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Part I -In The Shadow of the Six Day War

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I was not yet sixteen when the Six Day War broke out in June, 1967. Over 25 years ago I recorded what happened to me the day before the war started.

"War!"

I jumped out of bed when I heard my mother's voice. Listening to the 7:00 a.m. news, I heard CBS Radio's Israel correspondent Jay Bushinski say that Israel Defense Forces had advanced 10 miles into Egyptian territory and had destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force. During the following week, I walked around school dazed, distracted. But not so distracted that I couldn't drag out a Hebrew grammar book to study abandoned verb conjugations and forgotten vocabulary. I carried a new dream within me.

Only twenty-four hours before – Sunday morning – it would have been like Vietnam; another war in a far off place.

After Memorial Day, 1967, Brighton Beach was my second home. I soaked up rock-n-roll tunes from the radio as I lay on a blanket playing poker and browning my back.

My best friend at the time was an Israeli, Shlomo Rozenberg. Sunday, June 4th, he and I kicked a soccer ball around while gentle winds blew and sea birds flew over Brighton beach. As afternoon shadows lengthened, the soccer game disintegrated. Shlomo and I made our way to a forest of legs surrounding a centrally located group of beach blankets and umbrellas. This was "Bay 3" the central hangout for Israelis living in New York on hot summer days.

Together with eight others, we clambered over each other's shoulders to form a human pyramid. While I struggled to maintain my balance, someone began to play a Hebrew love ballad on his guitar. A bongo drummer softly kept rhythm.

Almost everybody sang along. Guys put muscled arms around their girlfriends' olive shoulders. Giant Stars of David reflected gold, copper and light.

I was silent.

I neither knew the words, nor understood the language. All I knew at that moment was how lonely I felt. I wanted to walk away from this crowd of foreigners, lay on my blanket and listen to the Beach Boys and the Stones. I didn't. Shlomo had his left leg on my right shoulder. He needed my support.
By the time the unsteady pyramid had collapsed, Jack Goldberg – card sharp and pre-eminent party giver in Brooklyn's felafel ghetto on 13th Avenue – was making a speech about breaking Nasser's noose on the Straits of Tiran. To shouts of "kol hakavód!" and "bravo!," he orated passionately that the Russians could drop dead and that Israel would drive the Egyptian monkeys to the gates of Cairo. He yelled "'Am Yisraél Hai!" and "long live America!," The rest of the crowd soon took up Ya'akov's calls.

In the midst of the shouting the staccato of a bongo drum pierced the air like a machine gun. A girl began to sing "Hava Negila" and grabbed Shlomo's hand. He grabbed mine and we danced a hora to the steady beat of the knee drums.

I danced and whirled and jumped. Concentric circles formed dancing clockwise and counter-clockwise. I kicked sand, running first to the right then to the left. The knee drums pounded their cadence into my brain. As more and more people joined the hora, I sang the one song I recognized that day in a voice of voices.

The ancient spirit of Israel rose within me. Walls of isolation dropped. I felt my soul link with the souls around me. I shared fear. I shared concern. I shared joy. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like an outsider. I belonged.

That night we watched a television "special" about the Middle East. My mother looked at the map on the TV and said to my father, "Louie, they have us surrounded." She had never referred to Israel as "us" before.

When I went to sleep that night, He Who guards Israel did not sleep. Only He – and the Israel Defense Force – were prepared for the six days that followed.

What had happened was a miracle. First of all, that event on Brighton Beach and the events of the week that followed it shaped the rest of my life, telling me where my own identity really lay. Even though it would be over thirty years before I would fulfill my own dream of coming home to Israel, the seed leading to its fulfillment had been planted.

But on a far larger level, a small insecure nation surrounded by millions of hateful enemies determined to drive it into the sea and massacre all of its inhabitants had defeated all of its enemies on the field and totally humiliated them. In the words of the great Israeli writer, Ephraim Kishon, "Israel solved the problem of winning a two-front war by fighting a three front war." In six days, David had downed Goliath using airplanes, tanks, and sheer moxie. And the Arabs, just like the Philistines 3,000 years earlier, pulled off their boots in the sand and ran as fast as they could.

From a country with a central section 10 miles wide, Israel had expanded to cover all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, a broad and good land; it had conquered the Heights of Golan, so that never again would Syrian gunners bombard kibbutzim and towns in the north and force the inhabitants to sleep in underground bunkers; it had liberated the city of Jerusalem from foreign rule and re-united it under the rule of the only people who pray for the city's welfare daily, the Jewish people; it had conquered Gaza, an infectious nest of murderous terrorists; and as a security buffer, it had conquered the entire Sinai peninsula, ending forever the danger of a blockade of Israeli shipping in the south, as well as that of a massive land invasion that would overrun Ashkelon, Beersheva, and Tel Aviv. In addition to all this, most of the inhabitants of the territory that had been under Jordanian rule for 19 years waited at three bridges at the Jordan River, seeking to flee Israeli rule.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, wanted to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount. The opportunity to have Judea and Samaria nearly empty of Arabs stood before the leaders of Israel. Had a synagogue been built on the Temple Mount it would have cemented our claim to it, mosques and domes notwithstanding. Had the Arabs fleeing Israeli rule been allowed to leave, the settlement of Judea and Samaria would have been a far easier and less controversial task. It is likely that the territory would have been annexed to the State and living in Ma'aleh Levona, for example, would be looked upon as normal, instead of theft of someone else's land by self righteous, finger-wagging foreigners, and ignorant Israelis who think they know better than G-d Himself.

But this is not what happened.

Spitting at the Miracle

The key person who began the unravelling of the miracle of the Six Day War, was the IDF's Chief of Staff, the late Moshe Dayan. Consulting with a large number of rabbis who tended to feel that entering upon the Temple Mount was an affront to G-d, Dayan banned the idea of the synagogue. Rabbi Goren's view was a minority one at the time. But, as if to lock out the possibility of a synagogue ever being built, Dayan handed control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, a Moslem community organization. Given that the secular establishment ruling the country then (and now) did not want to see a strengthening of the religious community in Israel, and certainly rejected the view that Israel should be a publicly Jewish state, this act certainly went in line with its vision for the nation. But the rabbis who advised Dayan that a synagogue should not be built on the Temple Mount, advice that gave him cover for his actions, probably do not have the sense to now say "t'aínu" – "we made a mistake". This, in spite of the acts of the Waqf to erase all Jewish presence on our Temple Mount over the last several years.

Additionally, Dayan blew up the bridges at the Jordan River, thus preventing the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria from leaving. So they left the sites of the blown up bridges, returning to their homes. The Israelis attempted a "light-handed" occupation, but there is no such thing as a light-handed occupation of a potentially hostile population being fed hate propaganda daily.

Because Dayan did not allow the Arabs at the Jordan River bridges to leave, he created the problem of wanting to "annex the land but not the people". He handed to the Arabs a legitimacy they would not have had otherwise in demanding the land for themselves and undermined any Jewish claim to our land. He built the stool upon which the PLO stood, the stool upon which the Hamas stands. His act was an act of rank cowardice that has cost thousands of Jewish lives in the last forty years, not to mention thousands more Arab lives.

Very few Jews, living in Israel or elsewhere foresaw the disastrous consequences of these two acts when they were done. But this looks at events only from the point of view of political analysis. The real issue is that the last forty years spent in the shadow of the Six Day War has only made clear what happens when a people, particularly its leaders, spit at a miracle.  In 1967, and indeed even into 1973, this nation had land, a sense of security, and a joie de vivre that one could feel in the festive air. The history of the last 33 years at least is the history of how this nation has lost all it gained in the Six Day War, along with the joie de vivre it had possessed when going into battle in June, 1967.

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About Ruvy

Hi!! Thanks for coming to my article! I was raised in Brooklyn, was graduated from the City University of New York in 1978 with a BA in political science and public administration there. I lived in Minnesota for a number of years. There I managed restaurants and wrote stories. We moved with our children family to Israel where we now reside. My work can be found at Ruvy's Roost, Jewish Indy,, and on Facebook under my full name, Reuven Kossover
  • MBD

    “I jumped out of bed when I heard my mother’s voice. Listening to the 7:00 a.m. news, I heard CBS Radio’s Israel correspondent Jay Bushinski say that Israel Defense Forces had advanced 10 miles into Egyptian territory and had destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force.”

    Strange.

    The rest of this country heard that Israeli Mirage jets had flown over the Mediterranean at low level to escape radar detection and strafed and bombed the Egyptian air force on the ground.

    Sort of like what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor.

  • Dr Dreadful

    There was a very interesting clickable guide to the Six-Day War on the BBC News website today, with maps showing the day-by-day tactical movements of the armies and the major engagements, with some notes explaining the background to the war and the political machinations that were going on.

    I have a music tape somewhere given to me by a friend (she’s visited Israel numerous times and keeps urging me to go – I will someday) called “Shma Yisroel”. I can’t remember the name of the band but they sound a bit like an Israeli version of Clannad. One of the tracks has a recording of a radio broadcast from the commander of the first tank to enter the Old City. Even though it’s in Hebrew (which is, excuse the cliche, Greek to me!), it’s quite powerful stuff when combined with the music and the momentousness of that event in history.

    I wasn’t around at the time (well, technically I was, but was too busy filling my nappies to pay much attention to the newspapers) so it’s hard for me to fully appreciate the significance of those events as they impacted the world back then. But it’s fascinating to review those times from today’s perspective and understand how the Jewish state came to assume the form it has today.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    MBD,

    By 15:00 Israel Time (which is when I heard the 07:00 news in Brooklyn), the Mirages strafing and bombing Egyptian airbases was old news. The NEW news was the advance of the IDF into Gaza.

    And what we did was nothing like the Japs, who did one attack on Hawaii and then invaded American territory close to (their) home – and then lost.

    We beat the shit out of the Arabs. We pummeled their asses and made them run like scared rabbits.

    But have a little patience. This is a four part series of articles – and it is not filled with bragging at all…

  • STM

    If only all wars would last six days. Less would be better, though …

    None would be a definite bonus.

  • STM

    I have a story on this too, Ruve. I was in Baghdad in 1967 (the summer of love!), and my father was privy to information regarding the Arab-Israeli build-up so we left, and I had to leave my first love – an American blonde named Regan Lenz – behind forever as we fled temporarily to the UK via Amsterdam.

    However, my old man returned soon after and as was his usual form, managed to leave Iraq on day SEVEN of the Six-Day War by dressing as an Arab and catching a bus to the Iranian border. I believe he shared his seat with a chicken and a goat. Some other travellers took their chances on the roof.

    He returned again soon after at the request of the Iraqi govt to finish a project, and lacking a regular visa but in possession of a piece of paper authorising his return, was arrested in Beirut on suspicion of being a spy (Israeli, one would suspect, although I thought they were on Israel’s side then) and held at gunpoint, jailed for a time and interrogated at great length.

    Finally, he did make it back to Baghdad, only to have to leave again as the Baathists began plotting their takeover.

    When I asked him about all this a few years back, his reply was laconic at best. He discussed it simply as he’d been taking the 243 bus to North Sydney or catching a flight to Melbourne.

    When I asked if he was a spy, he said, with a wicked glint in his eye: “No … but you’ll never really know, will you?”

    He’s dead now, and I don’t, but given he was sent to Nigeria during the Biafran war, and to Northern Ireland, China, Poland, Indonesia, Malaya, Pakistan and all points of the compass north, south, east and west, often in times of crisis, I can only guess at what he was really up to.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Dr. D.

    I think you may have your tapes mixed up a tad. The Old City was taken from the south, from the Lion’s Gate. Soldiers advanced on foot because almost all of the Old City is narrow alleys that a tank wouldn’t fit into.

    But, there is a dramatic Voice of Israel tape (in Hebrew) of the first soldiers ascending the Temple Mount shouting “har habáyit b’yadénu” – the Temple Mount is in our hands! The tape includes Rav Goren, z”l, pronouncing a blessing over the Temple Mount, among other things…

    From what I understand, the first part of Jerusalem to be liberated from the Arabs was Armon haNetziv (just north of where I used to live) a site that overlooks the Valley of G-d’s Judgment. After securing the overlook of Armon haNetziv (where there is a monument to the soldiers who fell in this effort), soldiers raced north to get to the southern edge of the Old (walled) City.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Stan,

    There are many very interesting personal stories about this war.

    One fellow I know was a soldier stationed in an intelligence unit in the US armed forces in West Berlin in June, 1967. His commander told him to pack his gear because he was going into a war zone. He knew of no war zones that the Americans were involved in in Europe, and figured that he was to be sent to Vietnam.

    Anxious, he went to his commander to try to get further details. He was told he was going to Cyprus. This mystified him completely. The Turks and the Greeks were not fighting at all.

    When he arrived at a base in Cyprus the next day, he and his unit were told to Hebraicize their names, and put them up on the office doors. Apparently, they were to coordinate American intervention in the fighting if it lasted for ten days, because the American military estimated that the Israelis could last no longer than that in a combat situation.

    The original plan had been to intervene to maintain the military status quo, but the Israeli attack and invasion of the Sinai and liberation of Jerusalem had changed all that. Nevertheless, the Americans were going to intervene somehow once they figured the Israelis would need the help.

    Since my friend was the only Jew in the unit, he taught the others in the unit how to Hebraicize their names. They waited for the appointed day to arrive, as they forwarded orders for trucks, equipage and the like. But the IDF finished the job in six days and my friend went back to his base in West Berlin.

  • moonraven

    Well, this bird was nowhere near the fray.

    I was in San Francisco, it was the summer of love and my husband was ready to wring my neck because I had a crush on a skinny guitar player whose name was, if I remember correctly, Carlos Santana.

  • troll

    (STM – here’s a somewhat off topic question fer ya as a student of your country’s history:

    why did Australia abstain from the recommendation process of UNSCOP when it came to the question of partition vrs federalism in ’47 – ?)

  • Dr Dreadful

    Thanks for clarifying, Ruvy.

    I’m not sure where the tape is (probably buried in my car somewhere) but I’m sure I remember the sleeve notes saying something about a tank. The recording was definitely from the Six-Day War and not from any of the other ones. The ascent of the Temple Mount sounds as if it might be about right though.

  • STM

    I’m not 100 per cent sure on that one troll but I believe there was division within the government here over the issue, and our connection to Britain at that time was still strong.

    Perhaps they felt it safest not to put any money on it either way.

    Moonraven, welcome back. Haight/Ashbury?

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    This was received in my e-mail and confirms (again) my view that the State is disintegrating. Only recently the head of the German Jewish community called for the end of Jewish immigration to Israel. These people, truly fools as well as traitors, have signed their own death warrants. If I say that I do not believe they will live to see the Redemption, this is not out of hate for a fellow Jew, or out of desire to see their deaths – far from me to wish for such a thing! It is rather out of an objective understanding of what they have done. They have rejected the Land Covenant inherent in the Israelite faith. And for this, they will pay. The full article can be viewed in original form at the IMRA website.

    [Dr. Aaron Lerner – IMRA: Burg – who was a leading Israeli leftist, makes his living now by exploiting the connections he made overseas when he headed the Jewish Agency. Burg insists on drawing all the perks available to him
    as a former head of the Jewish Agency – including car and staff.]

    Burg: Defining Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end

    By Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent Last update – 06:41 07/06/2007

    Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker and former head of the Jewish Agency says “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to
    its end.
    “A Jewish state is explosive. It’s dynamite.” In an interview in Haaretz Weekend Magazine, he said that he is in favor of abrogating the Law of
    Return and calls on everyone who can to obtain a foreign passport.

    Burg, who was interviewed on the occasion of the publication of his book “Defeating Hitler” said “the strategic mistake of Zionism was to annul the alternatives. Israeliness has only body; it doesn’t have soul.”

    “Judaism always prepared alternatives,” says Burg, who three years after leaving Israeli politics is now a citizen of France and a successful
    businessman.

    “Just as there was something astonishing about German Jewry, in America, too, they created the potential for something astonishing. They created a situation in which the goy can be my father and my mother and my son and my partner,” Burg says.

    His book ruminates about Israel and Zionism, compares Israel and Germany, harshly criticizes Eichmann’s hanging, reflects on Judaism in the age
    of globalization and remembers his father’s house.

    Burg said he started his book in mourning for the loss of Israel.

    “During most of the writing the book’s title was ‘Hitler Won.’ But slowly I discovered the layer of not everything being lost. And I discovered my
    father as a representative of German Jewry that was ahead of its time. These two themes nourished the book from beginning to end.”

  • Graham McKnight

    MBD, Ruvy is correct in his claim that the Egyptian air force was wiped out with a matter of hours.

  • moonraven

    No, STM: Richmond district.

  • troll

    (Stan – I found an ‘official’ answer to my question in Australia’s historical documents…I’d post the URL but it appears to contain a banned word so I quote the document in full:

    *Hood to Department of External Affairs
    Cablegram UNSCOP 12 GENEVA, 28 August 1947, 6.37 p.m.
    IMMEDIATE SECRET

    1. Our UNSCOP.9. Views in Committee have now finally emerged as follows-for partition plus economic union seven, for federation three (India, Iran, Yugoslavia), without commitment to either
    proposal Australia. The Australian attitude was outlined as follows-that in accordance with the terms of reference and with undoubted intention of the special assembly the primary obligation of the committee was that of a recording, reporting and fact-finding body, that even had there been something like unanimity on
    the particular solution the Assembly would have been entitled to receive in the report a discussion of other possible solutions, that in the present situation such considerations applied even more strongly and that it was essential that the report should present to the Assembly the whole range of arguments covered in
    the committee’s discussions in such form as to enable the Assembly to review the question as a whole and to make its own determination. We stated that in these circumstances we saw no necessity to indicate now a preference for one proposed arrangement over another; the final determination could only be in the hands of the Assembly which alone was the competent body to
    decide what was workable and what was not workable in the light of all factors including political factors many of which were beyond the committee’s scope.
    2. There was a strong move on the part of some members including the chairman to let the matter go forward in the form of a majority and [a] minority report but with the help of the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia we succeeded in getting adopted the
    view that the report would go forward as a whole with a full discussion of the two main alternatives on which the delegates, if they so desired, could record their preference in the body of the report.
    3. The report will also contain a chapter setting out certain matters on which common ground agreement has been found in the committee, for example, the termination of mandate and granting of independence at the earliest practicable date, rejection of extreme solutions, United Nations responsibility during a
    transitional period, holy places and religious interests,
    increased but controlled Jewish immigration in transitional period, special action by the Assembly with regard to Jewish displaced persons as a whole as a means of alleviating the Palestine problem.
    4. I recommend that we be enabled to sign the report in the above form adding if necessary a statement reserving our position with regard to the two main alternative proposals on the lines referred to in paragraph two. The report will probably come up for
    signature on 1st September so should be glad to receive any comments immediately.*

    looks like Hood wanted to reserve power to the Assembly where Australia voted in favor of partition)

  • moonraven

    If Israel IS de-countrified, as it should be as a result of its routinely perpetrating crimes against humanity, maybe Australia would be a good place to put the Jewish contingent–lots of space, apparently–and they can go back to a sipler time of making melons grow in the desert.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Parts III and IV of my series are finally published. I invite you all to read both and feel free to comment. As I said, many of your questions about Zionism, and why it is a dying institution will be answered there.

    However, I suggest you read part III AND the comment which I added at the end. The editor saw fit to gut the article, and I had to restore the parts he gutted to make clear what the article was talking about…

  • STM

    “maybe Australia would be a good place to put the Jewish contingent–lots of space, apparently–and they can go back to a simpler time of making melons grow in the desert.”

    Yep, everyone’s welcome here if they can cut it, and there IS plenty of room, no doubt about that. I’m sure Israelis would feel right at home, except the dust is red, not brown. The drought looks to be breaking, though. It has been pissing down here, with rainfall all over.

    Kids in the bush who’ve never seen rain have marvelled at the wonders of the windscreen-wiper.

  • moonraven

    Great!

    I look forward to eating those melons from the Kibbutzim Outback.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    “Yep, everyone’s welcome here if they can cut it, and there IS plenty of room, no doubt about that. I’m sure Israelis would feel right at home, except the dust is red, not brown.”

    Thanks, Stan – but no thanks. Australia is probably a wonderful place to live – you’re rightfully proud of the land you live in; but this is HOME. And it is great to finally be home.