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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Looking Back, Those Tense, Frightening Weeks in May-June, 1967

For some of you, it's history, but for those of my generation and older, the 1967 Six Days War is a strong unforgettable memory.
I was a senior in high school, Great Neck North, in Long Island, New York.  The school was a typical suburban school with a scheduled Senior Class Beach Day, Senior Prom, Senior Dinner and other special events which were supposed to be the highlights of our final school year.  My class included a few who became celebrities, such as the late Andy Kaufman and Jon Avnet.  I guess I was one of the class eccentrics having decided to become an Orthodox Jew before my junior year and countered the "ban the war" posters with those publicizing SSSJ Student Struggle for Sovet Jewry demonstrations.  I added to my "oddness" by also becoming a Zionist and joining Betar.

The May, 1967, threats on Israel by Egypt's Nasser caught me at a very vulnerable time, newly religious, Zionist and part of an extremely idealistic, uncompromising world of the 1960's.  I had just chosen a very different priority from my peers.

But the Jews of Great Neck, almost totally secular and otherwise assimilated--this wasn't the Great Neck of today--went into a panic at the thought of the State of Israel being destroyed, G-d forbid.  We had massive unifying rallies, meetings and fund-raising campaigns.  I spent Senior Class Beach Day collecting money for Israel from my classmates at Jones Beach.

I had no idea that the Israeli government was in a total quandary about how to react to the threats of destruction. Abraham Rabinowitch's "The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest That Echoes Still"  tells of panic and indecision:

IAF plane near Augusta Victoria Hospital
Photo by: Photos: Jerusalem Post archives

Eshkol opened by telling of being awakened before dawn Saturday by the Soviet ambassador with a warning from Moscow not to undertake war. A message from US President Lyndon Johnson had come the following night, also warning against firing the first shot. Johnson asked the Israelis to give him three more weeks to organize an international flotilla that would break the Tiran blockade. At a meeting with Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Johnson said, “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.”
The generals warned against dubious promises of international assistance. Continued inaction was making a mockery of the Israel Defense Force’s deterrence, they argued. The meeting ended angrily, Eshkol taking umbrage at the aggressive tone of the generals. The government had decided to seek a political solution, he said, and affairs of state would not be directed by the military. The Americans would be given the time they asked for.
The generals were infuriated at Eshkol’s decision. The Arabs were growing stronger by the hour – the Egyptians building up their forces in Sinai to the west, while to the east Iraqi and Saudi forces, as well as two battalions of Egyptian commandos, were preparing to bolster the Jordanian front. Meanwhile, Israel’s economy was virtually paralyzed by mobilization and the IDF’s deterrence was dribbling away. A preemptive Israeli air strike was intended to offset the Arabs’ superiority in numbers. But if the Arab air forces struck first, the generals warned, Israel’s war plans would be knocked totally askew. The Egyptian air force had been training for offensive sorties more intensively during the past week than it ever had, they reported. Minister Yigal Allon, siding with the generals, warned that an Egyptian strike could come at any time.
“Whoever is first, by even half an hour, will win the day,” he said.
The Israeli defense experts had planned a defensive war, not a war to liberate more land.
THE GOALS the Israeli cabinet set out in authorizing war made no reference to territorial gain: “The government has decided to take military action which will liberate Israel from the military noose tightening around it.” However, the battlefield successes this first day of war began to stir thoughts for the first time about Jerusalem’s Old City. In the cabinet, Menachem Begin called for “liberating” it, and Yigal Allon said that Israel should either annex it or ensure access to the Jewish holy places.
At this point, this was still a minority view. The ministers well remembered the pressure placed on Israel after the 1956 Sinai Campaign by both Washington and Moscow to evacuate Sinai, pressure so strong that Ben- Gurion felt he had no choice but to obey immediately. It seemed clear to Eshkol and most of his ministers that the same thing would happen if Israel laid claim to any new territory after this war.
It's obvious that G-d took over the battle plan, because the speedy and final results would not otherwise make sense.  This is something I've thought and written about many times.  Here we are in the days leading up to the anniversary of the Six Days War.  The Jewish Calendar not only includes months, there's an annual division of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, the Chumash.  Every year, during this time of the year, we read the same Torah Portions of the Week.  Yesterday we read Behar, On The Mountain, which starts with Leviticus Chapter 25 וַיִּקְרָא:
א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying: ב דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם--וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ, שַׁבָּת לַיהוָה. 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.
...כג וְהָאָרֶץ, לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת--כִּי-לִי, הָאָרֶץ: כִּי-גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם, עִמָּדִי. 23 And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me.
To me it seems so obvious that G-d had vetoed the government's minimalist military plans. Our Land is not ours; it's G-d's.  No other People/Nation have a history as long as ours, connected to the same religion and same Land for thousands of years.

I must say that it's a great privilege to be part of my generation and  have been a witness to so many miracles.  The return of Jewish sovereignty to our Biblical Homeland is no less a miracle than the Exodus from Egypt.

Chag Sameach!

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