In many ways the fight for Jerusalem is what most characterized the life of the late Uzi Narkiss. Born in Jerusalem to Polish immigrants, he recalled that his earliest memory was of hiding in the city during the Arab riots of 1929. That first recollection of a fight for Jerusalem was later translated into action, both in the War of Independence and the Six Day War.
Educated in the Rehavia Gymnasia, Narkiss began his twenty-seven year military career at age 16 when he joined the Palmach. He was heavily involved in Haganah activities against the British Mandatory power and was determined to help realize the idea of Jewish state. In April 1948, he headed the assault on Katamon, liberating the monastery at San Simon, which was considered a key strategic position. Following the final departure of the British and the Declaration of Independence, Narkiss was in charge of assisting those besieged in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. His unit succeeded in penetrating Zion Gate, bringing in supplies and evacuating the wounded from those under siege. However, when military reinforcements failed to appear, Narkiss ordered his men to retreat. Not long after, the Old City fell to Jordanian forces.
During the early years of the State, Narkiss spent several years in France, first seconded to study at the Ecole de Guerre [French Military Academy] and later in the capacity of Israeli military attache. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government. He returned to Israel to continue his military career, and in 1965 he became the first director of the Israel National Defense College.
In June 1967, with seven brigades under his command, Narkiss was responsible for combating the Jordanian offensive. Liberating the Old City was not part of the original plan, but following the Jordanian attacks on the first day of the war, Israeli units moved quickly and effectively into conquering key positions. Narkiss decided to capitalize on the opportunity to reunite the city, and under his direction the Old City was liberated and the city reunified. The famous photo of Narkiss striding into the Old City through the Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin on June 7, 1967, is one of those that has memorialized this chapter. From Narkiss's point of view, the liberation completed the campaign he had begun nineteen years earlier.
As a boy, Narkiss and his friends used to visit the Western Wall every Shabbat. For them it was a weekly rite of national unity, rather than a religious one. Hence Narkiss's intense disappointment, expressed in an interview shortly before his death, at the religious and social polarization that has surrounded the Wall since its liberation.
Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente
Photo: State of Israel National Photo Collection