September 20, 2018

Q&A with Zubin Mehta on Making Music After a Historic War

RHO, ITALY - MAY 25: Zubin Metha performs at Bocelli and Zanetti Night on May 25, 2016 in Rho, Italy. (Photo by Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images for Bocelli & Zanetti Night). Photo courtesy of JTA

When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), conducted by Zubin Mehta, played at Walt Disney Concert Hall in October, it was part of a farewell tour for the 81-year-old maestro, who will retire in October 2019.

Born in India and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra from 1962 to 1978, Mehta is much attached to L.A. and has a home here. Earlier this year, the Journal caught up with him in the Republic of Georgia, where he conducted an IPO performance. He reflected on his experience organizing a victory concert for the Six-Day War, visiting the Western Wall with Abba Eban, and more.

Jewish Journal: This summer was the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, at the conclusion of which you performed a concert in 1967. How did that come about?

Zubin Mehta: I went there on a spur of the moment with my colleague [pianist and conductor] Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré [a cellist whom Barenboim married at the Western Wall on June 15, 1967]. We arrived there on the third day. We were there in the middle of the war. We didn’t know it was going to be six days.

JJ: How did the concert come about?

ZM: I was convinced Israel would triumph and decided on the spot to organize a victory concert. I went to Jerusalem to discuss the idea with the legendary mayor of Jerusalem.

JJ: Teddy Kollek?

ZM: Yes. Since that day, Teddy was my friend. … He suddenly inherited two cities. Teddy was loved by the Arabs until the end — until, unfortunately, he lost his last election to successors who then were not loved by the Arabs because they didn’t have the inner
feelings [that Teddy had] that these two people inherit the same ground and they have to live together. Teddy organized the first concert where Jews, Arabs and Christians sat together in Bethlehem, in front of the Church of the Nativity. Teddy passed. I miss him a lot.

“I was convinced Israel would triumph and decided on the spot to organize a victory concert.”

JJ: He was one of a kind.

ZM: I can tell you many stories about what happened to me during the Six-Day War but it’s not important. I was there at the Wailing Wall, which still had slums in front of it, with [Israeli statesman and scholar] Abba Eban, who went there for the first time. I went with him, and there was a journalist who asked him, “Well, what will you call this war?” Abba Eban said, “Maybe we’ll call it the War of Six Days.”

JJ: Right there?

ZM: Yes. We were going to perform the victory concert at the amphitheater of the Hebrew University. It was all set until they found out that it was completely mined. We moved to the Jerusalem Concert Hall.

JJ: What else do you recall from those six days in June?

ZM: I was the first civilian — not only foreigner — to cross the Mandelbaum Gate [a former checkpoint between the Israeli and Jordanian sectors of Jerusalem]. The soldier told me that when I passed through, it was just after Gen. [Chaim] Herzog, who later became president.

General Herzog was a commander of one army there and I visited him, had breakfast with him. Then, in Teddy Kollek’s office, this was before the war was over, the news came that Gen. [Uzi] Narkiss has just conquered the Western Wall. And [David] Ben-Gurion was sitting there in the office. He was not prime minister anymore, and he suddenly said, “This we will never give back!” I was there on this momentous occasion.

JJ: That’s amazing.

ZM: By the way, General Narkiss’ daughter today plays second oboe in the Israel Philharmonic [and] Abba Eban’s son for a long time played clarinet in the orchestra. … It brings the history full circle.


Tom Teicholz is an award-winning journalist, author and producer who lives in Santa Monica.

In film ‘Azimuth,’ Enemies Face Eye to Eye

From left: Israeli actor Yiftach Klein and Egyptian actor Sammy Sheik with “Azimuth” writer and director Mike Burstyn. Photo courtesy of Mike Burstyn

“Azimuth” is an impressive addition to a subgenre of war films in which two enemy soldiers start out by trying to kill each other and end up laying down their arms after recognizing each other’s humanity.

The film, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, is also an unlikely first feature for Mike Burstyn, who made his debut at 3 on the New York stage with his parents, celebrated Yiddish actors Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux.

Over the years, Burstyn, 72, has displayed his dancing and multilingual singing and acting talents, hopping between the United States, Israel and other countries, on stage, screen, television and in concert halls and nightclubs.

Given his age and continued success in his accustomed media, few might have envisioned Burstyn as writer-director-producer of a serious and humane antiwar film on a conflict as complex and emotional as the battles between Israel and Egypt.

The film opens in the last hours of the Six-Day War in 1967, with hellish scenes of machine gun, tank and aerial fire, and closes in on a wounded Egyptian soldier, painfully crawling in the Sinai desert.

Out of sight but not far away, four Israeli soldiers try unsuccessfully to extract their truck stuck in the sand, until the sergeant in charge decides to take off in the accompanying jeep to look for help. Before his communications go dead, he hears a bulletin that the war is over.

And so the scene is set for Sergeant Moti (Israeli actor Yiftach Klein) and Private Rashid (Egyptian actor Sammy Sheik) — whose real-life fathers fought each other in the actual Six-Day War — to simultaneously seek shelter in a shell-pocked, two-story blockhouse, abandoned in the desert by United Nations forces.

During the film’s next hour, Moti and Rashid try to kill each other by rifle volleys, hand grenades and hand-to-hand combat. Both antagonists communicate in passable English, and early on Moti tries to convince Rashid that the war is actually over, to which the Egyptian replies, “Yes, and I am Moshe Dayan.”

The standoff is interrupted by flashbacks from their lives. In one, Moti receives his mobilization orders in the midst of celebrating his son’s bris, while in another, Rashid, having just returned from fighting in Yemen, consoles his wife that “this time we will beat the Jews.”

In the end, the two antagonists realize that the only way they will survive, and see their families again, is by helping each other.

Burstyn recalled in an interview that as far back as 1967, after serving in an entertainment troupe during the Six-Day War, he played with the idea of making a film showing the “humane” side of war.

The film opens in the last hours of the Six-Day War in 1967, with hellish scenes of machine gun, tank and aerial fire.

At about the same time, a friend gave him the synopsis of a story outlining a theme similar to what would become “Azimuth.” Burstyn kept the story in a trunk and at the beginning of this year, with the looming 50th anniversary of the 1967 war and Burstyn having passed the biblical age of 70, he took another look at the story and decided to set off on a new career.

The film went into pre-production in January of this year, with the desolate Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev desert standing in for the Sinai Peninsula as the filming site.

The cast and crew wrapped up shooting in March and the film was ready to go in June.

Looking back on his work of the past few months, Burstyn said, “It took a lot of chutzpah on my part to write and direct a movie for the first time. But I enjoyed it so much, that’s what I want to do in the future.”

The film has not been shown publicly in Israel, but it was screened in July in India at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, where it won the award for best narrative feature.

It will have its American premiere on Dec. 15 at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino and continue for a one-week Academy Award-qualifying run. During that week, Burstyn will join the audience for Q-and-A sessions after the daily 7:45 p.m. screenings.

Letters to the Editor: Rabbi’s History Lesson, Privilege, College Students and Thanksgiving Haggadah

Rabbi’s History Lesson Misses the Mark

Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem comes to a living room in Bel Air to make sure we know how to judge the Israelis in their fight for … survival? (“Hartman Examines How the Six-Day War Forever Changed Jews and Judaism,” Nov. 3.)

No, not so! He is helping us judge an Israel which arrogantly and accidentally won yet another war with a people who seem not to tire of the attempt to make the area “Judenrein,” helping finish Hitler’s work.

According to Hartman, Israel’s sin was in winning the ’67 war and inheriting a bunch of people no one else seems to want, in an area which no one seemed to have wanted.

The 800,000 Jews kicked out of their Arab countries were absorbed into Israel. The 800,000 Arabs who fled the area have not been able to do the same, unfortunately, and Hartman blithely blames the Jews and hangs their well-being on Israel — somehow forgetting he is now talking about hanging the welfare on the almost 5 million enemy combatants they have become. Yes, we have been forced to occupy an unwanted people, even if naysayers think we are somehow occupying our land.

Rightly so, he contends that Israel could be “an inspiration” to the world. How? By giving up the power to defend against the enemy, saying that power, to be able to defend one’s self, “undermines one’s civility.”

I have worked in the wards of many mental institutions, and there have been many conversations that made little sense in the rational world. Hartman’s convoluted logic stands up there with the best.

To Hartman, in his own words, Israel’s survival, in the face of the Arab onslaughts, has been a major contributor to worldwide anti-Semitism.

So good for you, Rabbi Hartman, and to your hosts, Debbie and Naty Saidoff — and to the Journal for giving any and every crazy idea a forum to spread narrishkayt. Those of us who are genuinely inspired by what Israel has accomplished in the face of such huge adversity will try to hope that people like you will never make sense to those “shomrei Yisrael,” the brave guardians of Israel and the Jewish people.

Steve Klein via email


‘Privilege’ and What It Means at UCLA

Gabriella Kamran learned how to spell “privilege” at UCLA; would that she had learned what it means to be a Jew at my alma mater (“Are Jewish College Students Privileged?” Nov. 17). She approvingly quotes current UCLA student leader Rafael Sands and his reasons for not attending this year’s AIPAC conference, to wit: “Inviting Donald Trump and Mike Pence to speak at AIPAC represented American Jewish complicity in the administration’s ban on Muslim immigration, animosity toward undocumented people and hostility to reproductive choice.” Sands condemns American Jews with one broad swipe and at the same time rejects the idea of listening to a speaker with views different than his own. One wonders if he was on the UCLA student council when it voted to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel.

Louis H. Nevell, Los Angeles, UCLA ’56

Being a baby boomer, I’m puzzled at the millennial obsession with ethnic or racial privilege, since we’re all products of our past. The civil rights movement has succeeded remarkably in leveling the playing field, but we’ll never be totally equal. People with two caring parents generally do better than those without, as do those who bathe regularly. Of course, as a group, whites are privileged, but many individual whites are not, and increasing numbers of Blacks and other ethnicities are.

Jews descend from a people who led the world in eliminating superstition, idol worship and human sacrifice. Our ancestors were the first to assert that all humans are meant to be free, and realized that this required morality, which they fostered in the Ten Commandments. Thus, our Israelite ancestors were the first to possess a conscience, and passed on this cherished gift by instituting Torah education.

Because they were attacked by one empire after another, and had to live among often hostile gentiles, only the most daring and resourceful survived. So is it any wonder many of us reflect these qualities today? Should we be ashamed of this? Of course not.

Young Jews should support others, but not at the price of abandoning Israel, which is the covenant basis for the belief system that makes us who we are.  They must insist that Israel has every right to exist; her rebirth is indeed a miracle. The reason there isn’t peace is because Palestinian leadership rejected statehood and peace in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008, and it is they who must change.

Young Jews must decry condemnation of Zionism and reclaim its glory. If Students for Justice in Palestine, Black Lives Matter, liberal professors and other “progressives” reject this, Jews must reject them. Jews will never gain respect by abandoning Israel or betraying our heritage. We command respect when we take pride in who we are and stand tall knowing where we come from. If that’s “privilege,” so be it.

Rueben Gordon via email


College Students Are Too Coddled

It was refreshing to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column (“The Privilege of Gratitude,” Nov. 24) about the victimization culture toward which U.S. society has been evolving. A notable example is so-called “safe spaces” on college campuses. U.S. college students rank among the most mollycoddled and fortunate people on Earth, yet now they need safe spaces to hide in? The billions of less fortunate people who must deal with real-life problems don’t have such spaces and neither will college students once they enter the real world.

Ben Zuckerman, Los Angeles


What’s the Matter With Our Public Discourse?

Reading Philippe Assouline’s analysis (“My Rant Against Conformity,” Nov. 24), I wonder what Teddy Roosevelt might think of our public discourse: “Radical Republicans posturing as conservatives and sniveling Democrats cowering behind political correctness!”

Denouncing those expressing opposing opinions are the new fascists in our land and anti-social media inflames their half-wit intolerance. As Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

David Taylor Johannesen, Boston


FROM FACEBOOK …

‘A Thanksgiving Meal Haggadah’

We are Catholic with many roots and family that are Jewish. This is beautiful!! Thank you! It is indeed good to give thanks to the Lord!

Mariely Madero de Gessler

Thanks so much for this! I love Thanksgiving but I’ve always wondered how it fits into Jewish life. I might just print this for reading at our Thanksgiving gathering this year!”

Josie Mintz

Fabulous commentary. I shall read at our Thanksgiving table.

Norman Wexler

Perfect for this Thanksgiving Day ’17: Thank you and be blessed.

Paul Magnuson

Things I didn’t know. Thank you.

Leslie Hunt

Hartman Examines How the Six-Day War Forever Changed Jews and Judaism

Rabbi Donniel Hartman. Photo from YouTube

Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War planted the seeds for profound dissension among the Jewish people that exists to this day.

These were just some of the sobering words that Rabbi Donniel Hartman told close to 100 attendees at a recent salon at the home of Debbie and Naty Saidoff in Bel Air.

Hartman is the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, a pluralistic research and education center focused on deepening the quality of Jewish life both in Israel and the Diaspora.

His 2016 book, “Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself,” examines why Judaism, Christianity and Islam fall short of their professed goals of creating people of high moral standards.

At the Saidoffs’ salon, though, Hartman focused on how to navigate the dissension that exists as a result of the victory in the Six-Day War. That division, he said, influences Israeli policies and attitudes toward Palestinians, Zionism and secular-vs.-religious Judaism. That year, Hartman argued, was when a new trinity of Jewish life was born: power, land and God.

“1967 was the first time you could associate the words Jews and power,” Hartman said. “Throughout most of history, we had never been a people of power.”

In suddenly being able to defend Israel, the Jewish people attained a new sense of pride. “With power, you could be proud to be Jewish. David defeating Goliath is a great story,” he said. “It restructured Jewish self-understanding.”

It is pride, Hartman said, that makes possible secular Judaism, with its view that “I don’t have to love Torah in order to be a Jew; [I] just want to belong to the Jewish people.”

But the line between pride and arrogance is thin, he said. “Power can make you put your civility on hold and it begins to undermine the civility of the State of Israel itself. One of the great challenges we face — more Jews are divided between Democrats and Republicans, pro-Trump, no-Trump, Likud, Labor — is to what extent you believe power is a blessing or a curse.”

Because of the victory in 1967, the Jewish people became for the first time not just the people of the book but also the people of the land, Hartman argued. “In 1947, we accepted borders where not one of our holy sites was under Jewish control — borders which were basically disconnected from the Israel of our past.”

“Power can make you put your civility on hold.” – Rabbi Donniel Hartman

But with the capture of Jerusalem, Schem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Shilo and Bet El (among others), Jews became the people of the land. “For secular people, it became, ‘Now I want to be Jewish, not because I want to be part of Torah. I don’t need a synagogue or Torah. The land creates a connection to my identity.’ ”

The people who took the idea of land most seriously, though, Hartman said, were religious Zionists. “They always believed that when am Yisra’el (the people of Israel) lived in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), that would bring about the Moshiach (messiah).”

Just like power, Hartman argued, land is a great gift. “But is it a means or an end?” Nobody, he said, wants to go back to pre-1967 borders. “We don’t want to live in a world where our existence is precarious, but when means and end get switched, you have a dilemma.”
1967 started the discourse on land — a conversation Hartman called one of the most central in Jewish life. “A whole generation of Jews says, ‘I want to talk to you about Israel, but what about the occupation?’ And you can say, ‘How can I occupy my own land?’ ”

For Hartman, what matters is precisely how much land, what Jews should do with that land, and what happens when other people are living on that land.

“There were 1 million Palestinians living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in 1967,” he said. “Today, there are between 4 and 6 million [depending on your political point of view]. How do you deal with that? Is compromise possible? So, has land become an end or a means? And how do we talk about that?”
God always has been a problem for Jews, Hartman said, because in the Bible Jews were the chosen people God freed from Egypt. But the God of the Bible created an expectation that reality never fulfilled, he said. “For Jews, God is phenomenal in the past and in the future, but it’s in the present that we’re having some difficulties.”

In the face of so much tragedy, the Jewish tradition embraced the notion of a world to come, since that faith helped maintain the belief that God still loves the Jewish people, Hartman said.

“But it’s in 1967 that God returns fully,” he said. “We can now say that God loves us, that he created a miracle. It was the victory after three weeks of terror when we thought a second Holocaust would happen.”

“Feeling loved by God is a nice thing, but post-’67 there begins to enter Israeli politics a sense of ‘I don’t have to worry about the seat of power; I live by different concerns.’ Today, Israel’s Givati Brigade goes to war with a badge that says ‘God is with you.’ Is that a gift or a challenge? Is it good that our soldiers believe God is fighting with them?”

Addressing the challenges posed by power, land and God is “crucial to moving forward and learning how to talk to each other,” Hartman said. He spoke of how Jews are constantly “shushing” one another, challenging others’ right to speak unless they share the same views.

While most in the audience praised the presentation, one attendee pushed back, saying that, while after 1967 Israel held Jews together, Jews who oppose Israeli policies today are “the best transmitters of anti-Semitism.”

Hartman responded, “The Jewish people don’t get to tell people you have to be connected to Israel because without that we’re facing a new black hole of global anti-Semitism. We don’t get to make Israel important through convincing everybody that the end is coming. We have to do it by having an Israel that inspires everyone.”

Moving & Shaking: Mike Burstyn’s directorial debut, Rabbi Jon Hanish honored and more

From left: “Azimuth” director Mike Burstyn; Egyptian actor Sammy Sheik; Israel Film Festival Director Meir Fenigstein and Jewish Journal President David Suissa attend a Beverly Hills screening of “Azimuth. Photo courtesy of Israel Film Festival

Yiddish actor Mike Burstyn’s directorial debut, “Azimuth,” which tells the story of two soldiers during the last day of the Six-Day War in June 1967, premiered at an Aug. 24 Israel Film Festival event at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills.

Burstyn, 71, who also wrote the script, is the Bronx-born son of Yiddish actors. The Los Angeles resident first read the story about the two soldiers years ago and decided to develop it into a full-length film, which stars Israeli actor Yiftach Klein and Egyptian actor Sammy Sheik.

Sheik, who lives in Los Angeles, told Burstyn he loved the script.

“He called me back and said that, even though it’s an Israeli film, he wanted to do it because of the message it sends,” Burstyn said during a Q-and-A after the screening, conducted by Jewish Journal President David Suissa.

“Azimuth” follows the conflict between two soldiers deadlocked in an abandoned United Nations outpost during the ceasefire that ended the Six-Day War. Burstyn said the movie doesn’t take sides but, instead, portrays a battle of survival between two relatable individuals.

“The metaphor is … we cooperate or we are going to die in the desert,” the filmmaker said.

Sheik, who attended the premiere, said he traveled to Israel and met many Israelis whom he found to be the “sweetest people I ever met. I found that most people really want peace.”

Both Sheik’s and Klein’s fathers participated in the Six-Day War, on opposite sides.

The film will screen during the 31st Israel Film Festival, which opens in Los Angeles on Nov. 5.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Bottom row, from left: Shawn Landres; Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer; Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas and Julie Munjack and (top row, from left) Mishkon Tephilo Rabbi Gabriel Botnick; Dara Papel, Caroline Kelly, Va Lecia Adams Kellum and Adam Murray attend a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles homelessness event. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

 

Religious and community leaders gathered at Mishkon Tephilo Synagogue in Venice on Aug. 24 to discuss strategies to prevent and end homelessness.

The panelists addressed the lack of sufficient resources and affordable housing in Los Angeles County at the event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Engagement Strategic Initiative.  

“Every person who became homeless went through some kind of trauma,” Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom and chair of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, told the audience at the synagogue located in the beach community where hundreds of women and men sleep on the street.  

“We don’t have a lot of shelters, food banks and affordable housing,” Farkas said. “We have to establish neighborhoods, so people who fall into homelessness can stay in the communities and neighborhoods where they used to live.”

The event drew about 140 guests and community and civic leaders, including Ted Winterer, mayor of Santa Monica; Va Lecia Adams Kellum, president and CEO of the St. Joseph Center; and Shawn Landres, chair of the City of Santa Monica Social Services Commission and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission.

Before the panel, guests were invited to take a tour of the St. Joseph Center, which provides services to homeless people in the area.

Adam Murray, executive director of the Inner City Law Center, said the lack of affordable housing units in Los Angeles is pushing people to live on the streets. He encouraged guests to educate themselves on the issue, volunteer and join organizations that assist homeless people.

“Roll up your sleeps and get involved,” he said. “Every community needs to have affordable housing.”

With homelessness at crisis levels, some panelists encouraged everyone in the audience to be patient.

Caroline Kelly, chair of the Los Angeles County Mental Health Commission, said that because of mental illness issues, people who are homeless often “need much more time to have housing and stay in the housing.”

Other panelists talked about the importance of erasing the stigma of mental illness and homelessness.

“[Homeless people] are someone’s mother, father, brother, sister or daughter,” Murray said. “We need to bring a sense of urgency to homelessness and see them as ourselves.”  

At the end of the event, the organizers announced the recipients of the Federation’s 2017 ChangeMaker Challenge, a program that rewards organizations that make an impact on the city. This year’s winners were the Latino Resource Organization, the New Beginning Outreach Foundation, Safe Place for Youth, Shomrei Torah Synagogue and University Synagogue.

Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Rabbi Jon Hanish, senior rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills and a recipient of the National Alliance on Mental Illness 2017 California Outstanding Clergy Award. Photo courtesy of Temple Kol Tikvah

Rabbi Jon Hanish, senior rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills, has received the 2017 California Outstanding Clergy Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The honor, announced on Aug. 25 at the annual NAMI California Conference in Newport Beach, recognizes faith leaders who show exemplary commitment to supporting people with mental illness and their families.

“I know many religious leaders who do more than me when it comes to mental health issues,” Hanish said in a statement. “I feel dwarfed by their efforts. All I can do is say thank you to NAMI for this unexpected award.”

Hanish became involved with NAMI, a volunteer-based organization that provides resources and support groups for people affected by mental illness, when he participated in a clergy panel in 2013. Hanish has since become a regular speaker about Judaism and mental health at NAMI events, and every year has invited a NAMI speaker to address his congregation between morning and afternoon Yom Kippur services.

Hanish recently gathered 12 congregants and community professionals for “Care and Share Training,” a two-night NAMI program that prepares religious institutions to launch mental health support groups. Hanish’s session was the first of its kind in California.

Before leading the misheberach, the prayer for the sick, during Kol Tikvah services, Hanish often emphasizes the equal importance of mental and physical healing. 

“Acts of God are the actions taken by us and our communities to embrace everyone,” Hanish said. “No illness, no affliction, no challenge should be suffered alone. Community is needed.”

— Gabriella Kamran, Contributing Writer


Saba Soomekh, assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs at American Jewish Committee Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of American Jewish Committee

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles announced on Aug. 28 the addition of Saba Soomekh as its assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs and Roslyn Warren as associate director for international relations.

Soomekh was the associate director of research at UCLA’s Leve Center for Jewish Studies from 2015 to 2017 and has written about world religions, women’s studies and the geopolitics and history of the Middle East. Her book, “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women Between Religion and Culture,” was published in 2012 and was awarded the gold medal at the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the religion category.

“It is an honor to be a part of the AJC family,” Soomekh said. “For the past 13 years, I have been involved with AJC as a lay person. As a religious studies scholar, my new position as the assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs enables me to engage directly with various faith groups and communities in order to ensure that we work together to promote democratic values and the protection of human rights.”

Warren previously worked at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security alongside Melanne Verveer, the first U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues and a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Warren has traveled to more than 50 countries throughout her career, and has written about international affairs ranging from local partner protection in Iraq and Afghanistan to women’s participation in global peace processes.

“After spending several years dedicating myself to human rights issues across the world,” Warren said, “I am honored to have the opportunity to return to my hometown of Los Angeles and serve a community and a global mission that I hold dear.”

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer


Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

The Seventh Day: The Fighting Continues

The Six-Day war. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, I’ve been dismayed, though not surprised, by the divisiveness of the dialogue. I was only two when the Six Day War broke out, but I was raised with feeling tremendous pride over the breathtaking victory. I was not from a religious family and we were only reluctantly Jewish identified. Support of Israel was the thin reed on which our Jewish identity hung. That tiny, beleaguered Israel was able to nearly quadruple its size, regain access to its holy sites and do it all in six days against staggering odds was miraculous. Not only that, but a loss would have been unthinkable, undoubtedly bringing another Holocaust — the stated intent of Israel’s Arab neighbors. I firmly believe that in the narrative arc of Jewish history the Six Day War merits pride and jubilation. It was a turning point in the battle for Jewish safety and self-determination in a world that seemed to care not a whit about either.

Many of us can agree on that much. But the week marking the war’s anniversary proved that we can agree on little else. Indeed, what may otherwise have been a communal celebration of victory became, as all things Israel often do, a source of deep division.

It’s not hard to understand why.

As early as the day after the war ended, the fate of the over 650,000 Palestinians already living in the West Bank was unclear. In the fevered glory over the success of the military campaign, not many people were discussing that. Now the number has grown to over 2.5 million Palestinians, and the military occupation continues with no apparent end in sight. To the contrary, the current Israeli government, with the support of the United States, seems to be operating under this vain hope that the issue will simply go away—that the status quo is somehow perpetually sustainable.

There are those on the far right, who are actually seeking to annex significant portions of the West Bank, sounding the death knell for the two-state solution. And even many of those who recognize the untenability of a permanent military occupation, blame the problem solely or primarily on Palestinian intransigence and the historic Palestinian proclivity towards terrorism.

At the same time, no one can dispute that living in a state of apparent perpetual occupation with limited self-determination and limited guarantees of the basic civil liberties that we take for granted is simply not right. It’s not Jewish. It’s not moral. And it is most certainly, not conducive to peace. Therefore, for those of us who want Israel to remain Jewish and democratic and secure, it’s impossible to disregard the challenges that came with the historic victory.

At the same time, for me, the troubling aspect is not that I may disagree with others about what direction Israel should go—that’s healthy. What disturbs me is that the discussion is often binary. Even among liberal American Jews it seems that either you blindly celebrate the success of the Six Day War or you view it solely through the prism of the occupation. And these extreme positions inevitably devolve into name calling. If you point out the human rights disaster that is the occupation, you are anti-Zionist and probably anti-Semitic. If you celebrate the Six Day War, you are anti-Palestinian and a willing conspirator to a human rights disaster. Both positions are incomplete. However, and more to the point, neither position serves the interest of either side.

Jews have always had the ability to hold, in harmony, two conflicting ideas. We see the good and the bad in things. We debate. We yell. We hate. We love. Yet, when it comes to Israel, a nuanced understanding seems to be more of the exception than the rule.

Mostly for serendipitous reasons, rather than Zionistic reasons, my first time in Israel was during my junior year of college over 30 years ago. I then became a proud Zionist and started to learn what it means to be a Jew. Since that time, I have loved that nation, have taken pride in its ability to take in Jewish refugees from around the world, have marveled at its technological, medical and agricultural innovation, and, yes, have been grateful for the strength of its military. At the same time, as a Jew, I can also see, indeed I must see, the tremendously adverse consequences that the 50-year occupation is having on both the occupied and the occupier. So while we can and should celebrate the miracle that was the Six Day War, it is incumbent upon us to also see the tragedy that unfolded as a result and how that jeopardizes the Israel that we so deeply love. Indeed, having those honest, nuanced conversations and searching for solutions is precisely the best way to manifest one’s love and concern for Israel.


Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.

‘Never again’ – forgotten within 22 years

Israeli soldiers, blowing the shofar at the Western Wall, Temple Mount, 1967

Like other teenagers during May-June 1967, I was bopping to the hits of the time. While The Tremeloes sang “Silence is Golden,” with Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet on a String” in hot pursuit on the official charts, something evil was unfolding—the golden silence of the west as Israel was threatened with annihilation, just 22 years after the Holocaust.

Remember- at that time, there was no “occupation.”

In 1964, the PLO had been formed as part of the plan to annihilate Israel.

Egypt’s President Nasser repeatedly stated that the Arab world’s problem was Israel’s existence. As he thundered in 1965: “We shall enter Palestine with its soil covered in blood…we aim for the total destruction of Israel.”

In 1965, the Mossad became aware of the Arab leaders plans for war on Israel.

The Syrian army regularly shelled Israeli farms and towns.

Israel’s allies yawned.

On 15 May, Egyptian troops massed near the Israeli/Sinai border.

The following day, UN Secretary-General U Thant nonchalantly reneged on UN assurances and removed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) that had been set up as a buffer between Israel and its Egyptian neighbour, who daily spewed out hate filled blood curdling threats against the Israelis.

Two days later Syria massed troops on the Golan Heights.

On 20 May, Syrian Defence Minister Hafez Assad boasted “…as a military man, I believe the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”

Today, his son Bashar al Assad, uses poisonous gas against his own people, as he turns his country into a barbaric, ravaged civil war zone, which serves as a warning to Israel.

In May 1967, Israelis were digging trenches in a large city park in anticipation of mass graves.

The world once again saw photos of Jews digging mass graves, just as they had during the Holocaust, when they were forced to prepare for their impending murder.

The ‘Voice of the Arabs’ radio demanded “total war” echoing Goebbels just 24 years before, to the rousing cheers of his fellow Germans.

Once again, the west responded with little more than sympathy, the Holocaust and mass murder of Jews still echoing in their ears from the stilled voices of those killed less than a generation before.

Never again?!

On 22 May, Egypt blocked Israeli shipping access to the Straits of Tiran, cutting off most of its oil supply. Nasser goaded Israel to fight and reiterated Arab determination to destroy Israel.

Arab armies mobilized almost 500,000 troops, 2800 tanks and 800 aircraft.

The noose tightened.

The all too familiar stress, tension and terror was becoming unbearable.

Yet, President Johnson warned Israel not to strike, (just as President HW Bush would demand when Israel came under Iraqi missile attack, 1991).

The State Department announced: ”Our position is neutral in thought, word and deed.”

Neutrality usually favours the perpetrator and the bully.

Incredulously, Johnson joined France in imposing an arms embargo.

The rest is history.

Israel’s lightning victory astounded the world. If that was not enough, the unthinkable happened.

Normally the victors set post-war conditions for the defeated countries, but this time something unique occurred. Israel the victor, pleaded for peace.

The satirist, Ephraim Kishon summed it up with his caustic remark, “so sorry we won, ”directing his words not only at the Arab countries but at the west whose “never again,” slogan proved to be hollow.

Yes, Israel the victor, pleaded for peace, but the defeated countries rejected it! The Khartoum Conference of 1967, attended by eight Arab heads of state, resolved ‘no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel.’ Instead, the oil rich countries would fund the rebuilding of the defeated armies in turmoil.

And so began the contentious occupation. To date, the Palestinians will not agree to recognising Israel as the nation state of the Jews.

To those who choose or profess ignorance about the occupation would do well to educate themselves about the occupation’s origins, but more importantly, why it continues.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 specifically acknowledges that Israel need not return to the pre-June 1967 cease fire lines as they are not defensible. A country with a 13 km waist where some 70% of its population resides, surrounded by genocidal neighbours cannot now return to what arch dove Abba Eban called the “Auschwitz Lines.”

Israelis are therefore in an untenable situation with the “occupation,” being damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Another hit song in May 1967 was Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Something stupid.”

It could well have referred to the mindless mantras on campus and elsewhere.

It’s not about the “occupation.”


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and the author of the satire,”The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

‘I have a feeling the war is going to start tomorrow’: Three days in June 1967

Ariel Sharon, third from left, meeting with his officers a week before the start of the Six-Day War, May 29, 1967, at their headquarters somewhere in southern Israel. Photo by Micha Han/GPO via Getty Images

Five days before the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, the American reporter Abraham Rabinovich arrived in Jerusalem. When the war ended, he decided to remain and write an account of Israel’s lightning victory. Over the next two years he interviewed close to 300 soldiers and civilians. 

In this excerpt from the 50th anniversary edition of “The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest,”Rabinovich recounts the days leading up to the war’s start and the decisions of the Israeli politicians and generals on the ground.

(JTA) — The date for war was fixed on Friday, June 2, 1967, the day after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol relinquished the defense portfolio to Israel’s military icon, Moshe Dayan. For two weeks, Eshkol had blocked his generals’ demand for a strike against Egypt, but the signing of a defense pact between Jordan and Egypt had finally convinced him that war was inevitable.

At a meeting with Eshkol and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Dayan said that if the cabinet on Sunday approved a preemptive strike, the air force would carry it out the following morning. He rejected as irrelevant the army’s plans for attacking the Gaza Strip and the coastal guns overlooking the Tiran Straits, which Egypt had closed to Israel-bound shipping.

The army’s primary task, he said, was the destruction of Egypt’s tank divisions, the core of  its army. The brazenness of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in sending his army into Sinai, banishing a U.N. buffer force, and closing the straits meant that he no longer feared Israel. Therefore, Dayan argued, his challenge must be met head-on. The army would bring the Egyptian tank formations to battle and leave the Straits of Tiran and Gaza Strip for later. Rabin said that nothing would be done to provoke the Jordanians in order not to draw forces away from the Egyptian front. Jerusalem’s Old City was on no one’s agenda.

Air Force Commander Motti Hod had never revealed details of the preemptive strike to his colleagues on the general staff. Even now, at a meeting Saturday night, June 3, he revealed only one element: zero hour. The planes would strike at 7:45 a.m. Intelligence knew that the Egyptian air force mounted patrols from first light until 7 a.m. in anticipation of a possible Israeli attack out of the rising sun. At 7:45 the Egyptian pilots would be back at their bases having breakfast. Senior commanders lived off base and arrived about 8 a.m. They would still be in their cars when the planes struck. At zero hour, Israel’s armored divisions would shed camouflage netting and cross into Sinai.

Dayan, in his first press conference as defense minister that Saturday night, declared that the time for a spontaneous response to the closing of the straits had passed. A diplomatic solution, he said, would now be sought. At an English-language newspaper in Jordanian Jerusalem, skeptical journalists joked that they should run Dayan’s soothing remarks under the headline “Israel about to attack.”

Sunday morning, at the crucial cabinet meeting, several ministers asked that a decision be put off, but for the first time Eshkol came out clearly for war. Washington’s objection to an Israeli first-strike, while officially still in place, had softened,  he said, in the wake of the Jordanian-Egyptian pact. Washington had not flashed a green light, “but the light was no longer red.”

Dayan warned that if the Egyptians struck first (“to do to us what we want to do to them”), one of their first targets would be the nuclear reactor at Dimona, which the Egyptians believed was about to come on line. “Our only chance of winning the war is to initiate it and shape it,” he said. The cabinet voted 12-2 for military action.

Gen. Hod summoned his base commanders after the cabinet decision and informed them that the long-mooted attack would be launched in the morning. In the first wave, 160 planes would attack. Only 12 planes would remain behind  to guard Israel’s airspace.

Gen. Uzi Narkiss, commanding the Jordanian front, met Sunday night with his brigade commanders for a final briefing. He had been informed of the cabinet’s decision but gave no hint of it to his officers. On a wall map, an intelligence officer reviewed the Jordanian deployment. Five infantry brigades on the West Bank had been reinforced by an additional brigade, held in reserve 10 miles east of Jerusalem. Troops had been shifted in substantial numbers from rear encampments to the front line and Jordan’s two armored brigades were poised to cross the Jordan River to the West Bank. A large Iraqi force was expected to take up positions threatening  Israel’s narrow waist within a few days.

At Narkiss’ request, his brigade commanders rose in turn to outline their operational plans. The commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, Col. Eliezer Amitai, was restrained. The Jordanian army was considered the best in the Arab world. In the War of Independence, the Israeli army had failed to dislodge it from any  fortified position. The British officers who commanded the Arab Legion, as it was known then, were dismissed by Hussein a decade later and replaced by Jordanian officers but the army’s reputation remained.

Israel’s Jerusalem Brigade had more than twice as many men as the Jordanians opposite them in the city but it was a hometown unit of reservists, many of them over 30. Contingency planning called for an elite regular army unit to break through stout Jordanian defenses to relieve the 120-man garrison on Mount Scopus, a mile behind Jordanian lines, if it was threatened. But it was doubtful whether elite units could be spared for the task in a multi-front war.

At an Israeli position on Mount Zion, adjacent to the Old City, a platoon commander challenged one of his men to chess Sunday evening. There was little conversation as they concentrated on the board. Suddenly the officer looked up and said, “I have a feeling the war is going to start tomorrow.”

At Tel Nof air base, pilots were wakened at 3:45 a.m. on Monday, June 5. Filing into the briefing room, their eyes focused on the terse announcement on the blackboard: “Zero Hour 0745.” When all were seated, the squadron leader said, “Good morning. We go to war with Egypt today.”

In nearby orange groves, Col. Motta Gur’s reserve paratroop brigade had spent the night in anticipation of boarding troop carriers for a jump into Sinai. An officer rose before dawn and looked expectantly towards the air base but could see no sign of unusual activity. The troops were wakened at six, and the orchards were soon bustling. The men were making coffee when a succession of roars erupted from the airbase. As the sound intensified, planes began to rise above the tree line — dozens of them following each other into the sky like children playing tag. Low-slung with bombs and rockets, the aircraft wove themselves into formations of four and headed southwest at treetop level. At the airfield, a mechanic wept as the planes swept past him, wave after wave, glinting in the sky like a sword unsheathed. In the orchards the paratroopers watched in silence, awed by what they were seeing and by what they knew must come. They then drifted off to write postcards home. “We’re seeing the start of the war,” wrote one. “We hope it’s finished soon. We’ll do what we can to finish it soon.”

In the afternoon, Col. Gur was informed that the fast-moving tank divisions in Sinai would overrun the paratroopers’ planned target.  The brigade was being sent instead to Jerusalem to break through to Mount Scopus. No one in authority mentioned the Old City. Some, however, were beginning to think about it.


Abraham Rabinovich is a journalist born and raised in New York City. He is the author of six books, including “The Yom Kippur War,” “The Boats of Cherbourg” and “Jerusalem on Earth.” He lives in Jerusalem.

6 things you didn’t know about the Six-Day War

Israeli troops preparing for battle during the Six-Day War in 1967. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images

The three paratroopers casting eyes upward at the Western Wall. The troops reveling in the waters of the Suez Canal. The sweeping views of a Galilee no longer vulnerable to shelling from atop the Golan Heights.

Not to mention Naomi Shemer’s anthem “Jerusalem of Gold,” reissued after the Six-Day War with a new verse celebrating access to the Old City. Or the settlements, the Palestinians, the tensions, the violence.

These – and many others – are the images, memories and challenges that persist after 50 years of triumph, soul searching and grief.

But there are anomalies – small, telling wrinkles in what the war wrought – that, if not quite forgotten, have faded into the recesses of memory. They are worth reviving to deepen our understanding of an event that changed Jewish history.

For 20 years, Jews paid fees to a symbol of Palestinian pride.

In the wake of Jerusalem’s reunification, its mayor, Teddy Kollek, was faced with a dilemma: Jewish neighborhoods were sprouting up in the eastern part of the city. Any attempt to extend electricity to them from the electricity provider in Israel would likely elicit local and international protest because the world did not recognize Israel’s claims to the city.

Kollek’s solution: Allow the Palestinian-run Jerusalem District Electric Company, or JDEC, predating Israel’s establishment, to continue providing power in and around the Old City, including the new Jewish neighborhoods.

So until 1987, Jews living in the Old City and the new neighborhoods received electric bills that seemed a mirror image of their other utility bills: First the text was in Arabic, then in Hebrew.

The JDEC held exclusive rights to a radius of 50 kilometers, or 31 miles, around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Old City site believed to be the site of Jesus’ burial.

After 1948, Israel assumed responsibility for providing electricity to western Jerusalem.

The JDEC, which had become a symbol of Palestinian aspirations for independence, was helmed by Anwar Nusseibeh, the scion of an ancient Palestinian family.

According to the 1999 book “Separate and Unequal,” about relations between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, even after the JDEC’s limited capacities were exhausted by the rapidly expanding demand, Israeli authorities balked at extending the Israel Electric Corp.’s reach into eastern Jerusalem. Instead, the Israeli company sold capacity to the JDEC.

In December 1987, the government finally – quietly – shifted total responsibility for the Jewish neighborhoods to the Israeli company.

“Separate and Unequal,” penned by three Israelis – Amir Cheshin and Avi Melamed, two former municipality liaisons to the city’s Palestinian population, and journalist Bill Hutman – cited the conundrum as an example of the balancing act that Israeli officials had to perform: Maintaining a Jewish claim to the entire city, while at times deferring to Palestinian nationalism, in order to keep the peace.

“Israel could not expect to wipe out an important Palestinian national symbol without a reaction, possibly a severe reaction, from the Palestinian public,” they wrote.

The JDEC still exists, albeit providing electricity only to Palestinian residents.

King Hussein longed for peace — and liked his Israeli hardware.

King Hussein

King Hussein of Jordan at London Airport, May 4, 1964. (George Stroud/Express/Getty Images)

 

During most of his reign, King Hussein of Jordan sought a peaceful arrangement with Israel, taking a cue from his beloved grandfather, King Abdullah I, whom he saw assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951 because he was seeking peace with Israel.

Like his grandfather, he sought peace in secret but did not escape opprobrium – and was wary of meeting Abdullah’s fate. Hussein felt he had little choice but to join President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in saber rattling against Israel in 1967 – Nasser, wildly popular in the Arab world, had already taunted the king as being subservient to Israel.

Moreover, Israel had humiliated Hussein a year earlier with a massive daylight raid into his territory to exact revenge for an attack carried out by Palestinian Fatah troops, who then operated with relative impunity from Jordanian soil.

According to historian Martin Gilbert’s “Jerusalem Illustrated History Atlas,” on June 4, 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol relayed a message to Hussein: “We shall not initiate any action whatsoever against Jordan. However, should Jordan open hostilities, we shall react with all our might and (Hussein) will have to bear the full responsibility for all the consequences.”

At 8:30 a.m. the following day, Jordan started shelling western Jerusalem, and at 9:30 a.m., Hussein broadcast, “The hour of revenge has come.”

That kind of talk and the ensuing bloody battles — plus prior years that witnessed the destruction of Jewish properties in eastern Jerusalem and Hussein’s refusal for 19 years to allow Jewish access to the Western Wall — left some Israelis wondering whether Hussein truly sought peace.

The answers came over time – King Hussein drove Fatah out of Jordan in 1970 and in 1973 waited out the Yom Kippur War. In 1986, he came close to signing a peace deal with Israel.

In 1994, symbols bold and subtle made evident that Hussein had earned the trust of leading Israelis. The king was present at Israel’s Arava terminal when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace treaty with his Jordanian counterpart, Abdelsalam al-Majali.

The next day Maariv, a newspaper then owned by the Nimrodi family, published a full-page photo captioned “1965, collection of Yaakov Nimrodi,” with no other comment. Nimrodi, the clan patriarch, was Israel’s leading private arms dealer.

In the photo, a smiling King Hussein is cradling an Israeli-manufactured Uzi submachine gun.

When did Israel unite Jerusalem? Did it unite Jerusalem?

Smoke rising from the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, June 1967. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

“The future belongs to the complete Jerusalem that shall never again be divided,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two years ago on Jerusalem Day, which marks the Hebrew calendar anniversary of Israel’s capture of eastern Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

The adjectives vary – “complete,” “united,” “indivisible” — but the meaning is clear enough: Israel will never cede an inch of the Jerusalem it reunited.

Except when it formally reunited Jerusalem is not so clear: 1967? 1980? 2000? Ever?

On June 27, 1967, less than three weeks after the war’s end, Israel’s Knesset passed ordinances that allowed Israeli officials to extend Israeli law into areas of their designations. The next day, the Interior Ministry acted on those new ordinances, extending  Israeli law into the areas that now constitute the Jerusalem municipality. They included 28 Palestinian villages, the Old City and what had been defined by Jordan as municipal Jerusalem.

So, June 28, 1967, apparently is when Israel “united” Jerusalem. Except Ian Lustick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, published a widely cited paper in 1997 that showed unification was not necessarily the intention of the 1967 ordinances.

An Interior Ministry news release on June 28, 1967, said the “basic purpose” of its order was “to provide full municipal and social services to all inhabitants of the city.” Absent was any expression of political purpose.

Not long after, Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, told the United Nations that the ordinances had a practical, not a national consequence.

“The term ‘annexation’ is out of place,” he said. “The measures adopted related to the integration of Jerusalem in the administrative and municipal spheres and furnish a legal basis for the protection of the Holy Places.”

As Lustick noted, even within these parameters, anomalies persisted: For decades, Jordanian curricula prevailed in Palestinian schools in eastern Jerusalem.

In 1980, the Knesset passed a Basic Law – what passes in Israel for a constitution – declaring united Jerusalem to be Israeli. “The complete and united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” it said.

But left out of the law was a definition of what constituted the “complete and united” Jerusalem. It took until 2000 for the Knesset to pass an amendment to the 1980 Basic Law specifying that Jerusalem was defined by the Interior Ministry order of June 28, 1967.

So was 2000 when Israel formally set down in law what constituted the united, indivisible, complete Jerusalem?

Not exactly, according to a Haaretz analysis in 2015, which said the 1980 law is essentially declarative: Nowhere does it include the words “annexation” or “sovereignty.”

Marshall Breger and Thomas Idinopulos, in a 1998 Washington Institute for Near East Policy tract, “Jerusalem’s Holy Places and the Peace Process,” suggest that these are distinctions without a difference and say that Israeli court decisions that treat eastern Jerusalem as essentially annexed should be determinative.

The first Jewish settlement in the captured territories

There are plenty of dramatic markers in the history of the return of Jews to the areas Israel captured in the Six-Day War:

The first homes reoccupied by Jews in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, in 1969; the Jews, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who moved into a Hebron hotel to mark Passover 1968 and would not leave until the government allowed them to establish the settlement that would become Kiryat Arba; the settlers who would not leave the area of Sebastia in the northern West Bank until the government in 1975 allowed them to establish Elon Moreh.

But the first settlement? That would be Merom Golan, a kibbutz originally named Kibbutz Golan, when Israelis quietly moved in on July 14, 1967, just over a month after the war.

Why the urgency? A clue is in who founded the kibbutz: Israelis from the eastern Galilee, who had suffered potshots and shelling from Syrian troops for years.

The Israeli attachment to the West Bank and to Jerusalem has been from the outset one defined by emotion, history and identity. Occupying and settling the Golan Heights — an area traditionally not defined as within the boundaries of the biblical Land of Israel — was seen as a matter of security and practical necessity: Israel, atop the Golan, was less vulnerable.

These days, Merom Golan is a resort.

That ancient church in Gaza? It was a synagogue.

The Western Wall, Qumran, Shiloh, King Herod’s tomb – the Six-Day War was a boon for historians seeking evidence of ancient Jewish settlement in the Holy Land.

Most of these sites are in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. But a team of archaeologists rushed to the Gaza Strip within weeks of its capture.

Why? In 1966, Egypt’s Department of Antiquities announced the discovery of what it said was an ancient church on Gaza’s coast. Examining the pictures in the Italian antiquities journal Orientala, Israeli archaeologists immediately understood it was no church – it was a synagogue.

Visible in one photograph was a Hebrew inscription, “David,” alongside a harpist – King David.

According to an article published in 1994 in Biblical Archaeology Review, by the time the Israelis reached it a year later, the David mosaic had been damaged – evidence perhaps that the Egyptians understood that the biblical king’s depiction validated claims of ancient Jewish settlement and sought to erase it.

They set about excavating the site, which turned out to be one of the largest Byzantine-era synagogues in the region.

At the foot of one mosaic they found the following inscription: “(We) Menahem and Yeshua, sons of the late Isai (Jesse), wood traders, as a sign of respect for a most holy place, donated this mosaic in the month of Louos (the year of) 569.”

The quiet reunifications

Israeli soldiers approaching the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem, June 7, 1967. (Newsmakers/Getty Images)

 

This was the myth: Between 1949 and 1967, the heart of a city identified since the beginnings of history with the Jews had been made Judenrein.

The myth was largely based in fact, but there were exceptions: Every two weeks, a convoy of Israeli troops would travel through Jordanian Jerusalem to Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University campus that remained Israel’s as part of the 1949 armistice. Intrepid non-Israeli Jews occasionally passed through the Mandelbaum Gate, the gateway between Jordanian and Israeli Jerusalem. Muriel Spark, the Scottish novelist, captured the danger in such a crossing in her 1961 novel “The Mandelbaum Gate.”

And then there were stories like this one: In 1991, the building where I owned an apartment obtained permission from the municipality to add rooms and balconies. The contractor subcontracted some of the work. One day, a gregarious Palestinian subcontractor came by to measure my balcony for the railing he would build.

But the contractor disappeared just before completing the job. I paid others to complete the work and asked around for the number of the subcontractor.

He lived in Silwan, the ancient neighborhood abutting the Old City. I called.

A woman speaking fluent Hebrew answered; this in itself was striking. It was not unusual for Palestinian men, who worked throughout Israel, to speak Hebrew, but it was a rarity at the time to encounter a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian woman. Moreover, her Hebrew was unaccented and flawless.

She was the subcontractor’s mother. Of course he would come and install the railing, it was gathering dust in their yard, and he had forgotten my exact address, she said Not only that, but I wasn’t to pay him a shekel extra, he had been paid for his work and wouldn’t hear of it.

I couldn’t resist asking her to explain her Hebrew.

She was Jewish, born and raised in Jerusalem. She had married a Palestinian Muslim before independence. And she remained in Silwan after the war. Did she reunite with family? Yes, she said, immediately after the Six-Day War, but would not elaborate.

The subcontractor came by.

“I spoke to your mother,” I said.

“Yes,” he said and smiled.

I asked the neighbors who had used the same contractor, I asked other Jerusalemites, and no one expressed surprise.

They had heard similar stories of excommunication and then tentative reunification. How many were there? No one knew. No one compiled these stories. There was no shame to the phenomenon, but neither was there a celebration of it.

It seemed unresolved, like so much else about the Six-Day War.

RELATED:

The hidden hero of the Six-Day War

Capt. Rafi Sivron dangles his feet in the Suez Canal the day after the end of the Six-Day War. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

It was a war the world had never seen — pre-emptive, daring, lightning fast. In six days — 132 hours — one small army defeated five. By the last day, Israel had captured territories four times its former size. The war changed the map of the Middle East — of the world — in ways so profound, from Washington to Cairo, from the United Nations to The Hague, from college campuses to refugee camps, that the fight over the spoils of that conflict continue.

The war that began June 5, 1967, ushered in decades of deep American diplomatic, economic and military engagement in Israel, and introduced a new vocabulary into the news — terror, Islamic fundamentalism, Messianism, suicide bombers, hijacking, refugees, Palestine.

This year, the 50th anniversary of that war, its consequences linger. Israel’s stunning victory swung America firmly to its side, jump-starting a special relationship that includes billions of dollars in foreign aid and unprecedented security cooperation — a bond that affects every American soldier, diplomat and taxpayer.

Israel’s continued control over some of the territories captured in that war and of their inhabitants is still a flashpoint of international controversy and a source of deep moral and strategic disagreement among Jews themselves. Many Jews and Christians who explain the sudden victory as the hand of God fiercely resist any peace that requires the return of biblical lands. Others fear that in Israel’s victory lay the seeds of its own demise if the result is that Israel ceases to be a Jewish, democratic state.

[TIMELINE: The six days of war]

Meanwhile, writes Said K. Aburish in his 2004 book, “Nasser: The Last Arab” (St. Martin’s Press), the Six-Day War “was so unexpected in its totality, stunning in its proportion, and soul-destroying in its impact that it will be remembered as the greatest defeat of the Arabs in the twentieth century. The Arabs are still undergoing a slow process of political, psychological, and sociological recovery. It is easy to trace all that afflicts the Arab world today to the defeat which the 1967 War produced.”

Millions of Arabs lost faith in their secular leaders and turned to fundamentalist Islam. The Palestinians realized they couldn’t rely on conventional Arab armies to beat Israel and pinned their hopes instead on a man named Yasser Arafat —and so the age of modern terrorism was born.

You have to read only the headlines any given week to understand that while Vietnam is history, the Six-Day War is current events.

The Arabs refer to the war as the naxa, or setback. The victors christened it the Six-Day War. Neither name gets it right.  “Setback” is an epic understatement, like calling a scalping a haircut. And although “Six-Day War” deliberately echoes the biblical Creation story, it obscures one of the most important facets of the war itself: the very reason why Israel won.

The outcome of the war was decided in its opening hours. Israeli warplanes took to the skies in the early morning of June 5 and headed on a stealth mission toward Egypt. They flew just a few meters above the Mediterranean Sea to avoid radar. They banked toward land, fanned out over dozens of airfields, rose and then dived down to unleash a hellfire of cannon fire and bombs on their targets. All of Egypt’s airfields were rendered useless, and most Egyptian aircraft were destroyed. Israeli planes then decimated the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi air forces. Within two hours, in three waves of attacks, Israel had destroyed 452 enemy airplanes. It had complete control of the skies.

The attack began at 7:45 am. By 10:30 a.m., air force commander Gen. Motti Hod turned to Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and reported, “The Egyptian air force has ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.”

Israeli combat aircraft stream toward Egypt at the launch of Operation Focus, the surprise attack designed by Capt. Rafi Sivron and Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo.

The Six-Day War was a victory of intelligence over firepower, of preparation over bluster, brains over brawn. It was a triumph of foresight and planning, the vision of the few that set in motion the bravery of many. In that sense, one of the real heroes of the war — the most crucial and the least known — was a 20-something air force navigator named Capt. Rafi Sivron. Long before the first shot was fired, Sivron and his immediate superior, Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo, created the plan that won Israel the war. They were the men behind Operation Focus.

In most books and articles about the war, stuffed with the exploits of generals, soldiers and politicians, Sivron and Nevo make cameo appearances — if at all. In the cataclysmic drama of those six days, there indeed may have been bigger actors, producers and directors — but those two wrote the script.

In January 2014, while I was working on a project about the war, I asked Uri Dromi, a journalist, Journal contributor and former Israel Defense Forces helicopter pilot, if he knew anyone who fought in it.

“Have you heard of Operation Focus?” he said.   

“Of course.”

“Well, that was Rafi.”

I immediately dialed the number Uri gave me.

Rafi’s voice was strong, with a pleasant Israeli accent and precise English diction. As I was to learn over hours of conversation, in all things he did, Sivron was nothing if not precise.

Rafael Sivron was born in Haifa, the son of German immigrants who moved to pre-state Palestine from Berlin in 1934. His father’s parents remained in Germany. They were murdered in Terezin.

Sivron joined the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in 1954. He excelled as a navigator, flying missions in a variety of aircraft and helicopters. In 1962, at a NATO school for anti-submarine warfare in Malta, he met Nevo.

In the cockpit of a combat jet, Nevo was without equal, “the father of Israeli aerial combat,” in the words of IAF historian Iftach Spector. Nevo pioneered IAF dogfighting techniques, pushing himself and his planes to the limits.

Despite very different styles, the two bonded. Nevo was slight, thin — cockpit-sized. He also was serious and reclusive.

Sivron was movie-star handsome and far more outgoing. He prodded Nevo to have fun, which for Sivron meant taking breaks for tennis, attending the opera and playing “almost professional” classical piano.

Back in Israel, the head of the air force, Ezer Weizman, had long held that Israel’s best chance for winning the next war would be to destroy enemy air forces on the ground. The logic was sound, but there was no plan to carry out what other military leaders thought was a strategic fantasy.

Toward the end of 1962, Weizman tapped Nevo to come up with a plan, and Nevo remembered Sivron from Malta. By then, Sivron headed the air force subsection for operational planning, figuring the life-and-death logistics for Israel’s frequent counterattacks, stealth missions and patrols.

“When I say I was the head of this section, you could have in mind that I have something like 20 to 30 people working for me — maybe it is today this way. But then I was all alone,” Sivron said.

Nevo asked Sivron to design an attack plan. Sivron said he was too busy.

“You know what?” Nevo said. “There’s no war on the way, so pick a time. If you want to take three months, take three months. If you want to take three years, take three years.”

Sivron agreed. He was just shy of his 27th birthday.

Rafi Sivron in 1978 as the Israeli defense attaché in London. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

As a present to himself, Sivron asked a friend returning from Italy to bring back an elegant fountain pen like the one he saw advertised in glossy magazines. Though he couldn’t really afford it, Sivron splurged on the pen, a Parker 61.   

In a plain, three-story building in central Tel Aviv, in a tiny room at the end of a long corridor, Sivron sat alone at his desk, with that Parker pen, designing Operation Focus.

In the pre-planning stage, Sivron and Nevo brainstormed ideas for their plan, often bringing in experts from other departments. That’s when they came up with their first good idea: concentrate on the runways.

Gen. Hod had long said that a fighter jet is the most dangerous weapon in the world when it is in the air, but on the ground, it is useless. Nevo and Sivron figured if Israeli jets simply destroyed enemy planes, new ones could always arrive and take off. But without runways, nothing could get airborne.

“So this was decided, and I got an open hand of how to do it,” Sivron told me. “At this time, the Egyptians, Syrians and the Jordanians had about 20 military airports with 55 runways. So it was a problem, of course.”

In Hebrew, German Jews are called yekkes — a word that connotes extreme punctuality and exasperating attention to detail. Nevo, the pilot, left the operational details to Sivron.

“I was the yekke,” Sivron said.

Sivron focused first on the runways.

“You can’t attack airports if you don’t know where they are,” he said, “if you don’t know how they look, if you don’t have a picture, if you don’t know which aircraft.”

Reconnaissance photos provided Sivron with up-to-date knowledge of the enemy airfields. Israeli spies embedded in the highest echelons of Syrian and Egyptian society transmitted more details. Sivron learned the thickness of each runway, the type and parked position of each airplane, the patrol times and break times for each squadron, the distance each radar worked, the number of anti-aircraft guns.

Every detail mattered. Sivron learned that while Israeli jets used high-pressure tires, the MiGs that the enemy air forces flew used low-pressure tires. If you bombed a runway with normal bombs, ground crews could just fill it with sand and planes still could take off. The IAF outfitted their Mirages with two 500 Kgs bombs.  All the bombs were fitted with innovative fuses that changed the timing of the detonators in order to afflict maximum damage on concrete runways.

Knowing where Egyptian observation posts were stationed enabled Sivron to design flight paths to avoid them. He matched the number of runways with the number and type of planes necessary to take them out, the altitude at which they needed to climb on approach, the angle at which they needed to attack, the possible effects of dust and wind, the number, weight and power of bombs each pilot needed to carry, how low and fast each plane could fly to avoid radar.

“When you fly a Mirage at 450 knots,” Sivron said, “if the sea is calm you have no ability to realize at what altitude you are. You can easily drop to the water. If you hit the water, it is your last flight.”

Nevo led endless test missions and bombing runs over mock-ups of Egyptian air bases in the Negev, feeding data back to Sivron, who sat at his desk, crossing out old vectors, calculating the timing anew.

Because the Arabs had so many more planes than the Israelis, Sivron and Nevo were counting on another ability the IAF had been developing for several years: shaving the time it took for a plane to land, refuel, reload, and get back in the air.  

For several years, squadrons used to compete as to who will do the turnaround quicker,” Sivron said. “These turnarounds in competition were made with substantial effort involving one aircraft at a time, almost laboratory-like conditions.”

With limited ground crews and the large number of jets involved in Operation Focus, the Israelis planned on a turnaround time of 20 minutes.  Not as fast as seven, but still six times faster than the best the Egyptians could do. The Israelis would make up in flight time what they lacked in hardware.

Still, Operation Focus demanded that almost every Israeli combat plane and bomber go on the attack. Twelve would be left to defend the homeland. 

“It was not an easy decision,” Sivron said. “People say it was self-explanatory. It was not at all.”

I asked Sivron how much help he had in figuring it out.

“I was alone,” he said. “Alone with myself. Nobody else was involved in this.”

Two years after he began his work, Sivron wrote his last calculation with the same Parker 61 he started with. As he finished the last line, the pen topped working.

The master plan for Operation Focus was printed and bound in an almost 60-page blue-covered booklet. Sivron wrote the main body of the order, which described the method and principles of Moked.  Of the six appendices, Sivron wrote the two main ones, “Forces and Tasks” and “Routing.”

A meeting of senior brass went over the plan, line by line. They didn’t make a single change.  From the first draft it was called Moked, Focus.  The finalized order was passed on to the squadron leaders, base commanders and head of departments at the headquarters of the IAF.  This was in September 1965.

Each top secret copy was numbered; each number was logged to its owner.  Sivron, who by then had been promoted to major, was not given one.

“I could take it only to one place,” he said, “and that’s to prison.”

Sivron began studying economics and Middle East history at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Land captured by Israel in red

That summer, Lt. Col. Yoash Tzidon, the head of the IAF’s armament development section, decided to run Operation Focus through a newly acquired machine called a computer. By then, Hod had replaced Weizman as air force commander. Based on the likelihood of navigation problems, early detection, fog, wind and anti-aircraft fire, the computer determined that the chance of Operation Focus succeeding was 7 percent. 

Sivron was unfazed. He had total confidence in his plan, and the data and calculations behind it. But the final decision rested with Hod.

“He was not an intellectual person,” Sivron said of Hod. “He was a farmer with a very straight way of thinking. Hod turned to Tzidon, ‘You know this is the best plan we have. If you want to make another one, go ahead.’”

The computer lost.

A year later, as tensions mounted between Egypt and Israel, Rafi Harlev, the head of the IAF operations, called a meeting of all squadron leaders.

“We have a plan,” he told them. “It’s over a year old.”   

He passed out copies of Operation Focus for review and debate.

Again, there was not a single change.

In the popular imagination, the Six-Day War is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Just by the math, Israel truly was David. The Arab armies had more than twice the number of troops, and more than three times the number of combat aircraft and tanks. The Egyptians and Syrians were backed by Soviet weaponry and advisers — who could join their side at any moment.

But even though Israel was outnumbered on paper, it had advantages David couldn’t imagine. The Israel Defense Forces was the best trained, most professional and most highly motivated army in the Middle East. It was designed to defend the country. It had (and has) nuclear weapons.

The Arab armed forces, meanwhile, were designed to quell internal dissent and prop up unpopular regimes. In his new book, “The Six-Day War” (Yale University Press), Guy Laron reports a 1961 conversation between the Israeli spy Wolfgang Lutz (who fed intelligence to Sivron) and Egyptian Gen. Abd al-Salam Suleiman, whom Lutz  had first plied with whiskey.   

“We [in Egypt] have enough military equipment to conquer the whole Middle East, but equipment isn’t everything,” Suleiman said. “The army right now — in terms of training, military competence and logistics — will not be able to win a battle against a fart in a paper bag.”

As war appeared imminent, the CIA informed President Lyndon Johnson that should hostilities break out, Israel would win in 12 days. But though the Americans and even the Israeli high command were confident of eventual victory, the Jewish state’s leaders were wracked with concern that the casualties Israel would suffer would be devastating.   

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol gave voice to that fear. At a cabinet meeting on the eve of war, he said, in Yiddish, “Blut vet sich giessen vie vasser.” Blood will run like water.

Israel’s best hope to ensure victory at an acceptable cost was a pre-emptive strike. It was Operation Focus.

Three weeks before the war started, Sivron donned his uniform and left his dorm room for IAF operations headquarters, where he was assigned to plan combined operations. By then, he was married, and he felt keenly what failure would mean: that his young family would be slaughtered like his paternal grandparents.

Weizmann had been pleading with Eshkol to implement Moked, in which he had complete confidence.  On June 4, Eshkol, after receiving what he felt was a “yellow light” from the Americans, agreed.

On June 5, a fleet of Israeli planes took off after dawn.

In the central control and command room of the IAF, Sivron followed the take off and flight path of the armada he had planned.

Equally both tense and thrilled, he knew that if the Egyptians detected a single Israeli plane, the surprise attack could end in disaster.

Sivron watched as the majority of jets reached the “pull up point,” when they leapt from their low altitude sneak attack to enable their bombing run. It was still two full minutes before the first bomb had been dropped.

“I turned around and said, ‘We have won the war.’”

For Rafi Sivron, the Six Day War ended two minutes before it started.

The Israeli jets  roared up on the Egyptian bases undetected — Yak Nevo’s among them. Many of the Egyptian pilots were eating breakfast when their planes and runways went up in smoke. Each wave brought more success. Soon after the first Israeli planes returned to base, it became clear to the air force that the plan had exceeded even its own expectations. Sivron was relieved, but not surprised. Focus worked.

I asked Sivron what he made of the success.

“Moked wasn’t worth anything without the pilots and crews and all the members of the air force,” he said. “We lost 24 pilots.”

The war would rage on for five more days. There would be tough, costly ground battles for Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. All of them would have been immensely more difficult if Israel hadn’t gained control of the air.

As historian and Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren pointed out in his essential history, Six Day War, Egypt still could have stalled or even reversed Israeli gains on the ground. Victory still depended on many things: the pilots and soldiers, their commanders, the unity of the entire country, as well as Egyptian miscalculation.

But it is impossible to imagine Israeli victory without the plan. It wouldn’t have been a movie without a script.

Egyptian planes destroyed at a Sinai air base on the first day of the war. Photo: Israel National Photo Archive

For  Sivron, too, the war continued. On Day Two, June 6, Sivron, who was still responsible for combined operations, joined his helicopter squadron as a pilot to carry troops over Saudi Arabian territory to land them in Sharm-El-Sheik, in the Sinai peninsula.

On June 10, he was at the front command post of the IAF in the southern Galilee, part of two squadrons of helicopters gathered in order to prepare a massive troop landing in the 
southern Golan Heights.   Sivron was assigned to remain at the command post. Instead, he decided to join as a co-pilot in leading the landing.

In the second run, his squadron landed 20 troops some 30 kilometers ahead of advancing Israeli ground troops. The crossroad where they landed, called Butmia in Arabic but since renamed Rafid in Hebrew, remains until today the easternmost point of the border between Israel and Syria. It was 1 PM on the sixth day of the war.

A day later, Sivron piloted a helicopter to the Golan to evacuate a wounded officer. He returned in a Jeep ahead of advancing Israeli tanks, meeting with U.N. officials and Syrian prisoners. By 3 p.m. on June 11, the war was officially over.

“All of it was in our hands,” Sivron said.

One day after the cease-fire, Rafi Sivron entered the offices of air force operations HQ. Nobody was there. Everyone had gone out to celebrate. 

Sivron took a car and a friend and drove for 24 hours, all through the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal.

“Everything was still burning,” he said. “Hundreds of tanks beside the road, dead soldiers.  Then we went to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall.”

One week later, he was back at the university, studying.

Yak Nevo retired as a colonel from the Israeli air force in the late 1970s. He tried to set up a business but was unsuccessful. He turned to woodcarving and died in relative obscurity in 1989, of multiple organ failure, at the age of 55.

Sivron went on to serve in the air force until 1981, including a stint as defense attaché in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. He retired as a brigadier general. Later, after a dozen years as El Al Airlines’ director of operations control and planning, he retired in 2000.

He lives in Tel Aviv with his second wife. From both marriages, he has five children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

“Now I am playing tennis five times a week,” he said, “which keeps me young.”

Sivron is 81. I remarked how astounding it is that much of his country’s fate rested in his hands when he was only 27.

“This is the reason that I can talk to you now,” he pointed out to me. “If I were 37 then, maybe we wouldn’t be talking.”

Rafi Sivron, today

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how the astounding victory of the Six-Day War, like any solution, created a slew of new problems. At the time the fighting raged, though, none of these were apparent, or mattered. Israel faced imminent attack by five Arab armies. If it lost, the country would be obliterated. That’s what the Arab leaders were saying, and 22 years after the Holocaust, Israelis were inclined to believe them.

“The only thing worse than a great victory,” Eshkol, the Israeli prime minister, said at the war’s end, “is a great defeat.”t

When all sides were locked in an existential confrontation, Israel’s reasons and objectives were clear and unambiguous. Rafi Sivron knew why he was fighting and what winning looked like. When you know those two things, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to win.

We Americans have grown resigned to endless wars and ambiguous outcomes. The wars in Vietnam and Korea ended in evacuation instead of victory. We still are mired in Syria and Iraq, fighting ISIS, the dregs of the Iraq War. American troops are still in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11.

If there’s a lesson in Operation Focus, it’s embedded in the very name: If you must go to war, concentrate on what you’re fighting for, and how to win.

And if you really think wars are won in only six days, or by some act of divine intervention, think again.

Timeline: The six days of war

Digging trenches in Tel Aviv on the eve of war.

JUNE 5

Israeli air attacks against Egypt, called Operation Focus, begin at 7:45 a.m. Israel later begins airstrikes in Jordan and targets Syrian air force bases. Syria, Jordan and Iraq begin airstrikes on Haifa. Jordan launches airstrikes on Netanya and other Israeli targets. Jordan and Iraq attempt airstrikes against Tel Aviv. Jordan also begins artillery fire against the city.

JUNE 6

Syrian forces fortify the border with Israel and begin artillery fire. Israel takes Gaza from Egypt. Ramallah and Ammunition Hill are among areas Israeli forces capture.

JUNE 7

U.N. Security Council presents a cease-fire initiative. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser turns it down. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol proposes to Jordan’s King Hussein that a cease-fire and peace talks begin. Hussein doesn’t respond.

The Old City of Jerusalem, Nablus and Jericho are among the cities that fall in Jordan.

JUNE 8

Egypt accepts a cease-fire. Hebron falls to the Israeli army.

JUNE 9

Israel orders an attack on the Golan Heights.

JUNE 10

Israel takes Kuneitra and Masada. Cease-fire with Syria is agreed upon. War ends, with Israel claiming East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal.

Six-Day War: Voices after victory

A group of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall after it was recaptured in the Six-Day War. Photo by David Rubinger

Few wars fought on any soil have had as profound an impact as the Six-Day War, which began June 5, 1967. The Jewish Journal asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to assess the war’s aftermath 50 years later.

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

The Six-Day War was a turning point. Until then, Arab leaders were all about avenging Palestine; the defeat in 1948 swept the old elites out of power and brought in younger ones from the military. They made Palestine the central issue — not to resolve it but to use it internally and in their rivalries with other Arab leaders to see who could dominate the Arab world. Pan-Arabism — one Arab nation — was the idiom, and Palestine was the vehicle around which it was built. That, for all practical purposes, ended after those six days in June 1967.

Dennis Ross

Palestinians, who had left their fate to the Arabs after 1948, now knew they could not count on them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders — while claiming they now would assume responsibility for fulfilling national aspirations — found it easier to focus on symbols and not substance, rejection rather than reconciliation, and grievance rather than achievement. Even today, their tendency remains more a flag at the United Nations than state and institution-building. There are those like former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who recognize that the State of Palestine is far more likely to emerge when the rule of law becomes more important than seeking resolutions in international forums that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Israelis expected peace after the war. The Cabinet adopted a secret resolution on June 19, 1967, accepting withdrawal to the international border in return for peace with Egypt and Syria. More discussion was needed on the West Bank/Gaza. Israelis had not expected to be occupiers of what at that time were a million Arabs. The Oslo process was supposed to resolve the problem of occupation, but has not.

The challenge now — 50 years after 1967 — is for Israeli leaders to figure out how to avoid becoming a binational state when it is not clear that two states for two peoples can be negotiated, much less implemented, anytime soon.    

DENNIS ROSS is a former Middle East envoy and negotiator under four U.S. presidents.


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

As the three-week buildup to the Six-Day War began, Jews sensed that Jewish life was again at risk, this time in the State of Israel. Once again, the world was turning its back. The United States would not come to Israel’s aid. The United Nations troops left.

Michael Berenbaum

A friend suggested that we bring the Israeli children to the U.S., where they would be safe. I decided that my place was to be in Israel. If the Jewish people were threatened, it was my fight, my responsibility. So instead of attending my college graduation ceremony, I left for Jerusalem. I was in the air when the June war began, and landed in Israel just in time to be in Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

I can still hear the words of the bus radio announcement as it was driving on old Highway 1: 

“An IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman has said: The Old City is ours; I repeat the Old City is ours.”

I can still see the tears in the eyes of my fellow passengers as they embraced one another.

On the fifth day of the war, I went to Shabbat eve services and heard then-Israeli  President Zalman Shazar speak the words of “Lecha Dodi”: “ ‘Put on the clothes of your majesty, my people. … Wake up, arise.’ All my days I have prayed these words and now I have lived to see them.”

Never were those words more true. Never did they touch my soul more completely. I was a participant in Jewish history; I was at home in Jewish memory; I was embraced by Jewish triumph. However much skepticism — political and religious — has entered my understanding of that war and its consequences in the past 50 years, that moment is indelible in my soul and touched it, oh, so deeply.

My role in the war was anything but heroic. I organized a group of American volunteers to drive and work on garbage trucks. In that capacity, I helped clear the rubble of the war that divided Jerusalem at Jaffa Road and some of the stones from the homes demolished near the Wall. I was there on Shavuot when 100,000 Jews went to the Wall — under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 1,878 years — and women in miniskirts danced alongside Charedi men, each fully absorbed in the moment, oblivious to the incongruity of what they were doing.

And yet, looking back, I think we are still fighting the Six-Day War, now a 50-years war. The “victory” has lost its majesty and mystery, though not its necessity. Even without walls in the center of Jaffa Street, Jerusalem is a divided city, nationally, ethnically and religiously. Repeated triumphs have not yielded security. The Jewish narrative is anything but simple: From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem of Gold to an earthly place divided and dividing. Time has made it more difficult to return to that heroic, miraculous moment -— more difficult but perhaps not less urgent.

MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

Both of my parents are seventh-generation Israelis. On June 3, 1967, I was in medical school in Philadelphia studying for my med boards when the Arabs were surrounding Israel, screaming for its destruction.

Howard Rosenman

I flew to Israel,  volunteered as an intern in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and was stationed in Gaza. On the morning of June 8, my commanding officer, who knew of my family — called “Vatikay Yerushalayim” (“The Ancients of Jerusalem”) — said, “Tzahal [the Hebrew acronym for the IDF] is about to recapture the Old City. Go up to Jerusalem.”

I was there when Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar on Har ha’Bayit (the Temple Mount). It was the most important moment in my life.

I was then transferred to the Hadassah Medical Center, and Leonard Bernstein came to conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Har ha’Tzofim (Mount Scopus).

Bernstein came to visit the volunteers. “You look exactly like a waiter of mine at a discotheque in New York City,” he said to me.

“I am your waiter,” I answered. He immediately invited me to the concert.

Afterward, at the party at the King David Hotel, he offered me a “gofer” job on the documentary film of “the maestro” conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Tzahal, with Isaac Stern playing the violin. It was a war zone and you couldn’t go unless you got special clearance. 

Lenny encouraged me to leave medical school: “You are too good of a storyteller. Go into the arts. You will never bow to the Mistress of Science.”

Back in Philly, while assisting on an amputation, I decided to take a leave of absence. I called up Mr. Bernstein and told him, “I took your advice.”

Mr. Bernstein then introduced me to Katharine Hepburn, whose assistant I became on [the Broadway musical] “Coco,” and Stephen Sondheim … and my life was never the same again.

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

Eight years ago, I happened to be in Memphis, Tenn., where I visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The guided tour was led by an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 80s, who introduced himself as a civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon Nazarian

As he walked us through the museum, we arrived in the hall showcasing an actual Freedom Rider bus. He proceeded to share with us the story of young students bravely coming to Memphis, in racially mixed groups, to show solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Knowing that many of the courageous riders were Jewish students, I raised my hand to ask his perspective on the role of the American-Jewish community in the civil rights struggle.

His answer has plagued me to this day. He said that at the height of the civil rights battles, the Jewish community had stood side by side with the African-American community, that is, until the 1967 Six-Day War.

During and after the war, he said, the attention and passion of the Jewish community turned completely toward Israel and away from the equal rights struggle in the United States. He went on to say that he, along with the leadership of the civil rights movement, felt completely abandoned and forgotten and continue to feel that way to this day.

Although this was a narrative I had never heard before, it helped explain what may have been the beginning of the deep rift that has taken hold between the Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., as felt and viewed from the perspective of the African-American community. We are still realizing the ripple effects of those momentous six days; this is another ripple that continues to impact our community here in the U.S.

SHARON NAZARIAN is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

For my parents and many of their friends, the Six-Day War brings to mind David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall, their hopeful young faces an indelible reminder of Israel’s miraculous military victory less than 25 years after the Holocaust. But for many millennials, the Six-Day War is not what comes to mind when they think about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, my peers have tended to view Israel largely through the lens of more recent conflicts. As we tell Israel’s story on college campuses and to a new generation of U.S. policymakers, we should keep in mind that Israel’s incredible contributions to science and technology, its vibrant democracy and free press, and its commitment to treating victims of the Syrian civil war are likely to resonate more strongly than its struggle for survival in 1967.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

The war
Became the wall.
But it was also
Families fleeing, fighters dying
Ghosts returning, rejoicing.
The city no longer a widow
The people no longer an orphan.
The tangle of promise and power
Tight as a schoolgirl’s braids.
And the Jews,
Bearing rifles and regulations
Dove deeper into history,
Brutal, fickle history,
Afraid
And unafraid.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Los Angeles rallied around Israel in ’67

Top of the front page of the June 8, 1967, edition of Heritage. Photo courtesy of Tom Tugend

“Pray for Israel — Act for Israel”

That was the fervent banner headline I splashed across the front page of Heritage, a small Jewish weekly in Los Angeles, on Monday, June 5, 1967.

The time was 8 p.m. in the Middle East, but only 10 a.m. in Los Angeles. As I drove to the paper’s printing plant in Culver City, the car radio blasted news of Arab boasts that their forces were about to take Tel Aviv and throw the trembling Zionists into the sea.

Normally, I would have been at my regular job as a science writer at UCLA, but Herb Brin, the editor, circulation manager, advertising director and everything else at Heritage, had left a week earlier on a press trip to Israel and had asked me to fill in, reading the page proofs of the week’s edition.

I threw out whatever bar mitzvah extravaganza was gracing the front page and, at a fever pitch, wrote about the catastrophe again facing the Jewish people, a scant 22 years after the end of the Holocaust, and implored readers to rally around the defenders of the Jewish state.

The paper was delivered to its readers on Friday, June 9. By that time, of course, the world knew that Israeli forces had won a stunning victory. So quickly had events moved that my stirring headline of four days earlier already had the feel of ancient history.

Two weeks later, I looked back on that tumultuous month and wrote, “The three weeks — from the beginning of the crisis to the final cease fire — were one of those rare periods of total emotional immersion which a man remembers to his dying day.

“Who will forget the midnight calls, the morning and evening emergency meetings, the knuckle-cracking hours glued to the radio and the TV screen, the committee resolutions that were outpaced by events as soon as they were passed, the stomach-knotting hours and days waiting for a telegram from relatives in Israel?”

Besides changing the map and power balance of the region, Israel’s victory had a profound psychological impact on American Jews — and how they were viewed by their gentile countrymen — even exceeding the impact of the 1948 war that secured the independence of Israel.

In 1967, the American Jewish community, molded for decades by a “don’t make waves” mentality — which shamefully persisted throughout the Holocaust — finally found its voice. Not only a voice, but the communal body stiffened its collective spine, stopped worrying about accusations of dual loyalty and pitched in as all Americans did after Pearl Harbor.

Young Jews, who were ardently protesting against the United States’ role in the Vietnam War, clamored to go to Israel to join the fighting or work the land. Academicians and intellectuals, usually busy concentrating on their research, joined mass demonstrations. Israel-related agencies were besieged by thousands of instant donors — the wealthy waving million-dollar checks, the poorer hocking valuables or taking out loans to make their contributions.

To their surprise, even timorous Jews discovered that the great majority of their countrymen, whose prevalent anti-Semitism had only been spurred by Jewish success in medicine, the arts and commerce, now expressed unbounded admiration that the Jews in Israel could fight and win against all odds.

While past generations of American (and European) Jews had sought assimilation and defense against anti-Semitism, the “new” Jew accepted that the fates of Israel and Diaspora Jews were inevitably linked and that the Jewish state was the only guarantor against a future Holocaust.

Jokes at the time had it that the Pentagon had asked Gen. Moshe Dayan, leader of the Israeli armed forces, for advice on how to win the Vietnam War.

Time and Life, two of the most influential American magazines at the time, had followed a pro-Arab line for years but now swung to the Israeli side (the death of founder and publisher Henry Luce three months earlier may have played a role in the changed stance).

And Los Angeles Jews joined their co-religionists across the country in actions large and small.

A hastily organized community rally was held June 11 at the Hollywood Bowl, drawing 20,000 people as well as 4,000 pledges of large and small gifts. In attendance were California Gov. Ronald Reagan, U.S. Sen. George Murphy, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and dozens of Hollywood celebrities, such as Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Carl Reiner.

The board of directors of the Hillcrest Country Club, founded by and for Jews, mandated that every member had to contribute to the United Jewish Appeal’s Israel Emergency Fund.

At UCLA, some 1,000 students attended a vigil and 200 signed up for volunteer service in Israel. Jews flocked to synagogues in unprecedented numbers. With minor variations, similar responses took place in every major American city.

One of my favorite 1967 war anecdotes revolved around Mike Elkins, at various times a Hollywood scriptwriter, an Office of Strategic Services operator during World War II and a labor union organizer.

Barbra Streisand
and Eva Marie Saint at the rally for Israel at the Hollywood Bowl. Photo courtesy of Barbra Streisand Archives

I met Mike in 1948, when I was attending UC Berkeley, and looking for some way to get to the newly established State of Israel and join the fighting. Someone advised me to contact Elkins, then a business agent for the butchers’ union in San Francisco. I walked into his office unannounced and told him I wanted him to get me to Israel to participate in the War of Independence.

Elkins blanched, told me he had set up an elaborate vetting and security system to keep American authorities from discovering his then-highly illegal activity, and here I had just walked in.

In any case, he found it prudent to leave the United States for Israel later in 1948 and, after a year on a kibbutz, found a job as a stringer for the BBC and other media outlets.

On June 5, 1967, Elkins went to the Knesset and ran into a knot of highly excited politicians, from whom Elkins gathered that Israeli fighter planes already had wiped out the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Elkins immediately phoned his BBC editor in London and announced, “Israel has won the war.”

The flabbergasted editor thought that Elkins had lost his mind. Cairo, Damascus and Amman were transmitting a string of bulletins previewing the utter defeat of the Zionist entity.

Elkins, however, stuck to his guns. The BBC editor finally gave in but warned Elkins that if he were proven wrong, this would be his last day as a BBC correspondent.

Mike Elkins kept his job and lived and died in Jerusalem.

Alfred Ozair on the Six-Day War: ‘We paid with blood’

Left: Alfred Ozair, standing in the back row, third from left, in Nablus shortly after the West Bank city was captured by Israeli forces in 1967. Right: Ozair at his locksmith business in Tarzana. Photo by Eitan Arom

You wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at him, seated behind the sliding window of his locksmith business in a strip mall in Tarzana, but Alfred Ozair has seen his fair share of history. During his 84 years, he followed a Jewish migration from Iraq to Israel and finally to Little Israel in the San Fernando Valley.

During a recent interview, Ozair sat in the lobby of the dog grooming business that provides the sole entrance to his workspace, and produced old documents and photographs, including one of him and his battalion in 1967. In the picture, Ozair and his fellow soldiers crowd the doorway of a Jordanian police station in Nablus, and Ozair holds up a fist in the air, flashing a wide grin.

Ozair was part of the auxiliary force that entered the West Bank immediately after it was captured, and he remained there until he was sent home about two weeks later. His service was brief and rather uneventful, he said, but it left an impression. Even 50 years later, he recalls seeing the bodies of fallen soldiers in Nablus, covered in flies, because there hadn’t been any time to remove them.

The experience was sobering for him, even as he basked in the glory of Israel’s swift victory. So why did he look quite so happy in the picture?

He gestured at the photo. “When I am here, nobody killed me — I am happy.”

But to hear him tell it, there was more to the look of pride and victory he wore that day: The story of his Jewish generation goes from oppression and fear to strength and triumph in 1967.

Ozair was born in Baghdad in 1934 at a time when Jews in Arab lands were considered second-class citizens, living in fear of persecution by anti-Semitic government officials or angry mobs. In 1941, a pogrom swept the city, resulting in the death of some 180 Jews. Things didn’t get much better after that.

“The day of the declaration of the independence of Israel, in 1948, we were in the ghetto of Baghdad, hiding,” Ozair said. “We were afraid that they would come in a mob and kill us.”

Through all that, Jews were barred from carrying weapons. So when he and other young Jews arrived in Israel and found themselves armed in defense of their state, it was an entirely foreign feeling to them.

“The Jews in the Arab countries, especially the youth, they came to Israel, they have rifles, they have tanks,” he said, his voice breaking with delight. “This — this is something different. We felt the independence, we felt the liberty.”

In none of the three wars where Ozair was a participant did he see actual combat, but his work was nonetheless crucial: He was responsible for the upkeep and repair of the electrical systems that powered essential equipment, such as radios.

In 1956, his first wartime experience, this role put him on the cutting edge of Israel’s technology. At that time, he recalled, the army still employed pigeons to carry messages back and forth.

“Don’t be surprised,” he said. “This is the army of Israel as it was. We had nothing. From nothing, we do everything. Nu!”

He remembers his deployment to the West Bank in 1967 as a time of great fear. Israel’s cities became ghost towns as they emptied of adult men. People in Tel Aviv boarded up their windows in case the city was bombed. So many people were drafted that high schoolers were called on to deliver the mail because all the letter carriers had been deployed to the front.

Mothers sent their sons to the front knowing they might never come home, but they sent them with pride and stoicism, Ozair said. Each young man was a drop in the bucket of the war effort. “You collect water, drop by drop, and you have a quantity of water,” he said. “With this water, you can do something.”

Ozair is concerned that these days, Jewish youth doesn’t recognize the sacrifice of his generation, and that instead they feel Israel was simply handed to the Jewish people with minimal strife and struggle. “It’s not like that,” he said. “We built Israel, stone by stone. And we have to be proud.

“They have to know how much we paid. We paid not with money. We paid with blood.”

Nowadays, Ozair’s life is tranquil, as he likes it. In 1989, following his brother, he and his two children moved to Santa Monica, and he went into business as a locksmith. A few years later, he moved to the location in Tarzana, where he’s been ever since. He keeps 30 or 40 books, in Hebrew and Arabic, in his cramped storefront, squeezed between the dog groomer and an Israeli-run flower shop.

His business hasn’t made much money since the early 2000s, but he doesn’t really mind that. He pays $600 a month for the small space on a stretch of Ventura Boulevard where Hebrew is almost as common as English, and he spends his free time reading and watching the decades pass.

“I am not looking for money,” he said. “I’m looking to live a good life.”

Mula Goldman on the Six-Day War: ‘You can’t even think about losing’

Left: An undated picture of Mula Goldman during his service as a paratrooper for the Israel Defense Forces. Right: Goldman recently at his home in Tarzana. Photo by Eitan Arom

Two weeks after Sam “Mula” Goldman was discharged from active duty military service in May 1967, war broke out in between Israel and its neighbors. Around him, Tel Aviv began to empty out as the fighting-age men went to war.

“The way you mobilize at that time was you just go from door to door, people go get people,” he said in a recent interview.

But because he had just left active service and wasn’t yet on the roster of reservists, nobody came to get him. So, unbidden, Goldman turned up to his unit. It was never a question of whether he should report for duty.

“When there is a war, you go fight the war,” he said, speaking on the phone from Texas.

Goldman now works in construction, commuting between Tarzana and Dallas. His three sons, all of whom live in the United States, also were Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including one, Erez, the Los Angeles regional director of the Israeli American Council, who was a paratrooper like his father.

Fighting in 1967 was something like a rite of passage for many members of Goldman’s generation. In Israel, war is a fact of life, he said.

“It’s part of growing up,” he said. “It’s part of the culture. … But we don’t make a big deal out of it. You’re not unique. Many people go through the same thing, you know what I’m saying? You don’t brag about being in the army.”

When Goldman reported for duty, the army found a job for him, commissioning him to organize a unit that would drop behind enemy lines with mortar equipment.

“We were trained only a few days,” he said. “I never dealt with that stuff before.”

The plan was to jump out of planes into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Desert. But on the way to the plane, plans changed and the mission was canceled. Instead, Goldman was sent to the Sinai to fight alongside regular infantry. Then, plans changed again, and Goldman was moved to the Golan Heights.

“All the way across the country,” he said. “And then everything was so quick — in six days it was over, man.”

For the remainder for the war — three or four days — Goldman fought a literal uphill battle in the Golan, exchanging mortar fire with Syrian forces until the Israelis gained the higher ground.

The experience was not without its frightening moments, but actual battle left no room for the emotion, he said. “You’re afraid on the way going there, on the way back maybe. While you’re doing it, eh — no time to be afraid.”

Instead, Goldman’s narrative betrays a tone of absolute necessity, where failure was simply out of the question.

“In Israel, you can’t even think about losing,” he said. “You gotta win. Losing is not an option. … If Israel lost the Six-Day War, there wouldn’t be Israel anymore.”

As the child of Holocaust survivors, the thought of annihilation was not far from Goldman’s mind. Of his mother’s 12 siblings, only four survived World War II. Goldman himself was born in 1946 in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen before his parents took him to Israel two years later.

“We grew up with the slogan, ‘Never again,’ ” he said. “So, of course, it’s in the background.”

But after the war, any fear evaporated, replaced almost overnight by jubilation.

“We lived for a little while in a euphoria. We the garesh [apostrophe],” he said, a reference to the Jewish state’s diminutive size. “The little Israel can do what nobody can do.”

Shortly after the war, Goldman moved to Pennsylvania to attend Philadelphia University, but Israel was never far from his heart. When war broke out again in 1973, he decided to join the fray. By his telling, Israeli expatriates were fighting for seats on flights to Tel Aviv.

“Of course, you don’t have to go,” he said, “but I came. I wasn’t by myself. A lot of people did it.”

Why join a war when you’re tens of thousands of miles away with no specific obligation to fight?

“Because that’s your country,” Goldman said. “What do you mean? It’s your country, and if not you, who will?” n

The Six-Day War, in real time for the first time

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem. Photo from Wikipedia

Israel’s State Archives has unsealed documents from the Six-Day War after 50 years. They include transcripts of full cabinet meetings and of the Security Cabinet meetings. Here are a few observations.

In Cabinet meetings, people say many things. In tense Cabinet meetings, they say even more things. Thus, when transcripts are released, it is easy to isolate quotes and make big headlines out of them to serve a position or an ideology. If it were up to us, a politician muses, we would “deport the Arabs to Brazil.” Is this a statement that proves Israel’s malicious intentions? Some might say yes. They had the same reaction when Yitzhak Rabin mused about his desire to see Gaza drowned in the Mediterranean.

But you also can see it as a statement proving the sobriety and realism of Israel’s ministers at the time — a statement proving that they realized, on Day One, that occupying a territory in which many Arabs reside is going to be a headache. They did not deport anyone to Brazil. They were stuck with the headache. We still are stuck with it.

Not everything the ministers said seems impressive in retrospect. But what is quite impressive is the ministers’ refusal to engage in desperation in the weeks leading to the war and their reluctance to surrender to euphoria after it. The ministers behave in these meetings as all Israelis did: The period leading to the war was highly worrisome and the country was in a dark mood during the three weeks of “waiting.” The period after the war was one of celebration and invincibility.

The ministers are apprehensive, and they are uplifted — but in a more subdued way. They do not panic before; they do not lose proportion after. Yes, many of their assessments seem naive, misconstrued, even foolish in retrospect. But this is not due to a lack of seriousness.

Reading the debate about the future of the West Bank feels prescient. There are annexationists who want to absorb the territory and believe the demographic challenge of absorbing so many Arabs along with the territory will sort out itself. Menachem Begin, a member of the emergency Cabinet that was assembled prior to the war, argues that within seven years there will be a Jewish majority in the West Bank. There are those for whom demography is the key. Pinchas Sapir, the finance minister, worries about Israel’s future as a Jewish state if so many Arabs will become residents or citizens of Israel.

It is almost boringly familiar, and yet so distant.

I’m reading a transcript of a Security Cabinet meeting from May 26, 1967. Rabin, then the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is asked to assess whether Israel can withstand an attack. Look how careful he is: “I think if we have the tactical surprise, there is a possibility … that we will have achievements.”

Here is a question: Was this a rhetorical failure on part of the IDF and Rabin? Consider an alternative scenario: It is the same meeting, but Rabin promises a great victory, then Israel faces a military defeat. What would we say in such a case? Probably that the chief of staff didn’t assess the situation correctly and thus provided Israel’s political leaders with inaccurate information on which they made the wrong decisions.

But no one has the time or reason to ask the exact same question when the assessment of the military commander is inaccurate in a positive sense — that is, a prediction of great difficulty that later proves to be an overstatement.

And there is more. A minister warning defense minister Moshe Dayan that the IDF ought to be reminded to treat the civilian population humanely. Ministers arguing for and against taking East Jerusalem. Concern that overeagerness could prolong the war and occupy more territory because of the victories.

There also are lies that Israel decides to tell. The protocol shows how Israel attacked Syria in the Golan Heights. Minister Yigal Alon calls for the attack, disregarding the possibility of diplomatic tension with Russia because of it. He says he prefers controlling the Heights over diplomatic problems with the Russians.

The director of the Foreign Ministry warns against action — attacking Syria will complicate things for us with the Russians, he argues. But Rabin wants action. “Ending such a war without hitting the Syrians would be a shame,” he says.

Israel tells the world that the Syrians are fighting. “This is not the truth,” argues minister Haim-Moshe Shapira. True, says Alon. “I admit that this isn’t the truth, but these are the kind of lies that we can tell to have peace” — namely, to have the Syrians’ cannons removed from the Heights that overlook Israel.

Some things still feel different, and the most notable of them is the approach of the representatives of Israel’s religious-Zionist sector. Today, they are the most hawkish. In 1967, they famously were the least hawkish. They were the ones preaching for caution and moderation.

Shapira did not want the attack on the Syrians. His friend Zerach Warhaftig cools down Dayan when the defense minister suggests that Israel send its forces to Beirut.

“I would argue that we should have some limits,” Warhaftig says.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

Episode 40 – Six days of war that shaped the Middle East with MK Dr. Michael Oren

This month we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War – a war, it seems, that shook the Middle East and reshaped Israel forever. In Israel the war is spoken of almost as a legendary tale, whereas for the Palestinians it’s remembered as the event that brought upon the occupation. For that reason, and many others, it is still one of the most controversial events in Israel’s short history.

Deputy Minister Dr. Michael Oren has a rich biography. He was an historian teaching in Harvard, Yale and Princeton. He also taught in Israel in both Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University. He was the Israeli ambassador to the United States and today he serves as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office. He is also the author of several books including “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.” 2NJB had the honor to sit down with MK Oren for a special talk commemorating the war and the great victory.

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In Israel, Trump reinforces the Wall

President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Let the record show: On May 23, 2017, the president of the United States updated his Twitter header to display a photograph of himself standing at the Western Wall. Not saluting an American flag, not kissing a Latino baby or speaking at a Midwest rally or shaking a veteran’s hand, but communing with Judaism’s holiest site.

I have nothing cynical to say about it. For a man whose self-worth is in direct proportion to the size of his Twitter following (30.2 million), and who likely checks his feed more often than his briefing papers (OK, that was a little cynical), this means something.

The most powerful person in the world is demonstrating the power of that place. President Donald Trump is linking the sovereignty of the Western Wall to the State of Israel, despite the demurrals and hedging of his advisers and representatives. Tel Aviv may be one of the most dynamic, creative and delicious cities on earth, but only a fool, or the former head of a large oil company, would say, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did, that it is the “home of Judaism.”

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which must be solved sooner rather than later in a just way for both sides, is not going to be solved by ignoring or minimizing the narratives each side claims as its own.

In their justified desire for a homeland, Palestinians have sought to deny the primacy of Jerusalem in the Jewish narrative. This week, one prominent Palestinian activist wrote that the holiness of the Western Wall is a post-1967 development, not an age-old tradition. When I read that I laughed and looked up at my study wall, at a photo taken in the late 1800s of Jewish men and women packed up against the ancient stones, in prayer.

In defense of their rights to Jerusalem, many Jews have negated the Muslim claim on the city. There seems to be an online cottage industry in this, in fact. Don’t fall for it. Do your own research. Jerusalem is a holy place in Islam — that big gold-domed atop the Temple Mount might be your first clue.

Jerusalem has been wracked by a long history of dumping on other people’s history. And I mean this literally. To assert their own primacy over the holy city, the Byzantine rulers turned the Jew’s Temple Mount into the city dump. In the “Encyclopedia of Religion,” professor Reuven Firestone relates the legend that it was the Muslim caliph Umar who, after vanquishing the Christians, ascended to the desecrated area, rolled up the sleeves of his robe and began cleaning up the soiled Muslim and Jewish holy place himself.

The caliph then built the Dome of the Rock, not as a mosque, Firestone writes, “but rather as a monument celebrating the presence and success of a new faith.”

We are just about a week away from the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when the Israelis ascended to the Dome, captured East Jerusalem and united the city.

That moment when Israeli soldiers gathered where Trump stood this week, and wept and prayed that the Wall was back in Jewish hands, remains the iconic image of the war, the Jewish Iwo Jima. The emotion, the sacrifice, the sense of historical and religious destiny has affixed in Jewish minds the idea that from that moment on, all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel.

Har HaBayit b’yadenu,” Lt. Gen. Motta Gur proclaimed as his troops captured the Old City, the most famous single sentence of that war. “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

But the irony of Trump’s visit is that if the president gets his way, the grip will have to be loosened. For years, Jews and the groups that pander to them have proclaimed intractable sovereignty over every square inch of the city. “Jerusalem will never be divided,” has been the go-to applause line for every Jewish or Israeli speaker — despite the reality that the city even now is pretty much divided.

The truth is every serious final status solution ever put forth by an Israeli prime minister, and any agreement that would ever be agreed to by the Palestinians, would include some shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. What’s the alternative — constant fighting? You can’t pray for the peace of Jerusalem and want to see it, like Aleppo or Damascus, reduced to pieces.

I don’t know how serious Trump is about making what he calls “the ultimate deal.” He has a short attention span, a disdain for details and a lot of ’splaining to do back in Washington. But this week, he leveraged Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to crack open negotiations, demonstrated the kind of support for the Israelis they need to feel secure, and showed the proper respect to the Palestinians.

A dear friend and die hard Israeli leftist  I know e-mailed me as Trump departed for the Vatican.

“The bastard gave a fantastic speech that was even given compliments by Barak Ravid from Ha’aretz,” he wrote, citing the left-leaning columnist. “He’s going about this whole Middle East thing in a completely opposite manner than Obama, and it may be that he is hitting the spot. Oy vey….”

If Trump continues on this path, and doesn’t shy away from confronting each side with the truths the other holds dear, the president might just have a prayer.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

A victory in fight to preserve Ammunition Hill

A 3-D model of Jerusalem was made possible by Larry and Sunny Russ. Photos courtesy of Jewish National Fund

One of the most sacred military sites in Israel’s history, left crumbling for years, is a now a gleaming attraction that helps tell the dramatic story of what happened there during Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, thanks in part to the family of Larry Russ, a Los Angeles philanthropist with deep ties to Israel and its past.

Ammunition Hill’s significance goes back to June 6, 1967, when, in the dead of night, roughly 350 Israeli soldiers accomplished something many thought was impossible — they captured the heavily fortified military base in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jordanians, who had seized control of the British-built bunkers and trenches on the hill during the 1948 war — cutting off Mount Scopus and the Hadassah Medical Center — were fierce fighters, but the Israelis, who were literally fighting for their country’s survival, prevailed within several hours. 

Thirty-six Israeli soldiers and 71 Jordanians were killed in the battle, one of the fiercest of the Six-Day War. Ammunition Hill became a national memorial site in 1987.

Over the years, the number of visitors to the site did not increase, reaching a point in 2005 where the Israeli government decided to shutter it for a day because of a lack of funds. The Ammunition Hill-National Heritage & Memorial Site organization urgently reached out to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for help.

That’s when Rami Ganor, JNF’s former Ammunition Hill liaison, approached Russ, a lawyer, L.A.-based JNF board member and philanthropist, to support this process.

“JNF knew it had to act,” said Yoel Rosby, the current liaison. “Ammunition Hill is a pearl in Jerusalem’s history. Closing it would be like closing Gettysburg.”

Russ was intrigued.

“Rami knew I was a child of Holocaust survivors and had a big family in Israel,” he said in an interview. “There are more Russes in Israel than the U.S.” 

Further impetus came from Shimon “Katcha” Cahaner, who was the deputy battalion commander in one of the two brigades that captured Ammunition Hill. After his commander was wounded, Cahaner brought his troops into the Old City. Cahaner joined up with the JNF to save the site.

“Katcha came to Los Angeles to raise funds to improve Ammunition Hill,” Russ recalled. “He said he wanted to build a geographic table that showed the dividing line between what was then Israel and Jordan. That sounded doable, and I made a commitment. Then he said, ‘Maybe there should be a cover over it because it gets hot in the summer.’ ”

At the request of Cahaner and JNF, Russ and his wife, Sunny, visited Jerusalem, where they met with historians, an architect and soldiers who had fought at Ammunition Hill and their families.

“We were crying, it was so emotional,” Russ recalled. “We said, ‘How can we not do this?’ ”

Today Ammunition Hill is a sprawling complex with a state-of-the art visitors center, a museum as well as the original bunkers. It is especially popular with school children, who can climb on a tank or explore the trenches.

The Russes supported the creation of a theater and a sophisticated 3-D map “City Line” table that shows how Jerusalem was divided, East from West, and lights up at different points to indicate landmarks and battle sites. They also sponsored the creation of a film that includes rare footage obtained from the Israeli air force of the battle for Ammunition Hill as well as Israeli troops hanging a flag from a section of the Temple Mount after they captured it. Soldiers who fought in the battle retrace their steps along with their children and grandchildren.

Russ noted that the site already offered a film but that it was a half-hour long — too long for most visiting schoolchildren to sit through, and less than ideal when more than one group was visiting the site.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

More recently, the JNF asked the couple if they would finance renovations of the bunkers and crumbling trenches as well as new lighting.

At Ammunition Hill, Rosby noted that the site’s 40 bunkers and nearly 1,000 feet of trenches, were built a century ago to protect the munitions cache of the British Mandate.

“They were falling apart and had to be strengthened from the bottom up, to be able to remain standing for another 100 years to ensure that millions of visitors can experience and learn from the heroic battle for Ammunition Hill.”

Now that pathway lighting has been installed, visitors can visit the site at night and get a feel for the challenges Israel’s soldiers faced in the near pitch darkness in 1967.

Also thanks to the Russes, the sprawling field has what Rosby calls “field classrooms” — places for group members to sit and listen during a tour.

Rosby, Russ and Phillip Yankofsky, another Jewish community leader from L.A. and a Six-Day War veteran, appeared as panelists in March at JNF’s inaugural San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel, which focused on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Russ, who is recognized as a member of JNF’s World Chairman’s Council — meaning that he’s made a lifetime contribution of $1 million or more — said the American branch of the family feels a sense of duty to contribute to Ammunition Hill.

“My family in Israel fought in every war. I wanted to create something that would last and be something our children and grandchildren look at and realize we are a part of,” he said. “I also wanted to recognize the people of Israel and the families who have sacrificed so much. And finally, I wanted to honor our family who perished in the Holocaust.”

Mission accomplished: In 2005, the number of visitors to Ammunition Hill had fallen to 74,000. Last year, there were 354,000.

Russ said it has given his family “joy” to learn of the huge uptick in visitors, especially schoolchildren and soldiers, who visit Ammunition Hill on a daily basis, making it now a must-see venue on any trip to Israel.

David Rubinger, Israeli photographer who took iconic photo of soldiers at Western Wall, dies

David Rubinger’s iconic photo shows Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem shortly after its capture during the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967. Photo by David Rubinger/GPO

David Rubinger, the Israeli photographer who took the iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall after its capture in the Six-Day War, has died.

Rubinger, whose photos chronicled much of the history of the Jewish state, died Thursday. He was 92.

Rubinger was awarded the Israel Prize for his body of work in 1997, the first photographer to receive the award. He reportedly took 500,000 photos of Israeli people and events during his career.

An immigrant to Israel from Austria, he arrived in Israel in 1939 at 15 and fought in 1944 with the Jewish Brigade, a military division of the British army led by British-Jewish officers in Europe.

He began his career as a photojournalist in 1955 with the daily HaOlam Hazeh and then for Yediot Acharonot. He was also Time-Life’s main photographer in Israel for five decades, beginning in 1954. He also served as the Knesset’s official photographer for 30 years.

The photo at the Western Wall was taken on June 7, 1967, after paratroopers pushed into the Old City of Jerusalem and reached the narrow space between the Western Wall and the houses that faced it at the time. Rubinger maintained that the photo wasn’t successful from an artistic perspective but that its wide distribution has made it famous.

His own favorite work, he told interviewer Yossi Klein Halevi in 2007, depicted a blind boy who arrived as a new immigrant in Israel in the 1950s stroking a relief map of Israel.

“I call it, ‘Seeing the Homeland,’” Rubinger told Halevi.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin eulogized Rubinger in a statement.

“There are those who write the pages of history, and there are those who illustrate them through their camera’s lens,” Rivlin said. “Through his photography, David eternalized history as it will be forever etched in our memories. His work will always be felt as it is seen in the eyes of the paratroopers as they looked upon the Western Wall, and in the expressions on the faces of the leaders of Israel, which he captured during the highest of highs and lowest of lows.”

Political lessons for June

Two big things are happening in the coming week: the California primary and the 49th anniversary of the Six-Day War. Absolutely no relation? Think again. There are lessons in what happened on June 5, 1967, that can help guide the decisions we make on June 7, 2016, and in November.

We all know about the election, but a quick refresher on the war: In the months leading up to June 1967, tensions mounted between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Dozens of terror attacks by Palestinian fedayeen plagued Israel’s northern border, followed by Israeli reprisals. Egypt massed tanks and troops on Israel’s southern borders, expelled United Nations peacekeeping troops from the Sinai and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels, a clear act of war. Egypt sent fighter jets over Israel’s nascent nuclear weapons installation at Dimona, and Egypt, Syria and, eventually, Jordan signed a mutual pact to create a united Arab front against the 19-year-old state. 

As Arab leaders envisioned a victory lunch in Tel Aviv and Arab mobs in the streets called for “Death to the Jews,” Israelis waited for the inevitable attack. Though Israel held a qualitative military edge, the combined Arab nations had several times Israel’s number of planes, guns, tanks and soldiers. Israel had no margin for error.

“The vast array of Arab forces on all of Israel’s borders, combined with the anti-Zionist frenzy sweeping the Arab world, produced a momentum for Israel’s destruction that no Arab leader could resist,” Michael Oren says in an interview addendum in his book, “Six Days of War” (2002), the best history on the subject.

Then, at dawn on June 5, 1967, the Israelis launched “Operation Focus,” a pre-emptive strike against Egypt. Within hours, the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan lay in smoldering ruins. By the last day of the war, Israel had captured territories four times its former size. The war changed the map of the Middle East — of the world — in ways so profound, the fight over the spoils of that conflict continue to this day.

So what are the lessons?

Leadership Matters

Let’s start with Levi Eshkol. He was prime minister of Israel during the war and seemed to be a nebbish, a kind of nothing. At least, that’s what most Israelis thought of him. He was soft-spoken and deliberate, a shtetl-born, Yiddish-speaking bureaucrat who had none of the charisma or youth of the younger generation of sabras like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin. One joke about Eshkol — there was literally a whole book of them — was that when a stewardess asked Eshkol if he preferred coffee or tea, he responded, “I’ll take half and half.”

Yet, in hindsight, Eshkol is the unsung hero of the war. He held out against his generals’ and his Cabinet’s repeated calls for action in order to give America and the rest of the world a chance to intervene diplomatically. What looked like dithering insecurity was actually a keen awareness that, after the war, Israel would still need to rely on foreign leaders and international opinion to rearm and maintain security.

Experience Matters

Eshkol knew the nation’s infrastructure because he’d helped build it. He was a man of wide learning and substance. Dayan, Rabin and other generals were already battle-tested. The other men and women at Israel’s helm at its moment of greatest crisis were seasoned military, political and national leaders. If it had been amateur hour in Israel’s war room, it would have been lights out.

Strategy Matters

One huge difference between the bellicose Arab leaders and the Israelis was that the Israelis had a plan. The Arab leaders gave blood-boiling speeches that whipped up the crowds and played like gangbusters on television. Eshkol could barely orate — he fumfered his way through one infamous radio address. But the Israelis had spent five years meticulously and quietly perfecting a first-strike capability should the need arise. Eshkol didn’t focus on empty promises and big speeches, but on policies and plans.

Allies Matter

As the noose tightened around Israel’s neck, Eshkol’s reason for waiting and waiting can be summed up in two words: Lyndon Johnson. Eshkol understood that a small country — every country, for that matter — needs friends. Privately, Eshkol was livid with Johnson for his refusal to push for a diplomatic or international solution to the crisis. But to his generals, he made the case that without Johnson’s tacit “green light,” Israel would be alone in battle, and in victory. It was a smart move. Once war broke out, Johnson kept the Soviets from rushing to Egypt’s side. When the war was over, America swung firmly into Israel’s camp. Of the billions of dollars America has given Israel in foreign aid, the vast majority came after 1967.

So those are the lessons. Sure, the crises of today may not be as immediate as the one Israel faced, or the solutions as lightning-quick. But our challenges — from nuclear weapons to climate change — are no less existential.

Feel free to decide which of the candidates for president of the United States best understands and could follow these lessons. I’m not naming any names. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman

Me, Nancy Kricorian and BDS

Spring means new buds on the trees, rhubarb at the farmers markets and Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses.

I’ve long wanted to use Israel Apartheid Week as an excuse to speak to a thoughtful proponent of BDS, if only to better understand the movement’s growing popularity. But the ones I’ve come across are often the doppelgangers of their most virulent opponents — sputtering with rage and party-line thinking.

Then I heard from Nancy Kricorian.

Nancy didn’t know she was contacting me. I received a PR email from a group called Code Pink. After a seven-year campaign of protest and boycotts against Ahava, Code Pink pressured the Dead Sea cosmetics company to move its factory from a West Bank location to inside Israel’s pre-Six Day War borders.

For further information, the press release read, “Contact Nancy Kricorian.”

The name stopped me short. Thirty years ago, I knew a Nancy Kricorian at Dartmouth College. She was talented and sensitive, with long, dark hair and a lovely aquiline nose — a fellow ethnic on a campus that was then WASP Central. We read each other’s poems. We went to the same rallies against South African apartheid. Nancy opened my eyes to the Armenian genocide — and in doing so to the very idea that genocide in modern times was not just a Jewish issue. Could it be her?

“I am indeed your classmate,” Nancy emailed me from her home in New York after I reached out to her. “I’ve been the campaign manager for this effort since its inception in 2009, so I can answer almost any question you might have about it.”

We decided to talk via email. 

First, I needed to fill in the last 30 years. After Dartmouth, Nancy went on to get her MFA at Columbia University, published well-received volumes of poetry, then several novels. She married James Schamus, a screenwriter (“Ice Storm”) and producer (“Brokeback Mountain”). Together they raised two children. 

My first question was the one that baffles even those people eager to end the occupation of the West Bank, for the sake of both the Palestinians and Israel: Why single out Israel? What about Syria, North Korea or Saudi Arabia? 

“The fact that the United States government currently gives Israel over $3 billion in military aid a year means that as a U.S. taxpayer, I am underwriting the Caterpillar militarized bulldozers that are demolishing Palestinian homes,” Nancy responded. She added, “As a U.S. citizen, U.S. support for and complicity in Israel’s gross violations of international law and abridgment of Palestinian human rights makes justice for Palestine a personal issue for me.”

I asked her who funds the BDS movement. I could almost hear her familiar laugh through the computer.

“Who pays for what?” she wrote. “The poster board? The felt-tipped pens? Pretty much everyone here is a volunteer. We do this because we care about equality and justice.” 

But what I really don’t get about BDS, I wrote back, is what the end game is. When we fought apartheid, the prize was clear: democracy in South Africa. But what does the BDS movement want? 

That’s when Nancy referred me to a website that lists the demands: BDS will go on until Israel “ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall, recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. Resolution 194.”

That was dispiriting, I told Nancy. The demand that all Palestinians be able to return to Israel would mean the end of Israel, in a way that the apartheid movement never sought the end of South Africa. As for the metric of “full equality” for Arab Israelis — who’s to judge when that has happened? There isn’t “full equality” in the U.S. BDS demands went beyond the United Nations, beyond even what Palestinian negotiators over the years have been willing to accept.  

I realized my questions for Nancy were getting argumentative, like when I asked whether she would support a boycott of Armenia over its illegal occupation of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region. After all, which of us fellow ethnics has completely clean hands? So I wasn’t surprised when the next email came. 

“I’m afraid that your arguments don’t convince me any more than mine seem to have an impact on your thinking. I believe you are well intentioned,” she wrote, “and I hope you believe that I am well intentioned, but as each thinks the other’s ideas are wrong-headed, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to continue the back and forth.”

But before Nancy signed off, she wrote this: “I have found that as an organizer if I’m working with people who are promoting what I think are ineffective or even bad ideas, the best way to right the course of our efforts is to propose to them a BETTER idea. Do you have another strategy to suggest? And that is not a rhetorical question.” 

Israel and the organized Jewish community are justified in fighting BDS — it is not just anti-occupation, it’s anti-Israel. But young people who don’t accept this conflict’s endless violence and injustice are searching for a way to be not just against BDS, but for a just peace. 

It’s a really good question, Nancy. And the Jewish community needs to answer it.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Netanyahu vows to keep Golan Heights forever

Israel will never give up the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, a day after the Israeli leader said he delivered the same message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The meeting was held for the first time on the land captured from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.

“I chose to hold this festive Cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights in order to deliver a clear message: The Golan Heights will forever remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never come down from the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu said.

Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The international community has never recognized the annexation.

Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly has said that one principle upon which peace talks to end his country’s years-long civil war must be based is that the entire Golan Heights be considered Syrian and the part annexed by Israel be considered occupied territory.

Netanyahu told the government ministers at the Cabinet meeting that in speaking with Kerry the previous evening, he told the secretary of state that Israel “will not oppose a diplomatic settlement in Syria on condition that it not come at the expense of the security of the State of Israel,” specifically that Iran, Hezbollah and the Islamic State will be removed from Syrian soil.

He added that he also told Kerry that Israel will not relinquish the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu called the Golan “an integral part of the State of Israel in the new era.”

He later said: “The time has come for the international community to recognize reality, especially two basic facts. One, whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change. Two, after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.”

Voices of Six-Day War haunt us decades later

The focus of the Israeli film “Censored Voices” is an aged, rapidly spinning, reel-to-reel tape recorder.

From the recorder emerge the voices of young Israelis just returned home to their kibbutzim after fighting and miraculously triumphing in the Six-Day War of 1967.

But their talk is not of battles won and heroic deeds by comrades, nor of a glorious homecoming, cheered by their fellow countrymen and by an admiring world after overwhelming the armed forces of five Arab countries.

The disembodied and often halting voices speak of watching Palestinians as their homes and farms are destroyed, of endless lines of wandering refugees, of humiliated Arab civilians stripped down to their underwear.

“We won,” declared one voice, “so the next war will be much crueler and deadlier.” Another voice expresses the fear that “a constant state of war can also destroy a nation.”

When the movie’s camera pans from the tape recorder and sweeps across the room, we see a group of elderly men listening intently, sometimes rubbing their eyes, other times staring as if to identify the voices emerging from the machine.

The voices the elderly men hear are their own, recorded nearly 50 years earlier, a few days to a couple of weeks after they returned from the Six-Day War.

With them is writer Amos Oz, who had originally convened the recording sessions, taking the tape recorder from kibbutz to kibbutz, whose young men traditionally served as the elite spearhead troops in Israel’s wars. Traveling with Oz was Avraham Shapira, who edited the tapes and excerpted them for a book.

During the days and weeks before June 5, when the war started, Israel was filled with a sense of foreboding and occasionally the sound of air raid sirens. Then came the call-up of reserves, under such code names as “Love of Zion” and “People of Labor,” and a grim feeling that “the country would be annihilated,” one soldier recalled.

With the destruction of the enemy’s air forces in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, followed by quick battle victories and entry into Jerusalem’s Old City, the country’s mood changed drastically.

The movie shows newsreels and archival footage of delirious dancing, songs praising the Lord of Israel, and less pious soldiers’ songs, such as “We’ll F— You Up.”

Both the initial fear of annihilation and the subsequent euphoria of victory evaporated for Israeli soldiers who actually experienced combat.

“My company lost 45 men; I kept hearing the cry of, ‘Medic, medic,’ over and over again. I was in despair,” recalled the voice of one veteran.

But, surprisingly, the worst memories of the Israeli soldiers were not of what the enemy was doing to them, but of what they themselves did to the enemy.

Different voices emerge from the tape recorder:

“We asked our commander for orders, and he said, ‘Kill as many as possible. Show no mercy.’ … I was outraged, but I didn’t protest.”

“We were shooting at some Egyptian soldiers. … They were not ducking, just falling down. … It was like some game at an amusement park or at a summer camp. … In war, we all became murderers.”

“The Egyptian prisoners of war came up with their water canteens filled with urine. We gave them some water and they kissed our feet.”

“When the enemy becomes your prisoner, you feel this power. You shove them roughly, all restraint disappears.”

“The Temple Mount is not holy, that’s not Judaism. It’s people that count. They blew the shofar at the Western Wall; it sounded like a pig’s squeal.”

When the tapes were initially transcribed and edited by Shapira into book form as “A Conversation With Soldiers” (in the English edition, “The Seventh Day”), Israeli authorities censored about 70 percent of the text.

That’s hardly surprising. What is amazing is that the book became an instant best-seller in Israel, and the nearly uncensored film version this year won the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar as the country’s best documentary.

The voice tapes themselves were locked away for decades, despite pleas by journalists and filmmakers, until a young Israeli film school graduate, Mor Loushy, persuaded Shapira to let her use them for a film.

It is difficult to conceive of another country, including the United States, that would give subsidies from government funds to make a film critical of its own soldiers in their most triumphant war, or whose film academy would award the film its top prize.

In a phone interview, however, director Loushy was not surprised her film had screened all across Israel without incident and little criticism.

The 33-year-old filmmaker is the mother of a 3-year-old boy and currently is almost eight months pregnant. Her forebears on her father’s side came from Persia to the Holy Land 10 generations ago; her mother was born in Poland.

She has faced no personal criticism in Israel. “After all,” she said, “it’s not my voice in the film but the voices of the soldiers who fought in the war.” She blames the current shootings and knife stabbings in Israel directly on the occupation after the 1967 war and sees little chance that Israelis and Palestinians will sit down for real peace negotiations.

Nevertheless, she refuses to give up, especially because of her children. “If I don’t have hope for the future, why stay here? I really have no choice,” she said.

Still, “Censored Voices” raises some critical questions. For one, how representative the soldiers heard in the film are of all the men who served in the Six-Day War, the Journal asked, to which Loushy gave no specific answer.

In another attempt to answer this question, this reporter’s wife has two relatives who served in the 1967 war, one on the left and one on the right, politically. Neither saw heavy combat, but both said they believed Israel’s survival was at stake and they had no regrets about serving in the war.

All that said, a legitimate concern has been raised by Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli journalist and author, who has written extensively about the Six-Day War, and has worked for the reconciliation of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel.

“People abroad who don’t remember the way we do the circumstances of the Six-Day War will turn [this movie] into an indictment of Israel,” Halevi said. “If there were isolated acts of abuse by our soldiers, that should not become the narrative [of] what the Six-Day War was about. Many of us here [in Israel] are, frankly, sick and tired of the blame-Israel-first narrative.”

The Israel Film Festival will screen “Censored Voices” at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, and at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at the NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. After that, the film will open Nov. 27 for one-week runs at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and at the Town Center in Encino.  

Hebron – the city of the patriarchs – has become the cradle of occupation

On Shabbat of Nov. 7, in synagogues across the Jewish world, the parsha (portion) of “Chayei Sarah” (“Life of Sarah”) was read from the Torah. It tells the story of the first real estate purchase by Jewish patriarchs in the Holy Land — Abraham’s acquisition of the Cave of the Patriarchs as a tomb for his wife and family. In many ways, Hebron is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Nonetheless, today, 48 years after Israel started its military occupation of the West Bank, Hebron is where the settlement enterprise manifests itself in a very ugly fashion. 

More than anywhere else in the West Bank, Hebron is where the reality of a discriminatory system divides the privileged tiny minority of a few hundred Israeli settlers from tens of thousands of Palestinian residents. The settlers enjoy all the rights that Israeli democracy grants its citizens, while the Palestinians live under a harsh military law that imposes heavy restrictions on their basic rights.

[DUNNER: Hebron and the potential for Israeli-Arab coexistence]

Historically, Hebron was one of the first places where the Jewish and Palestinian national movements collided. The massacre of 67 Jewish residents of Hebron in 1929 led to the evacuation of the Jewish community from the city. It was the first of many bloody clashes. 

In 1967, Israel captured Hebron during the Six-Day War. Nearly 50 years later, it remains occupied by Israeli forces. The Jewish settlement in Hebron was one of the first steps in the settlement enterprise, an enterprise that clearly violates international humanitarian law. While most Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank were built outside Palestinian towns and villages, Hebron was a unique case in which an ideologically motivated group of Israeli Jews settled in the midst of a large Palestinian city, around the Tomb of the Patriarchs. 

To protect this group, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) allocated many troops and resources and placed restrictions on Palestinian residents. 

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a physician living in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, massacred 29 Muslim worshipers who were praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Goldstein was killed in the attack, making him one of the first suicide attackers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His grave is outside the city, featuring a large tombstone and a garden, and is a place of pilgrimage for many of the city’s settlers and their supporters. 

Ironically, it was the large Palestinian population of the city who paid the price for Goldstein’s act of terrorism. After the attack, the IDF closed the Palestinian market adjacent to the settler compounds and imposed severe restrictions on movement of Palestinian vehicles and people. These restrictions remain in place today, 21 years later. Palestinians living in that area are banned from roads used by settlers and instead are forced to walk on separate streets. Palestinians must prove their residency in the city to enter the area, and are not allowed to have guests. Many of the Palestinian homes close to where settlers live have had to cover their windows with netting to protect against projectiles thrown by settlers and other harassment, making the residents essentially prisoners in their own homes. 

Palestinians have also used violence against settlers and Israeli military forces. One of the most notorious cases was the death of a 10-month-old Israeli baby, Shalhevet Pass, who was shot by a Palestinian sniper in 2001. 

With the new wave of violence that the region is experiencing these days, Hebron is once more a flashpoint where the most severe clashes occur, leading to Israeli and Palestinian casualties. 

Hebron has become an amplified microcosm of the occupation. Israel has allocated enormous resources to protect a group of 750 settlers living in the midst of tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled part of the city. Clashes are inevitable, and they usually result in ever-growing restrictions on the movement of Palestinian residents. 

The city has become a bleak case study in segregation on the basis of ethnic background. Like the rest of the settlement enterprise, the settlement in Hebron should be ended, not just for the sake of Hebron’s Palestinian residents, but also for the sake of Israel.


Uri Zaki is Israel advocacy and public outreach consultant for Human Rights Watch. He wrote from Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb: Who won the Six-Day War?

Forty-eight years ago, on June 5, 1967, I sat in a malben, a home for the elderly, on the border of Jerusalem, at 106 Chevron St. in Talpiot. How did I get there? After graduating college, I went to Israel to study in a yeshiva before entering rabbinical school. We studied Talmud day and night for more than 10 hours each day and lost weight on a diet of eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and Israeli salads with lots of oil. We shivered at night, crouching close to the gas heaters, and rarely had hot water for showers. But we were committed to mastering the ethical teachings of the Talmud; the theme was the Laws of Damages (Nezikin). Not only did we learn the intricacies and severities of damaging another person, but also that another person’s property was precious in the eyes of the owner and thus needed to be honored and protected. Bottom line, it was sinful to harm another person, even if one had to sacrifice one’s own comfort and suffer loss through honoring the rights of others. 

After I’d been in Israel for 10 months, in May 1967, war drums sounded in the streets of Jerusalem. Arab armies on all sides of Israel were threatening to drive the new state into the sea. The rabbis instructed us to ignore the shots intermittently heard in the streets and devote ourselves to our Talmud study.

On the morning of June 5, the punctual, dedicated rabbis did not arrive at the yeshiva, but instead phoned us and instructed us to call two taxis and come to different rabbis’ homes. War had broken out. As we entered the taxis, there was heavy gunfire in the neighborhood, and the Haga police ordered the taxis to halt, so we were forced to go instead to the senior home across the street from the yeshiva. We entered the Jerusalem stone building, its darkened hallways without electricity, and found elderly men and women frightened and worried. Many were Holocaust survivors, and the sounds of the planes overhead and large Jordanian howitzer guns hitting buildings along the street created panic in their voices. We helped the elderly gather together their belongings and spent the six days of the war in the building’s basement area, rationing food and praying for a miracle.

When radio information was restored, we learned a miracle had occurred and that Israel had experienced a tremendous victory, even managing to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, which had been divided since 1948. The feeling of elation was electric, and we opened the doors of the home squinting into the sun for the first time in days. We hoped and dreamed that this might be the ushering in of the new era of peace between neighbors that the Prophets predicted.

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot had arrived, and we all marched together, singing and dancing toward our cherished destination, the Western Wall. Walking through the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Old City, there were Arab merchants huddled against their shops — nervous and worried, and little children attempting to sell trinkets and memorabilia to the Jewish marchers. Two young children, shy with large brown eyes, approached me and said, “We don’t hate you; we only hate the Americans who provide weapons to the Israelis.” I kept my American identity to myself and nodded a reassuring smile at them as I continued excitedly to the wall. When we reached the plaza that had been rapidly opened up, there were thousands of people celebrating in dance and song in a rapturous rhythm, and we all felt blessed by this miraculous turn of events in our lifetime.

But my dream of two peoples living together side by side was soon shattered. The Arab nations, having experienced a heavy defeat, met and decided immediately that no peace accord could be reached at this time. The balance of power had been reversed, and the victorious Israelis could not reap the fruit of their victory until clear conditions promoting empowerment and equal partnership could be created. Perhaps the hope of a reversal of this defeat was prominent in the minds and hearts of the Arabs, but it was clear that my fantasy of a quick rapprochement between enemies would not be realized. 

Ironically, that whole year I was immersed in studying the Laws of Damages and how careful we had to be in the treatment of others, even enemies. And here before me was the possibility of actually interacting with my “enemy” in a loving manner. Could my simple, small act have a helpful impact on a wound in the other that was so deep and raw? The complexity of this task was overwhelming, especially when extremists on both sides, both suffering wounds and mirroring the way they saw each other through lenses of fear, anger and hatred, acted out in cycles of violence. Was I still obligated to try to enact the sensitive laws of damages in the face of others who now hated me? A small voice within me answered, “Yes.” For as Mishna Avot (2:21) says, “It is not up to me to complete the work, to find the ‘right’ solution, but neither am I free to desist from beginning it.” We are each called to do the godly act in the moment, not to worry about the result. 

Two weeks after the war, when we had returned to the yeshiva housed in an old, large Jerusalem stone two-story home, a large Arab family, two parents and their eight children, knocked on the door of the yeshiva with a large key in their hands. They claimed that this had been their home until 1948, when they left during the war. It was hard for me to comprehend that reality. I had never encountered the possibility before. But we welcomed them with some tea, and communicated human to human, without language but with an understanding heart. They left humbly, having been heard, and I never saw them again.

Two weeks before, we had marched to the Western Wall in joy and hope. Now, 48 years later, the marches through the walls of the Old City are not as hopeful. These marches are still filled with joy, but also with anger and a few hostile signs deprecating the Palestinians — encouraging them to leave the city. My hope is that we keep the the Laws of Damages at the forefront of our human souls, and that we will each do our part to heal wounds through human interaction — listening and hearing the distinct narrative of the “stranger,” and understand that each of us must painfully sacrifice our optimal dreams for the sake of peace and justice. 


Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph. D.  is president emeritus at the Academy for Jewish Religion California.

The 1967 explanation of why Jews can’t pray at their holiest site

Why did Israel gain control over the Temple Mount in 1967 and not establish any religious or cultural presence on Judaism's holiest site? 

Like many conflicts in Israeli society, this intriguing conundrum involves a mix of Jewish legal disputes, politics, and the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, bringing with it a tender status quo that challenges Israel's claim to sovereignty over its holiest territory.   With tensions continuing to mount between Jews and Muslims since the recent attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick, an activist who has advocated for equal prayer rights on the site, it pays to review how we came to this explosive situation.   

Following the Six-Day War, in which Israel gained military control over the Temple Mount (“Har HaBayit” in Hebrew), Israel’s Chief Rabbinate promulgated a ban on Jews ascending to the site. This ruling coalesced with the desire of many Israeli officials to leave the Jordanian Waqf in charge of its religious, economic, and administrative activities.  As a result, Jewish civilian presence on the mount was severely limited, causing many Jews and gentiles to ignore its significance in Jewish thought and history. The recent attempt to rec­tify this situation, for both political and religious reasons, has re-ignited a passionate debate over the halakhic propriety of ascending the mount. 

Several biblical commandments regulated entrance to the various sections of the Temple, including the establishment of a guard system to enforce these rules (Num. 18:1–4). The Torah (Lev. 19:30) further com­mands a general reverence for the Temple, interpreted by the sages to include respectful behavior within permissible areas, such as not carrying a stick or wallet, wearing leather shoes, or walking around for mundane purposes.

Medieval commentators debated whether these restrictions became dormant following the Temple’s destruction.  In the 12th century, Rabad of Posquieres contended that although the land of Israel territory retained its general sanctity, the Temple Mount was desacralized by its non-Jewish conquerors.  Commentators understood this position to allow for Jews to walk on the Temple Mount, and he reported that they have historically done so. Indeed, as noted by Gedalia Meyer and Henoch Messner, talmudic stories and medieval travelogues indicate that Jews ascended the Temple Mount until Muslim conquerors banned entrance by non-Muslims in the twelfth century.

Maimonides, however, insisted that the entire compound has retained its sanctity, and that sacrifices may still be offered there, even without the Temple.  In fact, as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes pointed out, several talmudic passages indicate that many Temple rites – particularly the Passover sacrifice – continued into late antiquity.  (In the 19th century, Rabbi Tzvi Kalischer, inspired by messianic aspirations, attempted to renew such activity. Yet his proposal was shot down by figures like Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger, who contended that sacrifices were not per­missible without finding the altar’s exact location, priests with proven pedigree, and various Temple apparatuses.)

Maimonides’ ruling, which demands continual reverence for the Temple Mount and restricts entry to it, was widely accepted by medieval and modern authorities.  As former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron noted, these laws also prohibit tour guides from encour­aging unrestricted visits to the site by non-Jewish tourists.

Nonetheless, the sages permitted entry into some of the sacred areas fol­lowing appropriate ritual preparation, including immersion in a mikve, a ritual bath.  Moreover, the current rectangular Temple Mount complex, which was expanded in the Herodian era to about 150,000 square meters, includes sections not within the original Temple area, which formed a square with sides of roughly 250 meters.  Indeed, in his collected letters, Maimonides indicates that he himself walked and prayed in the permissible areas when he visited Israel in 1165.

As such, two sixteenth-century rabbis, David ibn Zimra and Yosef di Trani, attempted to delineate the exact Temple location and permitted Jews to walk on certain areas of the mount. Yet their calculations were highly disputed, leading many scholars – including Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, leader of Jerusalem’s Jewish community in the nineteenth century  – to prohibit entrance to the Temple Mount (which was regularly banned by the ruling authorities anyway). This position was advocated by numerous authorities following the Six-Day War, includ­ing Rabbis Ovadia Yosef, Yitzĥak Weiss, and Eliezer Waldenburg, and adopted by Israel's Chief Rabbinate. 

Others contended that this stringency would lead to the neglect of the sacred space. Most prominently, Rabbi Shlomo Goren dedicated a book, Har HaBayit, to determining the permissible areas of entry.   His determinations to grant Jewish prayer rights, however, were largely thwarted, as were the efforts of Rabbis Mordechai Eliyahu and She’ar Yashuv HaKohen to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount.  The debate, however, has been renewed over the past decade as scholars likes Rabbis Nachum Rabinovitch and Ĥayim Druckman have advocated, for spiritual and political reasons, Jewish entry (after strict halakhic preparation) into areas they claim are indisputably outside the restricted zones.  Yet other religious Zionist scholars, including figures strongly affiliated with the Israel's political right, such as Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Shlomo Aviner, have opposed such entry, maintaining that modern-day Jews are spiritually unprepared for the Temple’s holiness. 

Given Israel's commitment to freedom of worship, it remains difficult to justify denying the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount if they deem it to be permissible. This is especially true given its historical significance and Israel's stated interest in protecting its sovereignty over the site.  Yet like all conflicts in Israel that combine religion and politics, it must be handled with great sensitivity to ensure that our assertions of sovereignty avoid unnecessary bloodshed. 


Rabbi Shlomo M. Brody teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel, directs the Tikvah Overseas Seminars, and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.  He is also a presidential graduate fellow at Bar Ilan University Law School and a junior scholar at the Israel Democracy Institute.  This essay is adapted from his new book, A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates (Maggid Books).  

‘The Lion’s Gate’: Firsthand accounts of the Six Day War

From a distance of a half-century, the Six Day War looks very different indeed from what is happening today on the Gaza border, but “The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War” by Steven Pressfield (Sentinel) is a kind of companion reader for those of us who are following the news hour by hour. Consider, for example, the words that Moshe Dayan and his daughter, Yael, exchanged during the anxious days leading up to the outbreak of war, as described in the book.  

“We are being bullied, my father said, and the only way to handle a bully is to punch him in the face.”

“ ‘What would you do?’ I asked.”

“Strike now. As soon as possible. Meet the enemy straight-up and destroy him.  There is no other way.”

Pressfield is a self-described secular Jew, a Marine Corps veteran and the author of a dozen books, including the best-selling novels “Gates of Fire” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”  But “The Lion’s Gate” is what the author frankly calls “hybrid history,” a collection of firsthand reminiscences by active participants in and eye witnesses to the Six Day War that has been assembled from interviews and from published articles, histories and biographies, and then given a high polish for the pleasure of the reader.

The author is careful to point out, by way of example, that he did not interview Dayan and relied instead on Dayan’s memoirs and interviews with men and women who knew him well, including his daughter. “That being said,” Pressfield concedes, “the reader should bear in mind while reading the Dayan chapters that I have at some points crossed the line into pure speculation.”

So we must put “The Lion’s Gate” on a different shelf than the one where we find history and biography, even if it is not, strictly speaking, a work of fiction. As a result, we are treated to a much more colorful and thrilling account of the actual fighting than we find in, by contrast, Michael Oren’s authoritative work of history, “Six Days of War.”  

Quite the most remarkable achievement of Pressfield’s book, in fact, is the fine detail and visceral kickback of the actual fighting. Fighter pilot Giora Romm, the only “ace” of the Six Day War, recalls how every second counted in both training and combat: “If you wanted to be credited with a kill,” explains Romm, “you had to produce the death burst,” that is, 16 consecutive frames of the gun camera with the enemy plane in the bull’s-eye. Those 16 frames were equal to only one second of flight time, but it was an eternity from where the pilot sat. When Romm took to the skies in a Mirage fighter to engage the enemy MiGs, he did it five times.

Pressfield also introduces us to earlier generations of Jewish fighters. Lou Lenart, the man to whom the book is dedicated, served as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II, and he was quick to volunteer for service in the War of Independence. He was assigned to fly a plane that had been cobbled together from bits and pieces of various items of German war surplus — “the worst piece of crap I have ever flown.” But Lenart’s experience helps to explain the mind-set of the generation of soldiers, sailors and pilots who went to war in 1967: “There’s a phrase in Hebrew, en brera – ‘no alternative,’ ” Lenart explains. “That was us and that was Israel.”

Above all, Pressfield reminds us that victory was hardly a foregone conclusion when the Jewish state went to war against the Arab world for the third time. Zeev Barkai, for example, was a 23-year-old paratrooper in 1967. He recalls listening to a song by The Doors (“The End”) during the weeks leading up to his first combat mission. At one point during the war, he was able to see nearly 200 new American tanks that Jordan’s King Hussein had deployed on the border: “[T]hey could reach my kibbutz in under an hour,” Barkai recalls. “Where I stood was only a few kilometers past the ruins of ancient Megiddo — Armageddon of the Bible. I tried not to think of it, but that song by the Doors kept playing in my head.”

Of course, the stirring victory of Israel in the Six Day War was only the beginning of a new and even more treacherous era in the history of the Jewish state, a fact that the author has acknowledged: “By June 10, everything had changed,” he has commented. “The Israeli-Palestinian problem had been born.”  In that sense, the headlines out of Israel today are echoes of the saga that Pressfield has told so well in the pages of “The Lion’s Gate.” 

In suburban settlement bloc, kidnapping shakes sense of security

At a shopping center in the middle of Efrat, families eat pizza, a deliveryman unloads a cart and a barista serves coffee. On a passing bus, a banner reads “Gush Etzion — an Israeli home.”

In many respects it’s a normal, quiet Monday in this settlement that has grown into a large commuter suburb for Jerusalem.

At a nearby intersection, though, the calm feels absent. Israeli soldiers patrol the crossroads, and a curb usually crowded with hitchhikers looking for a ride is empty.

The June 12 kidnapping of Israeli teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel while they were hitchhiking from the area has upset life in the Etzion settlement bloc, or Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

During the past week, Israeli residents say, life has felt more tense and their communities less secure. For a week following the kidnapping, Palestinians living in the area who work in Israel were unable to get to their jobs.

“I feel scared that there’s no security,” said Tali Ardani, 32, a supermarket employee in Efrat. “I didn’t feel like that before. I used to hitchhike at that very intersection.”

As West Bank settlements go, Gush Etzion — with Efrat at its center — is about as mainstream Israeli as it gets. The Gush Etzion area southwest of Jerusalem and Bethlehem includes 20 Israeli settlements and about 70,000 Israeli residents living among about 18,000 Palestinians.

Shortly after Israel conquered the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, settlements were established in the area. Some of the first residents were the children of Jews massacred after the Kfar Etzion settlement was seized by Arab forces during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

The settlement bloc has since become a collection of Jerusalem suburbs. It is widely expected to remain part of Israel under any peace deal.

Opponents of a Palestinian state also recognize the Israeli national consensus on the area’s future as part of Israel. In his proposal to annex vast swaths of the West Bank, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has lobbied to start with Gush Etzion.

But the kidnapping of the teens has served as a harsh reminder to Efrat residents that they live in a conflict zone. Locals say that since the kidnapping, the number of residents trying to hitchhike here has dropped dramatically.

Yitzchak Glick, a U.S. native who moved here in 1974, said the atmosphere reminds him of the mood during the Second Intifada a decade ago, when attacks here were common and “we were afraid to drive on the road at night.”

“There’s a lot of tension in the air,” he said. “There are ups and downs. The atmosphere in Efrat was horrific.”

The director of Efrat’s local government council, Yehuda Schweiger, said that while residents are more cautious and on edge now, they’re trying to regain a sense of normalcy.

“We don’t want to go back to Defensive Shield,” he said, referring to the Israeli army’s extensive West Bank 2002 operation to combat terrorism during the Second Intifada. “We trust the army.”

Palestinian residents also said they want to return to a calm life. But the ongoing Israeli military operation to find the teens and punish their kidnappers has left five Palestinians dead, entailed widespread searches in Palestinian homes and for a week closed the border to Palestinians with Israeli work permits, leaving them without a paycheck.

“It’s a lot of changes,” said Fatima, a Palestinian doctor who declined to give her last name. “The army has been around here. People don’t have money because they haven’t been working.”

Some local Palestinian towns are governed by the Palestinian Authority. They are poorer and more rundown than their Israeli counterparts. While Glick visited a Palestinian-owned hardware store, a standard-issue red sign across the street warned Israelis not to enter an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

But Israelis and Palestinians still do business together here, sometimes shopping at the same stores and working together in a large budget supermarket. Glick, a physician, takes pride in his frequent visits to patients in Palestinian towns, and several Palestinian families welcomed him enthusiastically as he made house calls Monday.

In general, he said, Israelis have become more guarded in their relations with Palestinians since the kidnapping.

“There’s no question that when we encounter terror, it’s a tremendous setback for the feeling of coexistence,” he said. “When there are terror attacks, these voices are muffled by voices saying that we shouldn’t have Palestinians in our towns.”

Israelis have come together in prayer and concern for the boys’ safe return. Still, the kidnapping has spurred debates about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the nature of Israel’s military operation and the potential for peace with Palestinians.

But local resident Tehila Elitzur said the problem on which she has focused since the kidnappings is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather it is Israel’s duty to provide transit services to its citizens so they will not need to hitchhike.

“What’s happening here is in every far-off place” in Israel, said Elitzur, who lives in the Gush Etzion settlement of Elazar. “You don’t have good public transit. We need more.”

Appreciation: A salute to Ariel Sharon

In January 1985, as a colonel in the Israeli Air Force, I was running a course for high-ranking officers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), focused on lessons from Israel’s wars. One of the case studies to be discussed was the battle of Um-Katef/Abu-Ageila, in the Six-Day War, when the division of Gen. Ariel Sharon broke the backbone of the Egyptian army and enabled the breakthrough into Sinai, thus paving the way to Israel’s great land victory. This highly complex combined operation, executed impeccably at night, has been studied since in many military academies all around the world as a model for generalship at its best. Needless to say, I was going to invite Sharon to speak about this battle.

The problem was that Sharon was in New York at that time, suing Time magazine for libel. The trial was nearing its end, so I called Sharon’s hotel in New York, hoping to speak with his close friend and confidant, Uri Dan. Instead, Sharon himself answered. “Of course,” he said immediately. “I’ll be in Tel Aviv in a few days and will speak to your course.” Then he had a very strange request: that an officer should wait for him at the airport, to take him straight to the IDF History Unit. When he arrived after the long flight, instead of going home, he spent six hours studying the details of the battle he had fought 18 years before.

The following day, he arrived at our course and gave a mesmerizing lecture. Escorting him to his car, I couldn’t help asking why he needed to refresh his memory about a battle he had probably known by heart. He looked at me and said: “Young man, I just spoke to a group of serious people. You have to prepare for that.” Then he added: “Whatever you do, do it properly.” (“Kmo she’zarich,” in Hebrew.) 

[More on Sharon: 

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Sharon looks up as he touches Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, in 2001. Photo by Brian Hendler

Retiring from active duty in the summer of 1973 and hungry for a political career, Sharon was confronted by the hostile Laborite establishment, which had ruled Israel for ages and had viewed the charismatic general with suspicion. Instead of bowing to the existing powers, Sharon surprised them by establishing the Likud Party, which, four years later, snatched the hegemony from Labor.  

During the Yom Kippur War, he did a lot of things that his superiors thought were improper — so much so that they even talked about firing him. Luckily for Israel, they didn’t. His performance during the first dark days of the war, when he calmly and expertly led his troops in containing the invading Egyptian army, will go down in our history as the quintessence of Israeli resilience. Not to mention his crossing of the Suez Canal, which turned the tables on the Egyptians. 

In 1982, as defense minister, when he felt he’d had just enough of the Palestinian intransigence coming from Lebanon, he manipulated Menachem Begin’s government into the first Lebanon War. Again, was it done kmo she’zarich? Depends on whom you’re asking. The Kahan Commission of Inquiry, established after the Sabra and Shatila massacre carried out by Lebanese Christians, then Israel’s allies, obviously thought it wasn’t, and sent the defense minister home. Sharon, on the other hand, believed that he had done the right thing by kicking Yasser Arafat and his terrorist apparatus from Lebanon, thus hammering in the message that you can’t mess with Israel for so long and get away with it. 

Ten years later, as housing minister, he was entrusted with the awesome task of accommodating 1 million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (the equivalent of accommodating 50 million immigrants in the United States in one year). He stood up to the historic occasion. Did he do it properly? The state comptroller, who had investigated it later, didn’t think so and reprimanded Sharon for ignoring budgetary constraints and normal government procedures. Yet, by giving these people a home in Israel, Sharon achieved one of the greatest feats in the history of our country.

Finally, as prime minister, he came to the conclusion that Israel shouldn’t be ruling millions of Arabs, and that it has to adjust its borders accordingly. When he met opposition within his own Likud Party, he again broke away from the impasse by creating a new party, Kadima. The way in which he disengaged from Gaza was not the proper one: He should have given Gaza to Abu Mazen, instead of letting it fall into the hands of Hamas. But, again, this was Sharon’s way: He didn’t believe that there was a credible Palestinian partner and therefore did what he thought was good for Israel, unilaterally.

Today, when many Israelis feel that their political leaders can’t accomplish much in any given area, the imminence of Sharon’s final departure, even after a long illness, is especially painful. Controversial as he was during his lifetime, Israelis today salute a warrior and a leader who — for better or worse — knew how to do things kmo she’zarich.


Col. Uri Dromi, who now serves in the Israeli Air Force Reserve, is director of the

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