סיור נכי צה"ל בסמטאות העיר העתיקה
סיור נכי צה"ל בסמטאות העיר העתיקה צילום: טל בראון

"We have returned to the cisterns, and to the market-place, a ram's horn (Shofar) calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City."

These words were written by the late Israeli national poet, Naomi Shemer, adding to her poem "Jerusalem of Gold" another house, just after the Six-Day War and the liberation of the Old City from the Jordanian occupation, which excluded Jews and destroyed their heritage there for 19 years.

These words of poet took on a new, exciting and unique meaning, especially after being privileged to be one of the initiators and organizers of a unique tour, the first of its kind and literally groundbreaking, for my fellows IDF wounded and disabled veterans.

Until recently, a tour that was possible for anyone within the walls of Jerusalem was defiantly a complex task, not to say impossible, for the disabled, especially for those who were severely injured during their military service as the "wall keepers", protectors of Israel and guardians of Zion, literally!

The initiative to lead this tour grew from precisely this point. Being the son of a father who was injured and remained with a mobility disability that prevented him from roaming freely in the alleys of the city where he grew up, until the end of his days; Being Toms' commander, a beloved soldier who was fatally wounded under my command, 18 years ago, and has not been able to tour the Old City since; As a friend of the heroes with whom I get to meet in therapy treatments or training at the wounded soldiers house, known as "Beit Halohem".

The right of most of us to walk freely, on our own two feet, within the walls of the city of Jerusalem, was until recently denied to those who sworn to protect it with their bodies and soul. The right to travel, tour or just wander the one square kilometer of the Old City, was a dream that has now become a reality after so many years of longings for Jerusalem in prayers and poems, carried by generations.

The dream came true, as the road was breached for those with movement disabilities from Israel and abroad, regardless to their origin, religion or nationality, thanks to the IDF wounded veterans- fighters who continue their personal "war" for their own rehabilitation and their ability to experience the landscapes and sites of the promised land they defended and sacrificed for.

Among the IDF wounded veterans who had arrived in Jerusalem with their companions, was a veteran paratrooper who was wounded during Operation Sinai in 1956; A fighter from the Givati infantry brigade who was wounded in 1992 as a result of an IED explosion in southern Lebanon; A fighter who was wounded in Nablus during the 1980s, and other dear friends, including Tom, for whom I completed a moral and personal debt, as I was his commander while he was injured.

The wounded veterans who gathered at Jaffa Gate in the early morning hours were privileged to tour the streets of the Old City, learn about its history and be impressed by its unique sites, under the professional guidance of Ami Meitav, who led them safely to the Western Wall plaza. There, in front of the great stones of the Western Wall who had witnessed paratroopers cry after the battle was won on 1967, at the foot of the Temple Mount, surrounded by Israeli flags, IDF wounded veterans in wheelchairs made history!

Since King David established Jerusalem 3000 years ago, Jerusalem was not accessible for its residence and pilgrims as it is today for all the disabled visitors.
Jerusalem was liberated and unified in June 1967 as a result of the six-day war and the bravery of the IDF soldiers, but only now it is finally unified for the disabled who can travel in its streets with their families and friends, like most of us did for the past 54 years.

After touring the old city quarters, we all got to participate in a special and festive ceremony in which the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the CEO of the wounded soldiers organization spoke, after which the national anthem "Ha-Tikvah" echoed loudly, excitedly and with great pride. Finally and after a delicious meal, all members participated in a unique tour using virtual reality technology, courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, in a special hall room within the tunnels of the western Wall complex, that was specially made accessible for the group.

On Sunday, the IDF disabled wounded veterans were able to "return to the cisterns and the market- place" in the Old City of Jerusalem after a too long while.

For this and more we thank the Lord, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Accessibility Department of the Jerusalem Municipality, the National Insurance Institute, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and the East Jerusalem Development Company responsible for carrying out the welcome and blessed accessibility project.

Col. (res.) Tal Braun is a former IDF recon battalion commander, and head of the Doctrine Department in the IDF ground forces. He is a strategic consultatant and a member of Habithonistim - Protectors of Israel's advisory board. He holds an LLB, a BA in Political Science, and an MA in Military and Security Studies.

This article is dedicated to all of my wounded brothers and sisters who face challenges and overcome obstacles every single day, and for the ascent of my late father soul, Danny Braun, who taught me that there is nothing irresistible to the will.

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