Fifty Years Ago Today
June 9, 2017
Fifty years ago today we were sitting in front of our television sets, anxiously watching the news with Walter Cronkite. Our eyes scanned and then read in detail every morsel of information we could get in the morning and evening newspapers. Just four days before, Israel launched a pre-emptive air strike against the Egyptian Air Force, practically destroying it on the ground. That strike was followed by similar strikes against the Jordanian and Syrian air forces, giving Israel air superiority over the battlefields. This attack was preceded by several months of increased tension. For the next few minutes, let me take you back to that time in May and June of 1967, a time that literally changed our world forever.
In a frenzy of pan-Arab solidarity, the Egyptian President, Gamel Abdel Nasser, had recently created the United Arab Republic, consolidating the armed forces of Egypt and Syria into one command structure. He held talks with Jordan’s King Hussein, seeking to ally with Jordan in the coming struggle with Israel. Israel entered into secret negotiations with King Hussein, alas, as we will find, to no avail. In mid-May, Nasser ordered the UN forces in the Sinai, which had separated Israel and Egypt since 1956, to leave. U Thant, the Secretary-General of the UN, quickly complied, leaving Israel’s Southern flank completely exposed. To make matters even tenser, Nasser ordered the Egyptian Navy to blockade the Gulf of Aqaba, cutting off Israel’s life line to the Port of Eilat. The situation continually escalated until, if you remember, we expected an immanent invasion of Israel and a second Shoah. In preparation for an expected disaster, the Israelis were digging trenches around schools and even pits for mass graves. The Israelis had a choice- to await an Egyptian attack from the south and a Syrian attack from the North or to take offensive action, which was the desire of the Israeli military. After much discussion, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Defense Minister, and Yitzchak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff, decided with the agreement of the Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, to launch a pre-emptive strike against Egypt while holding the line against Syria. Immediately after the airstrike on June 5, the Israeli armored forces began their advance into the Sinai. The battle was over by June 8, when the Israelis reached the Suez Canal.
The Jordanians began their offensive on June 5, shelling Jerusalem and its outskirts. Israeli forces under General Uzi Narkiss went on the offensive and pushed the Jordanians out of the West Bank by late on June 7. Paratroopers reached the Kotel that day, reuniting the Old City with the rest of Jerusalem. Fighting was fierce for control of Jerusalem. Israeli casualties were high. One of five soldiers was killed in the fighting. On June 8, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar at the Kotel and held the first service there since 1948.
The Syrians did not open artillery fire against Israeli settlements in the north until June 6. Three times that day, Syrian forces tried to take Kibbutz Dan but were repulsed in heavy fighting. Israeli forces were moved to the north and offensive operations began in earnest on June 9. Israeli forces captured the Golan Heights and advanced east of Kuneitra, only thirty miles from Damascus.
The fighting was over on June 10. All three Arab countries agreed to a UN arranged cease fire. Israelis, joined by Jews around the world, rejoiced. David had once again beaten Goliath. Israel’s territory more than doubled. Immediately, however, there were warning signs that all was not to be peaceful. Arabs once again fled from Israeli forces as they did in 1948 during what they called the Nakba, the Catastrophe. They joined their brethren in Jordan where they still hoped to one day be able to return to their homes. Egypt began the War of Attrition on the Sinai which melded into the Yom Kippur War. Israel suffered from a huge case of hubris, allowing itself to be unprepared for the Egyptian and Syrian onslaught seven years later. Jewish messianists believed the victory in the Six Day War precipitated the coming of the mashiach. They began building settlements on the West Bank, so many that over 400,000 Jews live there today. The settlers are calling for an Eretz Yisrael Shleima, one unified state encompassing all the West Bank and Israel. This state of affairs leads to over six million Israelis occupying three million Palestinians in a type of Apartheid state. The other alternative is a one state democracy in which the Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews, destroying the Jewish State. Neither solution is tenable.
The Palestinians, too, live in a fantasy world, still hoping to return to their ancestral homes in Israel and to push over six million well-armed Jews into the sea. This will not happen. When Ehud Barak was Prime Minister of Israel eighteen years ago, he offered Arafat everything the Palestinians wanted, including control over East Jerusalem, with the exception of the right of Palestinian return. Arafat, fearing loss of face and literal assassination if he signed the agreement, called for an Intifada to begin. Even now, the Palestinians have not recognized that they need to make peace with an Israeli government and get a state on the West Bank within already agreed upon borders. Israeli Messianists will have to reconcile themselves with reality as well. Israel cannot continue to rule over three million Palestinians who do not vote in Israeli elections and don’t enjoy equal rights. To do so, will condemn future generations of Israeli to continued bitter conflict with their Palestinian neighbors.
Fifty years after the Six Day War, the “matzav,” the situation, is still not resolved. We pray that there will be a just and secure peace in our lifetimes.