On Thursday, June 1, and Tuesday, June 6, there will be an encore screening of In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem. I saw this CBN documentary film about Israel’s Six Day War at the premiere earlier this week. If you have not seen it, you should find a participating theater and attend an upcoming encore.
The story itself is gripping. How could it not be gripping, when it is a story of such an epic battle? Through both actual footage and reenactments In Our Hands looks back at May-June 1967 to what was truly a life-and-death struggle for the nation of Israel.
In May of 1967 the Arab nations joined forces with the intention of “wiping Israel off the map.” (Sound familiar?) Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were the aggressors. Supported by virtually every other Arab and/or Muslim country and armed by the Soviet Union, they made what were by no means idle threats to “destroy Israel and its inhabitants” and “begin a battle of annihilation.”
Israel stood alone against its enemies. And it stood with an understanding that has become all too familiar in the intervening decades — that, unlike every other nation in the world, if it dared to risk a preemptive strike in order to defend itself, in the eyes of the world it would never be justified. (Listen to Bob Dylan’s “Neighborhood Bully” for a musical rendering of this irrational and singular attitude towards Israel.)
But not just the story is gripping. So is seeing into the minds and hearts of the courageous men that fought the Six Day War and accomplished the impossible. The film is deeply moving in that it interviews many of the young IDF soldiers and commanders They are now old men, but their conviction that together they made history and changed the destiny of nations remains. The actors that portray these men as the young soldiers bring that same powerful conviction to the roles.
In Our Hands focuses on Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade with reenactments of several of the key Six Day War battles to take back Jerusalem demonstrate the courage and sacrifice of these soldiers and officers. These paratroopers had been training for weeks to do a parachute jump in the Sinai. That mission was aborted and they were plunged into urban warfare for which they were not trained. The film’s director Erin Zimmerman says of this in a Jerusalem Post interview, “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 liberation of Jerusalem may have been miraculous, but it was not cheap — for either side.
One of the deeply moving moments of the film, and one which shows the character of the Israelis is the paratroopers’ burial of dead Jordanian soldiers. On the second day of the war, the paratroopers fought a bloody and devastating battle for four hours to seize control of Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem from two Jordanian infantry companies. When they took the hill they had lost thirty-six men and the Jordanians had lost seventy-one.
With respect not just for life, but for the valiant perseverance of their enemies, the Israelis buried the Jordanian soldiers and placed a makeshift marker atop a Jordanian rifle that said, “Army of Israel, IDF: Buried here are 17 brave Jordanian soldiers, June 7, 1967.”
Israel is still in the news today, as it has been since the IDF took the Old City of Jerusalem and Colonel Motta Gur (Sharon Friedman) famously announced on the radio, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” But more significantly in an eternal sense, Israel was the news in the books of the Biblical prophets! The conclusion of In Our Hands reminds us of the many Biblical prophecies concerning Israel that have been fulfilled.
There is Ezekiel 37, in which the prophet is given instructions concerning a valley of dry bones — the house of Israel that says “our hope is gone; we are cut off”:
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD. . .I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land…’
In Jeremiah 31: 35-36, that prophet quotes G-d using a powerful literary device, first establishing the Almighty’s power:
This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the LORD Almighty is his name:
And then He shows the absurdity of G-d forgetting His people, Israel, by declaring that the only way “the descendants of Israel” will “ever cease to be a nation” to Him is if these decrees vanish from His sight. And in case you don’t get it the first time, He repeats:
‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the LORD.
Many other verses from Scripture and prophetic words are quoted in the film, but one that captures the moment of the Israeli soldiers reaching, awestruck, to the Western Wall and each one falling against it as if against his own Abba, is Psalm 126. Even as they mourned the death of their brothers, the soldiers sensed the enormity of what they had done — many coming to believe that G-d had been with them. A touching scene in the film shows one soldier teaching another how to pray:
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. . . Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
The Psalm also says that “the nations” will understand by this great event that “the LORD has done great things” for the Jewish people.
But many of the nations did not rejoice with these great things for the Jews.
In particular, In Our Hands describes the aftermath of the war as the Israelis went from expecting “a telephone call” to talk peace from Arab leaders to understanding the virulent hatred (some of us believe “demonic” hatred) of the Arab nations for Israel and the Jewish people. In the words of The Six Day War report by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), “Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his colleagues attempted to stand reality on its head and convince themselves, and the world, that they had been victimized, rather than defeated by Israel in self-defense.”
In addition, the attitude of the Arab nations towards Israel was set in stone in a summit of eight Arab heads of state in Khartoum just a couple of months after the Arab defeat in the war. The Khartoum Resolution resolved for “a continued struggle against Israel, the creation of a fund to assist the economics of Egypt and Jordan, the lifting of an Arab oil boycott against the West and a new agreement to end the war in Yemen.” It added the “Three No’s of Khartoum,”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.
In the film, an old Israeli flag is given to 71st Battalion Commander Yoram Zamosh (Yishay Ben-Moshe) by an elderly Jewish woman (Ruth Farhi) who had fled from the Old City in 1948 when the Jordanians took control. She asks Zamosh to hang it when he gets to the Old City, which he did, on June 7, 1967. His action was captured in an iconic photo from the Six Day War.
That flag, flying against all odds above the Western Wall, demonstrates that in spite of the hatred, the enmity against Israel, the devastation through the centuries, G-d promised that Israel would be raised as His banner — the sign of His presence and His faithfulness for the whole world to see:
May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. . . . Now this I know. The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.