Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
The weeks leading up to the Six Day War in 1967 were not only anxious and traumatic for those living in Israel, but as conflict became increasingly inevitable, they were also tense times for the UK Jewish community.
Those old enough to remember the developing crisis in the Middle East will recall a genuine fear of Israeli defeat as Egyptian forces massed in the Sinai, ousting UN peacekeepers and closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
On May 24, all the major UK organisations endorsed a statement by the Board of Deputies calling on the British Government to take action to restore the Straits of Tiran as an international waterway.
There were rallies and demonstrations of support of Israel in London including one at Hyde Park featuring a speech by Israeli star Topol. Israel's ambassador to the UK told an emergency meeting of the Board of Deputies that Israel would not accept a "yellow star" solution to the crisis.
The British community were galvanised into action. They raised funds - around £2 million in two weeks - gave blood and many young people prepared to fly to Israel as volunteers in order to free Israelis to fight at the front line Around 1,700 eventually travelled to Israel. One, Stephen Gold tells his story here.
The contrast between the tension in the weeks leading up to June 5 and the relief six days later as the Arab armies were pushed back and Jerusalem reunified, is hard to overstate. UK Jews who had feared for the country’s future were now filled with pride with the speed with which the young nation had secured its borders and devastated its enemies militarily. Coming only 22 years after the end of the Holocaust, the Six Day War gave our community a self-confidence and an optimism which had never been seen before.
Those not yet born in 1967 may find it difficult to full understand a time when Israel’s very existence was in question – certainly the leaders of Egypt, Syria and Jordan had little doubt that the Jews were about to be forced into the sea following a swift invasion. Israel is now militarily secure but young Israelis still serve in the armed forces and even now the population is ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to defend their country from attack. But the sense of foreboding that the state and its supporters around the world felt at that time of crisis 50 years ago this month is something that we will hopefully never experience again.
This is the second in a series of blog posts by a variety of community organisations and professionals sharing their perspectives on the Six Day War.