August 17, 2019

The Six-Day war anniversary: I can still hear the sirens, even though I was not yet born


June 5, 1967. Fifty years ago, today. Israel launches an attack on Egypt. The Six-Day War begins.

Do you remember that day? I do not remember it, as I was not yet born at that time. And yet, I feel as if I almost remember it. I can taste the three weeks of apprehensive waiting for war. I can hear the sound of sirens and roaring airplanes. I can sense the amazed realization of sudden success. The dreamy – surreal – nature of great victory.

I was born a year after the war, like many other Israeli baby boomers. I was born early enough to still be able to imagine how it was like. But not early enough to be there. Also, I suspect, not early enough for my sons and daughters to be born at a time when such feelings of apprehension and amazement and glee still linger, available for the taking. For many young Israelis, and non-Israelis, the anniversary of the Six-Day war is not much different than the anniversary of the First World War, or the Second Punic War.

There was once a war. It was dramatic, or so they say. It was a long time ago. Before we were born. Before our parents were born. Soon it will be before our grandparents were born. Any attempt to connect the dots between then and now, to explain why certain events that happened fifty years ago still impact us today, might feel natural and easy for some of us. But for younger people it feels irrelevant. What was then is history. What is now is reality. The fact that the Six-Day War is or isn’t the reason for some of the challenges Israel faces today hardly matters.


An anniversary is a good time for a photo-op, for a campaign, for fundraising. It is not a good time to resolve challenges. Not better than the time before it – or after it.

An anniversary is a good time for reflection, so we all reflect. We write and read books about the war and its consequences. We write and read articles about the war and its consequences. We unite in facing the challenge. We do not unite in prescribing a remedy for it.

I don’t know anyone for whom the anniversary has been an eye-opening experience. I don’t know anyone for whom the many books and articles published this week have served as a wakeup call for long-term action. I haven’t seen any surveys showing that attitudes are changing because of the anniversary.

Yesterday, the Israel Democracy Institute published interesting data on its web site. It is a series of surveys of Israelis from 50 years ago – from before, during, and after the war. In these surveys (the ones during and after the war), 94% of respondents, Jews from major cities, argued that Israel must hold the Old City of Jerusalem “at any cost.”

Has this changed after fifty years? It has, but not by much. According to one survey, 73% of Jewish Israelis today think that the Temple Mount must remain under Israeli control. They might agree to compromise on some Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem – as another survey found. But this is hardly a consolation for those seeking an agreed upon compromise in the Middle East. Can we have peace with the Palestinians without relinquishing Israeli control over parts of the so called Holy Basin? In a survey by Israel Hayom last weekend, 87% of Israelis say that if they’d have to choose between a peace agreement with the Palestinians and keeping the Old City under Israeli control – they’d accept the reality of no agreement and keep the territory.

What is the story that these numbers tell us? A simple story, really. Israel believes that many of the assets it acquired in the Six-Day War are more valuable than a dubious agreement with the Palestinians. Nothing thus far has convinced these Israelis that they ought to change their minds. In fact, they were actively convinced by the Palestinians (because of their violence and rejectionist approach) that an agreement with them is worth less than the tangible possessions that Israel collected fifty years ago.


This should give one a realistic sense of what’s possible and what’s impossible as we mark the fifty year anniversary of the war. We can analyze, or reminisce, or mourn, or celebrate, or fundraise, or get angry, or get nostalgic, until some of us will get bored.

What we can’t do it turn the clock back.

And we can’t turn the clock forward either.

We are stuck in a certain situation. Not great, but also not as bad as some people argue. Far from ideal, but also far from being the worst imaginable situation. The fact that this situation has lasted for fifty years is not relevant. It was not ideal in the first fifty years, and it will still not be the end of the world after five hundred years.

The only question that matters today is not “how long has this been going on?” – but rather “do we have a way of changing it for the better?” If all we can do is change the situation for the worse, we ought not change it. In fact, it would be immoral to change it.