Happy 40th Birthday, Jerusalem
Israel, like a cowboy in the old Wild West, did not wait for her enemy to draw—she had seen the glint in Nasser’s eye.1
It was Randolph and Winston Churchill, son and grandson of the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who chose the Wild West analogy to express Israel’s electrifying victory over Arab forces in June 1967.
Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, confident they could at last deliver a finishing blow and destroy Israel, prepared their forces to strike. The Syrian attacks on civilian Israeli targets had become increasingly aggressive. Believing war to be imminent, Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad appealed to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to join the coming fray.
So Egypt, Syria, and Jordan formed a mutual defense treaty and ordered the UN contingent out of the Sinai Peninsula. As usual, the UN peacekeepers ran like rabbits; and the Israelis made a fateful decision: They would not wait and become victims. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a preemptive strike on June 5, 1967.
Not since the days of Joshua and the fabled fall of Jericho did victory come in what amounted to a heartbeat of history. In six days, little Israel turned back its enemies and, in the process, captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the Jordan River, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Such feats would have made even the likes of Alexander the Great and the caesars of Rome green with envy.
By a feat of arms unparalleled in modern times, the Israelis, surrounded by enemies superior in quantity and quality of equipment and overwhelming superiority in numbers, had fought a war on three fronts and not only survived, but had won a resounding victory.2
As a paratrooper put it:
This is an interesting country—there’s never a dull moment. You have a war: in six days it’s over and you have turned the whole world upside down.3
And why, at that early stage of its existence as a state, would Israel react to seemingly insurmountable military odds by choosing to fight, rather than allowing the UN or others to seek concessional diplomacy? Israeli Gen. Ezer Weizman expressed it well:
You must understand why Israel was built here [in Palestine] rather than in Uganda or Canada [which had been proposed]. We could never have fought the way we have for a Jewish state in any other part of the world. Jerusalem, the West Bank of the Jordan, indeed the whole of Palestine has a very deep significance for us. It is the basis of Zionism.4
Jerusalem, Above All Else
There is no question that the crown jewel in the diadem of Israel’s historic victory was Jerusalem. Examine it from any angle—historically, militarily, rationally, socially, or emotionally—there is nothing else to liken it to; Jerusalem is incomparable.
Initially, an Israeli attack on East Jerusalem (then in Jordanian hands) was out of the question. As a matter of fact, the Israeli government was communicating with Jordan’s King Hussein, assuring him it had no intention of attacking the Old City. Hussein, however, was talked into action by Nasser, who lied to the king by saying he was winning a smashing victory over the IDF and that, if Jordan wanted a part of the spoils, it should fire on Jewish forces in Jerusalem. When Hussein’s attack began, the Israelis were more surprised than afraid.
I once asked Gen. Uzi Narkiss, then central commander of Israeli forces in Jerusalem, what he considered to be the greatest miracle of the Six-Day War. He replied that it was not that his troops had taken the Old City. “We were very sure that, given the opportunity, we could take it,” he said. “The biggest miracle of the war was that, by believing Nasser’s lie and firing on us, Hussein gave us the opportunity to win the city. That was the real miracle.”
For people who had been cast abroad to wander among inhospitable Gentile nations and who had intoned the words next year in Jerusalem for two millennia as they sat at Passover tables the world over, the victory seemed almost beyond belief. Never had Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, which celebrates the hope that after 2,000 years Jewish people could live in freedom on the hills of Zion and Jerusalem, been sung with greater enthusiasm or tears.
Ask any Israelis today, who lived through that war, where they were when they heard the news of the reunification of Jerusalem, and you’ll most likely hear a heartrending personal account.
Among my favorites is one told me years ago by a bearded Orthodox leader at Kiryat Arba, a settlement outside the ancient city of Hebron:
How can I forget it? It was the greatest day of my life. At the time I was a tank commander and moving with my group from Jenin to the Jordan. We had stopped for some water and a bit of rest when one of the men opened the wireless radio. The first thing I heard was the announcer reading from the Psalms. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O, Jerusalem.” Then he went on to say that our soldiers had taken the Old City. Jerusalem was ours.
I cannot possibly explain to you how I felt. I do remember looking over at my commanding officer, who was not a religious Jew. Even so, the tears were streaming from his face and dripping through his beard.
The scene at the Western Wall was even more chaotic. Photographs taken there are indelibly etched in the minds and memories of that generation. And who can forget the image of Israel’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, sounding the shofar and announcing that the Jewish people were again inhabiting their place of places, as he called Jewry worldwide to return home to Jerusalem.
On June 27, Israel officially annexed the Old City of Jerusalem, declaring its ancient capital as the undivided, eternal capital of Israel. In addition, the declaration assured all religions free access to their holy sites—a promise Israel has scrupulously kept over the last 40 years.
In the aftermath of the conflict, Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan issued a list of terms for the world to hear:
- Neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank would be returned.
- Jerusalem would be retained, and all religions in the city would have their freedom guaranteed.
- Passage through the Suez Canal would be secured.
- All problems between Israel and the Arabs would be settled by direct contact between them.5
Forty Years of Progress?
Looking back on the past 40 years brings, at the very least, a spate of mixed emotions. All of us, Jews and believing Gentiles, saw great hope for the future in the triumphant return of the sons and daughters of Abraham to the city where the ancients of Jewry and Christianity had trod the streets and mounted the way to the Temple Mount. But while Israel has earnestly sought genuine peace with its neighbors, its neighbors have yet to reciprocate to any appreciable degree. Gen. Dayan was correct in the details he laid out for the future. Today the majority of them have been cast to the wind.
In its weakness and desire to curry favor with the West and mollify its enemies, Israel has retreated from the Gaza with disastrous results. And incomprehensibly, the nation seems determined to make the same mistake with territories in Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem is in the process of being negotiated away from exclusive Jewish control and split into sections that will benefit Israel’s enemies rather than the rightful heirs of the city.
The international community has no right or basis for commandeering the destiny of Israel and the Palestinians.
First, doing so constitutes a breach of the basic premise that negotiations should only be conducted by the parties involved: the Arabs and the Jews. To say that others must step in and force the issues because the Arabs are unwilling to negotiate responsibly is a misguided approach and decidedly unfair to Israel.
Second, after all that we have seen, heard, and experienced in the war on terror, our leaders still don’t or won’t get the picture. The fiction that there is a difference between events in Israel and those in other parts of the Middle East—namely, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan—and that those events have nothing in common with Israel, defies belief. Such an attitude is, in actuality, a self-imposed state of denial that only encourages the people who wish to harm us all.
It is important to understand what some of our leaders seem to have difficulty with. Jerusalem—all of it—is the rightful province of the Chosen People. June 7, 1967, was a triumphal entry of the Jewish people into the city of their fathers. The imperative is to celebrate that entry, not to disparage it. Israel’s recapturing of Jerusalem righted a 2,000-year-old wrong perpetrated by Rome, which exiled the Jews from their eternal city. And the world today has no business denying the Jewish people their beloved capital and large chunks of their homeland.
The Arabs have their Mecca and Medina, and neither the Jewish people nor Christians nor the Western nations question it. The Jewish people, on any scale, have the right to possess their Jerusalem. Why assist the enemies of Jews, Christians, and Westerners by forcing Israel to forfeit those rights to revisionist usurpers who will, once again, erect “No Jews Allowed” signs over the most sacred of Jewish places?
The hour has long since passed to say, “Enough is enough!” As it goes for Jerusalem, so it will go for the rest of us. Don’t be deluded into thinking anything less.
Happy Birthday, Jerusalem!
- Randolph S. Churchill and Winston S. Churchill, The Six Day War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967), 75.
- Ibid., 191.
- Ibid., 147.
- Ibid., 200–201.