The hundreds of bullet marks which pock the gate serve as mute witnesses to the 1948 War of Independence and the fact that that war’s outcome could have been radically different in regard to the Old City. Hagana forces conquered Mount Zion on the night of May 18, breaking though the Jordanian siege into the Jewish Quarter. Uzi Narkis led the fray.
But the following night, the Hagana soldiers were withdrawn from battle. The handful of exhausted Jewish defenders who remained could not hold out against the might of the Jordanian army. On May 28, less than two weeks later, the Jewish Quarter was forced to capitulate to the Arab Legion, and the Old City fell to the Jordanians. It is felt by many that if the Hagana had not left, they could have conquered the Old City completely, as at that time the Arabs were in mortal fear of the Jews.
Before a cease-fire was drawn up, Israel made an eleventh-hour attempt to break into the Old City. About 100 meters from the gate, etched into the wall is an inscription bearing the date 18/7/1948. A 150-kilogram homemade, cone-shaped bomb was lugged, stretcher-style, up Mount Zion and set down against the wall. Although a deafening explosion was heard, the bomb made only a small dent.
Fifteenth-century travelers recount that the key to Zion Gate was held by the Jewish community of the Old City and that a Jewish watchman was in charge of opening and closing the gate. As the last British troops left Jerusalem on May 13, 1948, the old, rusted, foot-long key was presented to Mordechai Weingarten, the last official muchtar (district head) of the Old City.
Shaar Tzion has an L-shaped internal structure. It was constructed that way in order to slow down potential invaders from entering the city with speed. Nowadays, both pedestrians and vehicles use the gate, although maneuvering is difficult due to the L-shaped passageway. Once, there was two-way vehicular traffic passing through the gate. Today, cars can exit but not enter the Old City via this gate.