‘I think then, not of the victory we participated in, but then I began to learn about the price,” a weary Arik Achmon, chief intelligence officer of the 55th Brigade, says during the movie In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem.
The docudrama follows that intrepid brigade, which stormed through the Lions Gate and captured east Jerusalem in June 1967, allowing Jews access to holy sites that had been denied to them for 19 years. The movie will be released for a one-night special presentation across the United States on May 23.
As a whole, the movie, like Achmon, doesn’t revel in the victory, but commemorates those who sacrificed to make it possible.
Estimates vary, but on the low-end, roughly 780 Israelis and 20,000 Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians died during that bloody and historic week.
Although the war was waged on several fronts, the beating heart and soul of the movie lies in the fight for the holy city.
“Jerusalem resonates with everyone,” director Erin Zimmerman tells The Jerusalem Post when asked why she decided to focus on that particular unit.
“The 55th Brigade was supposed to jump in the Sinai, and then, suddenly, one day they had to turn around and go into an urban warfare situation that they were not trained for. 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,” she says.
The 17-day shoot in Israel last summer was carried out after intensive research: diaries, radio broadcasts, interviews with experts (such as Kulanu MK and historian Michael Oren) and, of course, with the veterans themselves were all used to make the story come alive.
“It was a long process to find these really gripping stories,” Zimmerman says, acknowledging that her Israeli production team helped her immensely throughout the arduous process.
“I took their interviews, and I did provide historical background, because this is for an American audience primarily, so that was needed. I picked from their stories what I found most compelling,” she says.
This is the third film Zimmerman has created about Israel.
“People have asked me, ‘What is my fascination with Israel if I’m not Jewish.’ It’s hard for me to answer, because I honestly think sometimes your calling is given to you and you don’t go searching for it,” she says, explaining that the resurgence of Jewish life and the Hebrew language in the region after two thousand years are two of the many reasons behind her interest.
It wasn’t always easy filming here. Access to historical sites and places in the Old City was exceptionally difficult, and she is grateful to her Israeli production team for organizing access to places such as Ammunition Hill and the Rockefeller Museum that usually don’t allow in film crews.
“I had the best location managers.
I always say about my producer, that they should send her to negotiate peace in the Middle East and then it would happen,” she chuckles.
The film’s staging of the Battle of Ammunition Hill – 36 Israelis and 71 Jordanians were killed there on June 6, 1967 – was exceptionally challenging.
“It took troops only three hours to fight the battle, but it took us 26 hours to film it,” she jokes.
With an hour and 41 minute run-time, though, the film is far from complete telling of the war, as Zimmerman is the first to acknowledge.
“The movie is not intended to be a comprehensive documentary.
For most of the movie, there is not an omniscient narrator,” she says, explaining that the movie follows the individual stories of the brigade members and the viewer is with them through every stage of the war – from the tense, “waiting period” where troops stayed on the sidelines until they were called to battle, to 50 years later, where they met with Jordanian opponents and swapped war stories.
But at the end of the day, the film is about more than the telling of the Six Day War; it is about the survival of the Jewish people, which yet again escaped annihilation.
“We are finally at the Western Wall. I see this as the main legacy of our story,” Yoram Zamosh, company commander in the 71st Battalion, says in the film. “Not just our legacy as heroes, but the story of the Jewish people, who rose up from the ashes of the Holocaust, who rose up and were able to come to the Western Wall forever.”
For more information on the film and on seeing it on May 23, visit www.inourhands1967.com.
This story was written in cooperation with The Christian Broadcasting Network.