50 years ago this week, we remember the Six Day War – a war that changed the face of the Middle East in ways that continue to reverberate to this day. In just six days, Israel decimated the entire Arab military forces and expanded her size by 3 times.
There are those who say the war was a Pyrrhic victory – a battle that Israel won, but would ultimately lead to her having more losses in the long run, due to the increased administration of territories in which a largely hostile Palestinian population exists.
It’s true that Israel faces many challenges today, including the almost insurmountable one of trying to make peace with a Palestinian leadership whose goal has never been about peace, but rather the destruction of the Jewish State.
But when we think back to that time leading up to the Six Day War, we can never forget that the victory was anything, but empty.
Israel stood alone in the world, besieged by Arab States who had openly stated their intention of wiping out the country, including the annihilation of its citizens. There may have been some demonstrations of support in Europe, and the American government was ‘sympathetic’ to their plight, but no country was prepared to lift their finger to help her. The Egyptians blockaded the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was considered an act of war, yet America refused to respond to it, despite the assurances it gave Israel in 1956. The Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser had demanded the UN leave the Sinai, to which the UN complied meekly, proving how ineffective they were as a ‘peace’ keeping force.
Israel was abandoned, surrounded by bloodthirsty Arab regimes intent on committing another Holocaust on the Jewish people a mere 22 years after the previous one had been carried out. And now, just as then in those dark years of the 1930s and 1940s, the world was silent to the cries of Jewish anguish. No one was going to save the Jews this time, just as they didn’t save them last time.
Her people were fearful. The country was isolated. The army was outnumbered.
But unlike before, Israel was not a powerless people anymore. Backed by a population who knew what would happen if they lost, and buoyed by the support of so many Jews who flocked to the country to help, and backed by the solidarity of a people who had vowed ‘Never Again,’ they struck back and carried out one of the greatest military victories in history.
However, it was not a victory that could be classified in military terms alone, for it was a victory of life itself. It was the victory of the enduring Jewish spirit to fight for life, no matter how bleak the prospects are and no matter how overwhelming the odds may be. It was an announcement not only to her own people, but to the world at large. The Jews were back in their ancestral land, and the era of countries and regimes being able to do with them as they please, had ended.
With the liberation of Jerusalem, it had also ended the reign of ethnic cleansing the Jordanians had carried out in the Jewish Quarter, where they had destroyed ancient Jewish synagogues, expelled the Jewish population, desecrated the graveyards, and denied access to the Western Wall in violation of the Armistice Accords of 1949 – a violation that the world also ignored.
Looking back, there is some thought that because of the war of 1967, Israel inherited more problems, problems that haunt it to this day as it strives to make peace with the Palestinians. There is no doubt that Israel faces enormous challenges today; however we can never and should never lose sight of the alternative of those six fateful days in June for the alternative could well have been catastrophic.
Israel fought a just war against Arab regimes intent on their annihilation. Their victory led not just to their continued survival, but to their ability to live and breathe in their own country. Their victory led to the freedom to be able to walk and prayer in their ancient capital – a freedom previously illegally denied to them.
We should never underestimate the power of what that means.