Blog Series: Six Day War: 50 Years On

Simon Johnson, CEO, Jewish Leadership Council

This coming week will see the marking of the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War.  In wider society, this landmark will be rather forgotten in all the coverage of the General Election. That also means that much of the anticipated media and hostile Parliamentary activity for which we were preparing, will not happen. Yet, this remains an important moment and a chance for the Jewish community to reflect on the impact of the Six Day War on our Jewish identity and our attitude to Israel.

In particular, those born in the 1980’s and afterwards have been taught very little about the war and as a result are not as well informed of the complexity of the issues as perhaps my generation is.

The JLC and Board of Deputies have put together a Twitter and Facebook tool - @sixdaywar1967, which recreates day by day coverage of what was happening on those tense days leading up to the war.  The build up of troops, the bellicose language, the apocalyptic threats and imagery of the Arab states and the capitulation by the United Nations in the Sinai and the Suez, seemed to increase daily. Each step led to a dawning and cumulative fear that war was not just imminent, but Israel’s destruction was increasingly likely.

Modern leaders, looking back at that time just before the war, all say similar things. It is best put by Rabbi Sacks in a wonderful video on his website in honour of Yom Yerushalayim. “For the three weeks beforehand, we all felt that something terrible was going to happen. After all, troops were massed on the Egyptian and Syrian borders. All of my generation born after the Holocaust feared that we were about to witness a second holocaust.” It is hard for us, in 2017, to appreciate that sense of fear and the clear existential threat that Israel and Jews felt, just 19 years after the founding of the State of Israel.

Of course, the outcome of the Six Day War and the nature of the Israeli victory, changed the face of the Middle East, and the legacy of its aftermath shapes much of the foreign policy relating to Israel and its’ neighbours. We recognise that opinion on this is polarised from right to left.

The language of reunification of Jerusalem is controversial and open to political difference. But, the religious element of the Six Day War is something that, in my view, all Jews can relate to in a way that does not involve politics.

The victory in the Six Day War allowed Jews free access to the Jewish holy sites of the Old City, including the Kotel. Once again, Jews could come to Jerusalem to pray and to study, to observe Festivals, to hold Simchas. For all Jews, of whatever denomination, this is a lasting and fundamental legacy.   It is now taken for granted that, if anyone wants to visit the Old City or the Kotel, they can just do so. But few who were not alive at the time recognise the joy that the achievement of this generated.

The Six Day War changed the Middle East. The Political impact of Israel’s victory remains a major element of foreign policy worldwide.

But we should not forget the existential threat to Israel that was averted, the access that we now have to the Jewish holy sites, and the confidence that we have in Israel to defend itself.

 

This is the first in a series of blog posts by a variety of community organisations and professionals sharing their perspectives on the Six Day War. 

Click here to find out more about the Six Day War: 50 Years On Campaign.