief rabbinate has declared a religious holiday, is a celebration of “the reunification of Jerusalem, the nullification of the border.” According to Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari, “It was previously impossible to reach the Western Wall, but it was liberated and the Temple Mount is in our hands.”
In his comments, Hadari recalled the divided city that existed before the June 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel took control of the city’s eastern sector, ruled until then by Jordan and populated exclusively by Arabs. Today, Hadari noted, Jewish neighborhoods are expanding all over this sector.
But not everyone thinks there is cause to rejoice. The Palestinians, who make up 39 percent of Jerusalem’s population, remember sadly the demolished Mughrabi Quarter — what is today the long, wide plaza in front of the Western Wall — where between 600 and 1,500 people lived prior to June 10, 1967.
The quarter’s destruction is an event either unknown or repressed by most Israelis and Jews who visit the Kotel. It is deleted from public discourse about the Old City. But for some Palestinians, it is still a sore wound.
The home of Mohammed Ibrahim Mawalid, now 85, was in the quarter, along with 135 other buildings, including three mosques and two zawiyas, or pilgrim hospices. Palestinian historians say that some of the Mughrabi Quarter buildings were more than 700 years old, dating back to the time of Saladin’s son, Al-Afdal.
Israeli bulldozers erased them on June 10 and 11 on the orders of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, to enable large numbers of worshippers to come to the Western Wall for Shavuot prayers the following week. Now, not even a plaque marks the site. It is as if the Mughrabi Quarter never existed.
In 1967, Mawalid held the post of mutawalli, the Jordanian government official responsible for the Islamic properties in the quarter. This provided modest earnings. He also supervised a cafeteria at the offices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. He moved to the Mughrabi Quarter in 1949 after fleeing the village of Bir Ma’in (on the site of what is now the Israeli town of Modi’in) during the Arab-Israeli war a year earlier. He says he had to leave the village because of Israeli artillery bombardments.
In the Mughrabi Quarter, Mawalid’s seven-room house, about 100 meters from the Western Wall, was home to 15 people, including his mother, brothers, wife and children. The house was white stone and about 250 years old, he said. After the demolition, the refugees dispersed to other locales in the Jerusalem area and to Jordan and Morocco.
On the night of June 10, 1967 — just as Israel was consolidating its seemingly miraculous victory over Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and other Arab armies — Israeli bulldozers began demolishing the Palestinian houses closest to the Western Wall. “We thought they were going to make a road, to broaden a road to the Western Wall,” Mawalid said. He did not at first imagine that his entire neighborhood would be razed.
One person, Rasmiya Abu Aghayl, a woman in her 50s, was killed when a bulldozer demolished her house while she was still in it.
Lt. Col. Ya’akov Salman, the deputy military governor who commanded the demolition, told the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz that Palestinian residents initially refused to depart. Salman ordered an officer to begin the demolitions nevertheless. “The order to evacuate the neighborhood was one of the hardest in my life,” he said, according to the book The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, by Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg. “When you order, ‘Fire!’ [in battle], you’re an automaton. Here you had to give an order knowing you are likely to hurt innocent people.”
Amir Cheshin, who served as adviser on East Jerusalem to Mayor Teddy Kollek during the 1980s, believes that the decision to demolish the quarter was correct: “In retrospect, it was a smart act. Otherwise, the Kotel would have remained a miserable alley. If they didn’t do it [in the war’s immediate aftermath], they wouldn’t have been able to do it later.”
Nazmi Jubeh, a historian at Birzeit University in the West Bank, considers the demolition “an absolute act of violence against people and their houses and habitat. These are people who in a few hours lost everything. We lost an eight-centuries-long tradition of North Africans and Andalusians in Jerusalem that was an important element of historic Jerusalem.”email print