The war may have only lasted six days but its impact was immediate and its legacy is still felt – and debated – fifty years later.
There are many incredible first person accounts of the Six Day War online – some written or recorded at the time; others delivered with the aid on hindsight. Start with the December 1967 National Geographic which has been reproduced at israellycool.com. Here is how Charles Harbutt describes the mood in late May as Israel prepared for war.
“In Tel Aviv the civilian population was beginning to mobilize in its own way. Go-go girls at a discotheque gave a party to encourage blood donations. Teen-agers too young to serve at the front volunteered for civilian jobs soldiers had vacated. Women baked cakes for the troops. … I watched one man building an anti-shrapnel wall in front of his apartment house. ‘I put it up; I take it down. I put it up; I take it down,’ he laughed, pointing out the remains of walls built for earlier wars.” The 11-page article features classic National Geographic photographs including a striking one of the Western Wall plaza shortly after the war.
For many Jews in the Diaspora, the war meant it was time to help Israel in its time of need. In mid-June Lydia Aisenberg phoned the Israeli embassy in London “to ask if I could do something to help – thinking of sticking stamps or answering phones.” Little did she know that days later, she would be disembarking an El Al plane in Israel, teddy bear in hand. Rather than licking stamps, Lydia found herself working in the fields of Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek.
Ilana Rosen remembers “marching with others down Cheetham Hill Road in Manchester, carrying an Israeli flag, to a Rally at the New Century Hall, and everybody along the route (non-Jews and Jews) were cheering us. (A bit different from now!)”
There was certainly pride in Israel’s military prowess. But in the days and weeks following the war, it was not hard to hear the word “miracle” being used to describe what had happened. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is quoted as saying in August 1967, “This was a war won by Torah and mitzvot. There can be no doubt of this. A Jew in Moscow recited Psalms, and a Jew in Buffalo, New York, put on tefillin, and this helped the Jews defeat their enemies in the Land of Israel.”
For several Israeli soldiers interviewed shortly after the war, the events were far more gloomy and dispiriting. Released only two years ago, the award-winning documentary “Censored Voices” includes interviews with seven soldiers who expressed concerns including the annexation of East Jerusalem. Those audio recordings from 1967 were going to be used for an internal booklet within the kibbutz movement but were censored by the army which retained 70 per cent of the tapes. Israeli fiilmmaker Mor Loushy tracked down the tapes and used them as the foundation of her film. And she also sat down with those former soldiers – including Amos Oz – and filmed them listening to their own much younger voices.
“This film is personal for me and for every Israeli citizen,” Loushy told timesofisrael.com. “We live with this and in order to face our future, we have to understand our past.”
Michael Oren, author, politician and former ambassador, suggests another lesson can be learned from the war. He says the Six Day War was not inevitable and points to several events – some of which seemed relatively trivial at the time – that collectively brought the region over the brink. The lesson for observers decades later?
“Today, like 1967, the Middle East faces a situation in which a large-scale war could be ignited by a relatively small spark. In these circumstances, rational decision-making, cogent analysis, and logical reactions to events on the ground are, in the end, often subordinate to the vicissitudes of fortune, the vagaries of war, and dumb luck. Chance and randomness had a profound influence on the conduct of the Six Day War and on the war’s impact on the region and the world. Recognizing the power of chance — then and now — is both humbling and frightening.”