Six Day War vet: I saw significance during battle (JERUSALEM POST) By MELANIE LIDMAN 05/20/12)
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At 2 a.m. on June 6, 1967, Shimon “Katcha” Cahaner was advancing with
his paratroop unit toward the Rockefeller Museum on Sultan Suleiman
Street in east Jerusalem, north of the Old City. The street was the
scene of fierce fighting and many casualties; soldiers had dubbed
it “The Path of Death.”
Almost immediately, their battalion commander was wounded, and
Cahaner was thrust into the leadership. As the men crept forward and
casualties mounted, he concentrated on the task at hand: advancing
toward the museum. But he wasn’t only focused on the present.
“I knew in my head that this was something historic,” Cahaner
recalled on Friday, 45 years later. Even in the midst of the heavy
fighting, he said, “I knew it was a very important event, and a
really important war for the Jewish people.”
On Sunday, as the nation celebrates Jerusalem Day and the anniversary
of the reunification of the capital during the Six Day War, the 77-
year-old Cahaner, who now lives in Kibbutz Neveh Eitan near Beit
She’an, will join dozens of his fellow soldiers along the same road
that they fought so hard to capture 45 years ago. At points where
they fought with Jordanian forces, the veterans will lay wreaths and
honor their fallen comrades.
Cahaner said that even today he gets chills when he drives though
east Jerusalem or sees the city from afar, knowing he played a part
in its history.
“Every day, I feel the honor that I had to be responsible for
Jerusalem,” he said.
“Jerusalem is not the same as any other place.”
Fifteen years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the war, Cahaner took
part in a mission that united Israeli commanders who fought in
Jerusalem with their Jordanian counterparts.
“It was a really emotional meeting,” Cahaner remembered.
“We were ready to kill each other 30 years ago... But the Jordanians
told us, ‘We fought like lions. But you, you fought like people who
are ready to give your lives for Jerusalem. Every time we saw people
who were wounded, we thought we had stopped you. But it was
impossible to stop you.’” That’s the message that Cahaner wants to
make sure the younger generation doesn’t forget.
“If we don’t educate about our right to Jerusalem, we could lose
Jerusalem,” he said. Without our history, he added, we are nothing.
Veterans from the Six Day War drove that point home symbolically on
February 20 of this year, when they removed the giant Israeli flag
that flies over Ammunition Hill and locked the doors to protest the
government’s lack of funding for the site that memorialized the
Battle of Ammunition Hill of June 6, 1967. As they marched with the
flag to the Prime Minister’s Residence, Binyamin Netanyahu convened
an emergency meeting and, at the last minute, promised a yearly
budget of NIS 2 million.
Ammunition Hill, which hosts 150,000 visitors and dozens of army
ceremonies each year, reopened the next day, but only after a public
outcry forced the government to act.
But Cahaner believes that the government understands the importance
of the site, pointing to the fact that Netanyahu will hold the weekly
cabinet meeting at Ammunition Hill on Sunday.
Cahaner was the director of Ammunition Hill for 18 years and, after
retiring, has been a volunteer for the past decade.
Last year on Jerusalem Day, the annual Dance of Flags march
degenerated into violence.
Thousands of participants thronged through the east Jerusalem
neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, chanting “Death to Arabs” while some
threw rocks and got into physical altercations. This year, in an
effort to reduce tensions, the parade was moved back to the route
through west Jerusalem.
What is it like for someone so caught up in this history to watch the
celebration deteriorate into violence and arrests? Cahaner is
fiercely proud of his role in the capital’s history, but he
acknowledged that there are times when the Jerusalem of today is not
the Jerusalem he envisioned as he fought in the trenches.
“Today there are clouds over the city – violence and struggle between
religious and secular,” he said. Extremism is the biggest threat that
the city faces, he said, both haredi extremism and Muslim extremism.
“We need to be realistic and give an opportunity to others, including
Arabs, to live and enjoy the importance of this city on a world
stage,” he said. “If we can attain peace, this could be the most
important city in the world.” (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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