It should be clearly understood that our true independence was not won in
While we functioned as a state from the time prime minister David
Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence aloud, we had not won the
confidence of the international community, and especially of the superpowers of
the time, regarding our nation’s ability to endure.
The War of
Independence had a great result militarily. However, there were few real
diplomatic achievements to go with it. We had won few friends in the
international community, with some states even attempting to undo diplomatically
what had been achieved militarily.
However, after the war in 1956, the
international community knew that we were firmly on the map, a force to be
reckoned with in the region and an important part of the Western alliance. This
was most attested to by our relationship with France, which assisted in the
building of transport infrastructure, fostered academic cooperation, offered
technological assistance and perhaps most importantly, served as a vital
exporter of military equipment, especially warplanes.
In those days
between 1956 and 1967, everything came from France and this was vital as our
population grew exponentially, with refugees arriving en masse from the Arab
world and Europe.
However, these cordial relations did not extend to
quelling the growing threat from our neighbors as the winds of war began to blow
in the mid-1960s.
Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had begun testing
the determination of the West to resist his imperial ambitions. He did this
firstly by expelling United Nations forces from the Sinai, then by closing the
Straits of Tiran and finally by forming a coalition with Syria and
The lack of a serious reaction within the international community
left Israel with a sense of abandonment. Even Abba Eban’s intense diplomacy, and
the constant pleas for assistance, did not yield any results.
weeks leading up to the war, the country was paralyzed. All the reserves had
been called up and the streets and cities were empty, save for the young and the
Those of us waiting for action felt extremely frustrated. There
was gallows humor in the air; the most famous joke making the rounds was, “Will
the last person in Israel please turn the lights off in Ben-Gurion Airport?”
While the soldiers felt deeply frustrated, it was worse for those who stayed at
There was tremendous anxiety and tension among those whose only
source information was the media, which reported the bloodcurdling threats of
annihilation emanating from the Arab world. They were already witnessing the
massive rationing of food, and many of their private vehicles had already been
requisitioned by the army.
Prime minister Levi Eshkol, while intelligent
and politically savvy, lacked the charisma so desperately needed in a wartime
In May, during an Independence Day speech at Hatzor Military
Base, he gave a stuttering address which did the opposite of instill confidence
among those of us in the audience who would be on the frontlines of the looming
As we listened to Eshkol, many of us were nervous that this was the
person who was making life-and-death decisions for our nation, only a couple of
decades after the Holocaust. However, when war came, it was over in a few hours.
We achieved an extraordinary victory against the armies that had amassed at our
But we had lost France, our chief ally, and Charles De Gaulle
imposed a weapons embargo on Israel. As a sign of anger and contempt at our
stunning victory, France sent the vital Mirage 5 warplanes to Libya instead of
In the days leading up to the war, I was involved in
reconnaissance as a pilot traveling sometimes behind enemy lines to transmit
troop movements to our decision makers.
I flew reconnaissance on the
southern front, which was our gravest worry in the lead-up to hostilities, but
when war began I was stationed to fly reconnaissance in the Jerusalem theater,
and would land every day on a landing strip that would eventually become Kanfei
It is impossible to put into words the total euphoria that
reigned once the war was effectively over and Jerusalem had been
From the gallows humor of a few days prior, we, the Jewish
state, had not just vanquished our enemies, but had redeemed our ancient lands
and eternal capital.
I, along with two other pilots, took a light plane
from our base at Sde Dov to Atarot airfield.
There we took an
American-made car to Jerusalem and rode through Lion’s Gate to the Old City.
Like most people of my generation, I did not know how to reach our holy sites so
when I saw an ultra-Orthodox man running through the streets, we followed him
until we reached the Kotel.
The Kotel Plaza that we know today did not
exist, and due to the Mughrabi Quarter was only a few meters wide. It was choked
up with large crowds who had come to pray and touch these hallowed stones. The
feeling of standing at this place, dripping with religious and historic
significance, was indescribable.
Witnessing the physical liberation of
our most holy places was something I felt I had to do at the earliest possible
I can honestly say that this was indeed one of the best days
of my life.
The pure exhilaration of the day has always remained with me.
On a national level, those six days were as important as any in modern Jewish
history, and their significance resounds even today, in more ways than we can
The Six Day War gave us something vital for any
nation, especially one so relatively young and surrounded by enemies. If, as I
stated earlier, the 1956 war gave us independence, the war in 1967 gave us
We were, as a result of the war, forced to think in terms of
greater military and economic independence. We had been taught the hard lesson
that when the chips were down we could only rely on ourselves, and began to
build our country anew upon this stark understanding.
In 2013, we can see
the fruits of this policy.
While we have friends in the world, especially
the US, we have become an economic, hitech, military and innovative regional
Our achievements can largely be traced back to those six days
in June. Those miraculous days, largely unprecedented in the annals of military
warfare, not only gave us our ancient lands, but our long-term
Our victory and the liberated territories are eternally bound
with our modern achievements and endurance. While the War of Independence in
1948 gave us a state, and the Suez Crisis in 1956 gave us independence, the 1967
war gave us sovereignty, and no state can consider its abjuration.
were some of the best days of my life, and the most essential for our
nation.The writer is the minister of agriculture and rural development
and a former commander in the Israel Air Force.