No Wagner opera could have been more dramatic. It seemed to be directed by a
It started low-key. A little piece of paper was thrust into the
hand of prime minister Levi Eshkol as he was reviewing the Independence Day
parade. It said that Egyptian troops were entering the Sinai
From there on alarm grew. Every day brought menacing new
reports. The Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, issued blood-curdling
UN peacekeepers were withdrawn.
The entrance to the Gulf
of Eilat was mined by the Egyptians. In Israel, worry soon turned into fear.
Eshkol sounded weak. People started talking about a second Holocaust, about the
destruction of Israel.
I was one of the very few who remained cheerful.
At the height of public despair, I published an article in Haolam Hazeh, the
news magazine I edited, under the headline “Nasser has Walked into a Trap.” Even
my wife thought that was crazy. My good cheer had a simple reason. A few weeks
before, I had given a lecture at a kibbutz on the Syrian border. As is
customary, I was invited to have coffee after the lecture with a select group of
members. There I was told that “Dado” (general David Elazar), OC Northern
Command, had lectured there the week before, and then had coffee. Like
After swearing me to secrecy, they disclosed that Dado had told them
– after swearing them to secrecy – that every evening, before going to bed, he
prayed to God that Nasser would move his troops into the Sinai
“There we shall destroy them,” Dado had assured
Nasser did not want the war. He knew his army was quite
He was bluffing, in order to please the Arab masses. He was
egged on by the Soviet Union, whose leaders believed Israel was about to attack
its main client in the region, Syria, as part of a worldwide American
plot.(The Soviet ambassador, Dmitri Chuvakhin, invited me for a talk and
disclosed the alleged plot to me. If so, I said, why not ask your ambassador in
Damascus to advise the Syrians to stop their border attacks on us, at least
temporarily? The ambassador broke into laughter. “Do you really believe that
anyone there listens to our ambassador?”)
At the height of the crisis, when the
bow was strained to near breaking point, the Israeli army attacked. The troops –
mostly reserve soldiers who had been abruptly torn from their families and who
had been waiting impatiently for three weeks – rushed forwards.
attending the Knesset session that day. In the middle of it, we were told to go
to the bomb shelter, because the Jordanians in nearby east Jerusalem had begun
to shell us.
While we were there, a friend of mine, a high-ranking
official, whispered in my ear: “It’s all over. We have destroyed the entire
Egyptian Air Force.”
When I reached home that evening after driving
through the blackout, my wife did not believe me. The radio had said nothing
about the action. Radio Cairo was telling its listeners that “Tel Aviv is
burning.” I felt like a bridegroom at a funeral.
censorship forbade any mention of victories – the airwaves continued to be
dominated by terrible forebodings.
Why? The Israeli government was
convinced – quite rightly – that if the Arab countries and the Soviet Union
realized that their side was nearing disaster, they would get the UN to stop the
war at once. This indeed happened – but by that time our army was well on its
way to Cairo and Damascus.
Because of this series of events, when the
victory was announced, it looked immense – so immense, indeed, that many
believed in an act of God. Our army, which had been formed in the small state of
Israel as it was at that time, had conquered the entire Sinai peninsula, the
Golan Heights, the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. From the
“second Holocaust” to miraculous deliverance, in just six days.
it a “defensive war” or an “act of naked aggression”? In the national
consciousness, it was and remains a purely defensive war, started by “the
Arabs.” Objectively speaking, it was our side which attacked, though under
Years later, when I said so in passing, a leading
Israeli journalist was so upset that he stopped talking with me.
as it may, the Israeli public reaction was stupendous. The entire country was in
delirium. Masses of victory-albums, victory songs, victory this and victory that
amounted to national hysteria. Hubris knew no bounds. I cannot claim that I was
entirely untouched by it.
Ariel Sharon boasted that the Israeli army
could reach Tripoli (in Libya) in six days. A Movement for a Greater Israel came
into being, with many of Israel’s most renowned personalities clamoring for
Soon the settlement enterprise was under way.
in a Greek tragedy, hubris did not go unpunished. The gold turned to dust. The
greatest victory in Israel’s history turned into its greatest curse. The
occupied territories are like the shirt of Nessus, glued to our body to poison
and torment us.
On the 46th anniversary of that great drama, we can only
wish that it had never happened, that it was all a dream.The author is a
journalist, former Knesset member and founding member of Gush Shalom.
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