It was a sunny morning in 1954. Theresa, an elderly nun that served as a nurse at the French Hospital in Jerusalem, decided to open her room window to let the sun in. That window was almost always shut, as directly underneath it, stretching across to the walls of the Old City, lay what was known back then as “No Man’s Land” – a neglected, thorny and wire-fenced area.
How Was It Created in The Heart Of Jerusalem?
During the 1948 War of Independence, Israel and Jordan signed a cease-fire agreement for the area of Jerusalem. Moshe Dayan, the commander of the Israeli forces, and Abdullah A-Tal, his Jordanian counterpart, met in a deserted house in Jerusalem. They took a dusty old map, and hastily marked out their respective positions: Israel’s in green and those of Jordan in red. Thus, two border lines were created, facing each other. They were certain the fighting will soon resume and that this was nothing but a temporary and short-term solution.
Moshe Dayan and Abdullah A-Tal drawing the map on the floor
Neither imagined that this map will mark the borders between Israel and Jordan for the next 19 years. But this border, which was later named “the Municipal Line”, cut Jerusalem in two: the Old City and its surrounding in the Jordanian hands, while West Jerusalem in Israel’s.
Jerusalem’s City Line
Here you can see both colors, and the dead areas in between
When they all sought to mark the boundaries with wired fences, it turned out that the thick line marked on the map, covered in reality many homes and even entire streets. But the generals have decided, and their decision could not be changed. Both sides debated: who will own these houses, streets and empty spaces (some of which reached more than 100 meters in width)?
And So the No-Man’s Land Was Created
“No-Man’s Land”, it was finally decided. Everything within the lines will belong to no one, and no one will be allowed to enter it. This was one of those decisions that can easily be made within the walls of an office but in reality are pretty problematic. For, in order to bring it to pass, many people had to evacuate their homes, streets had to be closed for passage, the area had to be filled with wired fences and land mines and large signs were placed, written in Hebrew, English and Arabic, saying: “Stop! Border ahead!”
A Tickle in The Throat
The St. Louis French hospital in Jerusalem was located on the Israeli side, but its eastern walls, the ones closer to the Old City, bordered the No-Man’s Land. That sunny morning in 1954, Theresa opened the window, breathed in the crisp air, and suddenly felt a tickle in her throat. She leaned forward and coughed a bit. Before she could realize what was happening, she discovered her dentures fell out of her mouth straight into… yes, No-Man’s Land.
St. Louis hospital
“Oh, no!!!” the nun cried as she looked longingly into the thorns and wired fences, “my teeth!” She sat on the floor and broke into heart wrenching sobs. “What am I going to do? No one can enter into No-Man’s Land. Who will get my teeth back for me?”
These dentures were made by a special order from a specialist outside of Israel. Theresa waited for them for long months, during which she had to eat porridge and nothing but. “And the money”, she wailed, “where will I get such a high sum for a new set of teeth?”
All shaken and stirred, she ran out of her room, and shared the events of the day with the head of the nearby Notre-Dame monastery. “You have to help me!” she begged. The man’s heart broke at the sight of the elderly lady weeping and sobbing. And yet… No-Man’s Land is no man’s land.
“It’s not exactly possible, Theresa”, he tried to gently explain, “you know how hot this border is. The Jordanian snipers are repeatedly shooting Israeli passersby. Every few days, complaints are received in the UN offices of breaches of the cease fire agreement. The No-Man’s Land is a forbidden territory, and as much as I hate it, I fear you will never see your teeth again”.
“But it just can’t be!” she exclaimed, “the teeth are right under my window!” She cried and cried, until he decided to try and convince the proper authorities to act to retrieve her dentures.
That day he addressed one of the Israeli commanders, Uzi Narkis, seeking help for the poor nun. Uzi’s heart went out for the old woman, and he immediately contacted the UN cease fire committee and explained the situation and the complexity of it. “It is inconceivable”, he exclaimed, “that due to borders issues between us and the Jordanians, that poor woman should suffer so”. The committee members were convinced and contacted the Jordanians that very same day. The Jordanians agreed, on one condition: the search team will number only 3 people – a Jordanian representative, an Israeli and the head of the UN committee.
As the sun shone the following day, all the patients at St. Louis French Hospital held their breath as several nuns and three officers cut the wire fences and marched under Theresa’s window. For a long hour they looked through the bushes, calculating the trajectory of the teeth as they fell out the window. The thorns and briers scratched them, their pants were torn from the wired fences, the sun shone mercilessly above their heads, but they were determined to justify the international endeavor.
And then… one of them located Theresa’s teeth behind a small rock, whole and intact. He lifted them up high with excitement. Cheers were heard from all of Notre Dame monastery and the St. Louis hospital.
An Extremely Exciting Historical Event
The event was so exciting and unique, that Life magazine sent a photographer to capture it. You can see the joyous nun holding her dentures in her hand, while standing next to her is the head of the UN committee, holding a white flag.
Photography by David Rubinger for Life Magazine
The image spread worldwide, until some observant reader noticed that Theresa was holding her dentures in her hand, while a full set of teeth is clearly evidenced in her mouth. Ahah!
Well, a few years ago the photographer revealed that Theresa refused to have her pictures taken. “She only wanted to get her teeth back and for everyone to leave her alone”, he explained. “But I was sent to photograph a nun with dentures. So I ended up asking another nun to model the day’s event for the camera. I asked her not to smile, but she was so thrilled to be part of it all, and couldn’t help herself…”
There were other events during those difficult years of division that had happy endings. One of them is about kids playing soccer in the schoolyard at the Frères school, located close to the Municipal Line, on the Jordanian side.
The Frères School, towering above the wall
They often kicked their soccer balls into the No-Man’s Land. In December of 1965 Israel was asked to return some of these balls to the school as a Christmas gift. Israel immediately agreed. UN officials looked on, as an Israeli officer marched through the minefields of the No-Man’s Land, while Jordanian soldiers called “go left” or “go right” to keep him from stepping on a mine.
Two days after Christmas, 28 balls were handed over to the school at a jubilant celebration.
Last night was the first night of Hannukkah. One of the main motifs we love to point out during this feast is that of the darkness that is cast out before Light. A famous Hannukkah kids’ song states: we are here to chase out darkness, holding light and fire in our hands, though we are each but a small light, still together mighty we stand.
The stories shared in this post are a true testimony to just how a small, tiny light, can indeed become a mighty one. So in light of everything I shared in our Journey to Jordan series, and in light of these heartwarming stories, let us pray that the status quo, life in reality, will not be determined by military commanders, but by little lights coming to chase away any darkness. A little bit of humanity can bring together sworn enemies and blur lines marked hastily upon battle worn maps.
We can each shine such lights by proclaiming over this region the name of the Light of the world, who came to shine His light within the darkness.
As For Me Personally
A new year is about to begin, and as it approaches I ask God: Where do you want me to take these new insights you have given me, the new contacts and relationships woven around and within me, the motherhood that is taking the place of the widowhood? Where do you want me to bring Yeshua’s name and light to? Will you stand in prayer with me?