On the eve of Independence Day 1967, not even one person in the country imagined, predicted, or knew that within less than a day, the State of Israel will embark on a journey that will end in war.
At the time, certain tension lingered in the diplomatic and military atmosphere. The decision was made, in contradiction to the armistice agreements, to hold a small military parade in the streets of Jerusalem. The Arabs, and mostly the Jordanians, were infuriated and in order not to upset them officials decided – unbelievably so – not to recite six or seven lines in a Natan Alterman poem that may have constituted an implicit threat against Arab states.
Nonetheless, that very same night the first reports arrived of the movement of Egyptian army forces to the Sinai Peninsula, and the rest is history – There are few military victories in the modern age that resemble the Six-Day triumph.
Yet what’s important and interesting today is not the military maneuvers, but rather, the days before the war, on the streets and among the political and military leadership.
We have not yet seen the author, poet, or playwright who was able to describe the rollercoaster we experienced at the time: Ahead of the war, the state was overcome by a cloud of despair. The most popular joke was about “the last one to leave the airport having to turn off the light.”
It would not be an exaggeration to write that the State of Israel lived in an atmosphere resembling a liquidation sale.
Only the people who lived here at that time can fully understand this: Israelis truly believed that the Jewish people are about to face a second Holocaust. We reached a nadir. People cried after every hourly news report on the radio.
Yet when the war was over, the country climbed from an atmosphere of Shoah and oblivion to peaks of euphoria – the complete opposite of what we felt around here only a week earlier. The catastrophe turned into a festival.
Dream of peace
So what are the lessons and conclusions drawn from this story?
The first conclusion and lesson is as follows: As we prepare to celebrate our 62nd Independence Day, our enemies are still plotting against us. In fact, the existential threat we’re facing had grown: Iran is attempting to become a nuclear power; Syria is acquiring more missiles; Hamas and Hezbollah are building up their military strength. Hence, we must take into account the possibility of a war breaking out with almost no advance warning.
For example, on July 12, 2006 IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted in the north; by that evening we were at war.
The second conclusion and lesson is as follows: Although it often appears as though the State of Israel is on the brink of crumbling, as though its citizens are overcome by depression, and as though the IDF is not prepared to address the demands of the next war – despite all of this, the IDF still has the power today to surprise those who plot against us and resoundingly defeat our enemies.
And one more thing: Much, even if not everything, depends on us – the leaders and citizens – our political wisdom, our military power, and the conduct of citizens who believe in our ability to fight and also to dream of peace. This may sound like a cliché, but at times clichés too comprise nothing but the whole truth.