***I decided to be there when the IDF liberated Hebron. I thought there would be a big battle, like there had been everywhere else, because if the legion had fought for Bethlehem, they would fight even harder for Hebron, which was a large city. I reached Gush Etzion at 1:30 a.m. There were armored corps units, a company of jeeps, infantry, and all the otherforces that we would need, except for the air force. Lt. Col. Tzvika Ofer and the forces with him were planning to set out toward Hebron at six o’clock in the morning. As part of the preparations for going into battle, I asked the commander if I could speak with the soldiers. He answered in the affirmative and said he would assemble his entire brigade at three o’clock in the morning. At the appointed hour, the soldiers assembled on a small hill near the vehicles and the commander handed me a megaphone. This is what I said to the soldiers:
As dawn approached, the soldiers started organizing for their departure. At 6:00 a.m. I went out onto the road to look for Tzvika Ofer’s battalion, but I didn’t see anyone there. I thought they might already have left, but the line of tanks was still there. I thought that perhaps he had taken the first tank and gone toward Hebron to get there first. I told my driver that we should advance toward Hebron, regardless of what the battalion was doing. There was my vehicle and the Military Rabbinate jeep that escorted us. On the way we met the battalion’s reconnaissance company and passed it. We turned on our vehicle’s siren and everyone let me pass.
Dear soldiers, today we liberated our nation’s Holy of Holies in Jerusalem – the Temple Mount and the Kotel. Tomorrow, we are going to liberate the second-holiest city in Eretz Yisrael. You are going to liberate the Jewish people’s city of the patriarchs, which is the foundation of the Kingdom of David. King David ruled for seven years in Hebron before he ruled in Jerusalem. You are going to fight against the worst and wildest murderers. They carried out the pogroms all over the country and killed 164 fighters right here, where we are now, after they surrendered and laid down their arms. There is no absolution for that! Know how to behave with them and in the name of the Lord, take action and succeed, and go from victory to victory! From the victory in Jerusalem and Judea to the victory in Hebron!
After he read this in Arabic, I asked the mayor and the qadi to sign the draft and to make a copy of it. I took the first one and signed it. Ali Jabari asked me for a gift, as a memento, and I gave him a copy of the Prayer Before Going into Battle, which I had had printed up in thousands of copies. I signed the back and wrote, “So let all Your enemies perish, O Lord” (Judges 5:31).
I, Mayor Ali Jabari, on my own behalf and on behalf of the members of the municipality and on behalf of all the residents of Hebron, surrender unconditionally to the commander of the Israel Defense Forces who is in charge of the city, and commit to accepting all the directives I receive from authorized IDF personnel, without objection and without hesitation, and to fulfill them.
***After we completed the surrender ceremony, we discovered that our car had been left unlocked and someone had stolen all the rolls of film of all the photographs we had taken throughout the war. We decided to return to Jerusalem. By then, it was Thursday afternoon. On the way out of Hebron we returned to the Cave of the Patriarchs and I reminded the Arab in charge of the site that until he received different orders from the IDF, any Jew who wanted to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs should be allowed in, but on the condition that an officer accept responsibility for the property – that nothing would be removed or damaged. On the return trip to Jerusalem, we met Moshe Dayan, who was on his way to Hebron. We flagged down his car and I told him about what we had done at the Cave of the Patriarchs, about the statement of surrender and the order I had given to the Arab who was in charge of the compound. Dayan said that I had done well and agreed with everything. He did not object to the fact that we had hung up a flag… As soon as the battles died down on all the fronts, the war was declared over, and we began sending soldiers back home, my thoughts turned to the fate of the Cave of the Patriarchs. I was afraid that Moshe Dayan was planning to return this site to the Muslims. The previous Thursday night, in the middle of the night, I had already decided to take the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah that were in my office at General Staff headquarters and move them into the Cave of the Patriarchs, in order to create a fait accompli. I went there in the middle of the night with my assistants. We opened the gate and installed the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah inside the Cave of the Patriarchs. The qadi must have had a few spies who notified him of our arrival, because at 2:00 a.m. he suddenly turned up at the compound, but he didn’t say a word. He knew very well that I had taken command of the site and there would be no point in challenging me. I told him that I was closing the Cave of the Patriarchs to Arab worshippers for a month, because I was going to bring in the engineering corps to repair and renovate the site. We put all the carpets away in a storeroom in the Cave of the Patriarchs and replaced them with plastic sheeting. I told the Arabs that they could pray in the outer hall, where the Arab women used to pray. At first I wasn’t sure where to set up the aron kodesh. I felt that the largest hall, Ohel Yitzĥak, looked too much like a mosque. There were quotes from the Koran on the walls and a place for the muezzin, and it didn’t feel right to me to hold the regular services at the Cave of the Patriarchs in a place so permeated with symbols from the Koran. I therefore decided to put the aron kodesh in the hall that leads into Ohel Yitzĥak. Even though that hall is smaller, it is more suitable for prayer services. I brought siddurim and Ĥumashim, too, and all the basic furnishings for a synagogue, and I set up the aron kodesh such that it would be clear to all that this was the way it would remain. It was a miracle that I managed to get there in the middle of the night and get everything set up, otherwise, this place would not be under Israeli control today and we would not be able to daven there. A few days later, the Knesset held a festive luncheon that was essentially a victory celebration for all the IDF generals and senior commanders of the Six Day War. In the middle of that event, Moshe Dayan suddenly came over to me and said, “Rabbi Goren, I handed the management of the Cave of the Patriarchs over to the qadi of the Waqf.” I was outraged and astounded that he would do such a thing. “Who gave you the right to do that?” I asked him. “Is it your private property?” “That’s what I decided!” he replied, and said there were three things I had to do (afterward I also received a letter to this effect from the chief of staff, by order of the defense minister): 1. Take down the flag I had hung there, because the site is an Arab mosque and an inappropriate place for the flag; 2. Remove the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah, because the site is not a synagogue for Jewish prayer services; 3. Issue an order that any Jew who wants to go to the Cave of the Patriarchs can go only as far as the seventh stair, and pray there, or if he wants to go inside the Cave of the Patriarchs, he must remove his shoes, because he is entering a mosque. When I heard this, I was so angry that I exploded. “Do you think you can hand over the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Arabs?!” I shouted. “It’s a holy site for the Jewish people! This is the burial place of the fathers and mothers of our nation; this is where the kingship of the House of David began. This is what our soldiers have been fighting for. Who gave you the right to relinquish all that and give it to the Arabs?” I left the luncheon in a rage. Later that day, I went to Dayan’s office and told him, “This cannot go on! I held my peace when you gave the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf. I should have raised a hue and cry at that point, and I’m sorry that I didn’t. But this time it won’t happen. The entire Jewish People will curse you forever. You will be the most accursed man in Jewish history if you do this thing. You will go down in history as a terrible disgrace.” I said that to Dayan, and immediately turned around and left his office. He had a habit that when he issued orders that the generals didn’t like and they wanted to meet with him and voice their objections to the orders, he would let them say their piece and not utter a word. After they finished with everything they wanted to say, and were standing by the door, he would tell them, “You will do what I want, and not what you want,” and the generals could not say anything more, because the conversation was over. I did not want him to say that to me, so I just left immediately. I also told him explicitly: “Regarding the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah, I will disobey the order and will not remove them. As for the flag, I won’t fight with you – the flag is no holier to me than to you, and I believe it should stay, but if you send an officer to remove it, I won’t oppose him. Regarding the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah, however, and the matter of removing shoes – I will fight those with all my might and will make sure that anyone who cares deeply about them will fight you over this decision.” In addition to everything I said to Dayan, I also wrote an angry letter, lambasting his decision. I did not hold anything back, and the letter made a difference.