Six Days of War for Jerusalem

March 21, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt, BFP News Correspondent

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History teaches that the conflicts that sway the destiny of nations are often fought over a protracted period of time. The events that shake the fate of peoples do not, after all, unfold overnight. Yet principles are never fully absolute. The best exception to this rule arguably occurred when Israel was forced into yet another unwanted war against three Arab armies—and altered the course of history in six days during the month of June 1967.

Historians hail the Six Day War as a conflict that transformed the Middle East. Military experts proclaim it a miracle. Diplomats call it a watershed event that propelled the Jewish state from an infant nation to a regional superpower.

The Six Day War was all of these. Yet Israelis remember it for something more: the conflict that reunited Jerusalem and the people who yearned for, prayed towards and held fast to the promise of return to their eternal capital for nearly two millennia.

June 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. Half a century has passed since the morning of June 5, 1967, when a command from the head of the Israel Air Force launched a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian air force. The maneuver resulted in one of the most brilliant preemptive strikes in history—and signaled the start of six days of war.

Setting the Scene

Every conflict happens within a particular context and plays out against a specific background. The Six Day War was no different. The Arab countries surrounding the newly reborn Jewish state failed to accept defeat in the 1948 War of Independence and the 1956 Sinai War, refused to recognize Israel’s existence and continued to vow her destruction. Moreover, raids and attacks kept the people of the Promised Land in a perpetual state of conflict. Then, on May 22, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to all ships heading for and from Israel, a move aimed at crippling the Jewish state economically. Any other country would have considered this an act of war. Yet tiny, war-weary Israel attempted a route of peaceful negotiation.

Reconciliation was, however, not an option for the Arab nations. “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel,” Nasser proclaimed on May 27, 1967. Three days later, Iraq’s president confirmed, “Our goal is clear—to wipe Israel off the map.”

Cairo and Damascus had already combined the might of their armies, and Egypt soon embarked on a similar sinister plot with Jordan. The Arab war machine stood poised on the borders of the Promised Land, waiting for the command to annihilate the Jewish people once and for all.

No Other Way

“We knew what was coming,” says Yigal Haklay. “Three weeks before the war we were called up. We hoped it would not come to that, but we knew there was no other way.” Haklay was 26 in 1967, with a wife and two young children at home. “Of course, we did not want war. Who does? But when your people are threatened, you do what you must.”

The odds of victory were not in Israel’s favor. As with every other war in her short history, the Jewish state fought with her back against the wall, isolated and vastly outgunned and outnumbered. Armed with double the amount of soldiers, three times the tanks and four times as many combat aircraft, Israel’s enemies had their sights set on an easy conquest.

“There was no time to think,” Haklay remembers. We just knew that we had to survive to stop the enemy from killing those we love.” He pauses, smiles and shakes his head. “We did all that—and more. When the enemy fled, we were still here—and our dream of 2,000 years had come true: Jerusalem was ours again.”

This Year in Jerusalem

 On June 7, 1967, a reserve brigade of Israeli paratroopers broke through the Old City walls at the Lion’s Gate. After 30 hours of fighting, the joyous shout from Lt. Gen. Motta Gur, commander of the forces in the Old City, ushered in an era of promise fulfilled: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”

A live broadcast recorded the wonder and awe as Israeli soldiers walked through the alleyways of the Old City. There was the sound of shofars blowing, weary voices singing in the shadow of the Western Wall and battle-hardened men weeping at the realization that the homecoming was now complete. Finally, the declaration, from Rabbi Shlomo Goren, “Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, Who Comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem. This year in rebuilt Jerusalem!”

The Lord’s Doing

 The passage of time, Haklay muses, sometimes softens the focus of a terrifying reality. Half a century of life, progress and prosperity allow you to look back at a traumatic period in history with rose-tinted logic that seeks to rationalize the remarkable. “After 50 years,” he clarifies, “it is easy to forget how big a miracle our victory was.” Haklay is right. On the eve of war, Israel’s prospects were so grim that rabbis commissioned parks to bury the thousands who were sure to perish. Less than a week later, the world stood stunned. Military experts could not explain such an against-all-odds victory. Yet Moshe Dayan, commander of the Israeli forces, had an idea. Even this self-proclaimed secular Jew, it seemed, recognized an all-out miracle.

On the seventh day, after the din of battle had died down, Commander Dayan made his way through the cobbled streets of Jerusalem’s Old City to the Western Wall. In keeping with tradition, he tucked a note in the cleft between two ancient white stones. The message on the scrap of paper echoed Jerusalem’s first and famous poet king, “This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).

Photo Credit: David Rubinger / Government Press Office

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