Writing about the Six day War of 1967 for me is very personal. I participated in the war together with every other Israeli young or old.
The men at war and the women with our children at home under threats of extermination.This has been the story of Israel since the Independence in 1948 and unfortunately is the story of today.
But let us concentrate on that particular event that took place in 1967 and the six days that changed the face of the Middle East forever.
On the Six Day War Israel faced the enemy from all sides
Years Previous to the Six Day War
In the spring of 1957 after the successful Sinai Campaign, the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip occupied since the Suez Campaign of the previous year.
The United Nations sent an international Emergency Force to the Egyptian Israeli border and to Sharm El Sheikh.
The great powers gave Israel assurances concerning the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Eilat leading to the Indian Ocean and the Far East, and the government of Israel made it clear that any infringement of that freedom would be regarded as a war provocation.
For ten years the threats over Israel and its people continued while the new country was busy absorbing hundreds of thousands immigrants from Post War Europe and from the Arab Countries, where Jews were persecuted in the lands they lived for thousands of years.
The reunification of Jerusalem on the second day of the Six Day War
The Six day War was unavoidable
In the spring of 1967 it seemed as though that moment had come. In three weeks and by five impressive initiatives, Gamal Abdel Nasser, then president of Egypt, managed to embroil the entire area in a major war never seen in Middle East History.
First, Egyptian forces in the Sinai were considerably reinforced, under the pretext of coming to Syria's assistance. Then Nasser demanded the evacuation of U.N. forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and U Thant, the U.N. Secretary General, immediately acceded to his request.
On May 20, Egyptian forces occupied Sharm El Sheikh, closing the Straits of Tiran two days later. While Egyptian propaganda was proclaiming the imminent and inevitable destruction of Israel, the massive reinforcements of troops along the borders with Israel brought the numbers of Egyptian soldiers to 100,000 and tanks to 900.
Once again, after ten years, Israel was directly confronted by Egyptian forces along the frontier. Finally, Nasser orchestrated a great Arab alliance: in addition to the Egyptian Syrian military agreement of November 1966, he now signed pacts with Jordan on May 30 and Iraq on June 4. Contingents arrived from other Arab countries, such as Kuwait and Algeria.
There were many attacks like the ones from Syria that being on the preferred position of the Golan Heights used the situation to constantly bombard the settlements along the Jordan Valley and the rest of the Galilee.
Jordan sent constant terrorists from the West bank in their hands. But the worst of all was Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian ruler, which was convinced that “his” victory meaning the destruction of Israel was attainable.
An Israeli convoy in the Sinai Peninsula
The Turning Point
That Year Yom Haatzmaut or the Day of Independence was celebrated on May 15th and the mood of the people was very sad and worried.
It is very difficult to keep going to work and come back to a wife and two little girls with a good mood when you are constantly threatened with destruction.
But, on May 22nd, as stated above, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran. That evening I told my wife to be prepared because I was sure they’ll come to pick me up at night. I was correct and at 3:00 am they came to pick me up to be recruited.
The next days were days of awe and preparation for war. The little transistors were the only link to the external world, hearing the news is how we got an idea of what was happening.
But if by any chance you caught a Hebrew speaking Arab station, they just proclaimed that our cities were on fire and destruction of Israel is near.
As Nasser had foreseen Israel was forced to respond. The threat of annihilation could not be ignored.
Accepting the closure of the Straits would have been interpreted as a sign of weakness and capitulation to Egyptian aggression; the economic strain of prolonged mobilization and the psychological effect of suspense and fear would have been unbearable.
After a "waiting period," requested by United States President Lyndon Johnson who wished to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict, a "national unity" government was formed in Israel on June 1.
Israeli Forces crossing the Suez Canal into Egypt proper
David against Goliath
American Jewry and most of the Western World sympathized with Israel, so on June 5, 1967 Israel attacked on various fronts. On the first day Israel destroyed most of the Egyptian and Syrian air forces.
That same evening Israeli Artillery attacked on all fronts, Sinai, the West Bank then in the hands of Jordan and the Syrian Golan Heights. Two days later on June 7th Jerusalem was liberated and the Israeli army was again at the Western Wall after 19 years.
Our group that was on the way to Jerusalem via Nablus was diverted through Israel itself to the Golan Heights and we went all the way to Quneitra. The picture I saw of our burned boys lying on the slopes of the heights is and will be with me forever.
An image of the soldiers at the liberated Western Wall
And the same soldiers 40 years later
Summary of the Six Day War
After a total of Six days, at the cost of 676 lives and over 3000 wounded, the Arab coalition formed against Israel was routed.
The Israeli army occupied Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan, the Jordanian West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The Egyptian and the Syrian governments accepted a cease fire agreement and U.N. observers were posted along the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights.
In the brief history of the State of Israel, the Six Day War constitutes a major turning point. This swift and total victory saved the young country from destruction, ensured its physical existence, and disillusioned those of her enemies who had hoped that the Jewish State was just a passing phenomenon.
On the other hand, these densely populated territories acquired during the Six Days War, regarded as "liberated" by some Israelis and as "occupied" by others, created a whole series of problems, political, social, economic, moral and religious, unresolved to this day.
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