Veterans of 1967 conflict tell war stories at Knesset

Much of discussion devoted to boosting settlements; Meretz MKs boycott commemorative meetings.

IDF Paratroopers relax after liberating the Western Wall during the Six Day War (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF Paratroopers relax after liberating the Western Wall during the Six Day War
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The Knesset marked 50 years since the Six Day War with committee meetings Tuesday on every angle of the war’s legacy, from defense to immigration to real estate.
The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a celebratory meeting with veterans of the war.
Yeshayahu “Shaike” Gavish, a retired major-general who was OC Southern Command from 1965 to 1969, said that a “red light went on” after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser threw the UN out of Sinai and blocked the Strait of Tiran that allows Israel access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
“There was an atmosphere of catastrophe in the country, and the government wanted a diplomatic solution,” Gavish said. “[Former prime minister] Ben-Gurion talked to me and asked how we’re daring to go to war that will endanger the people of Israel, and in Tel Aviv they’re already digging graves and 40,000 people will be killed.”
In the end, the Israel Air Force surprised Egypt, and Gavish gave the command for Israeli forces to enter Sinai, reaching El-Arish on the first day of the war.
“On the second day, when [55th Paratroopers Brigade commander Col.] Motta Gur told me ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands,’ I wept tears of joy – but I knew they had stolen the show from us [the Southern Command],” he quipped.
Yaakov “Yaki” Chetz, a hero of the Battle of Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, said Israel’s strength is its hundreds of thousands of “simple soldiers, like I was in the war.”
In the trenches on Ammunition Hill, Chetz said he “was scared to death, because I knew there were only Jordanians in front of me. Our battalion [the 66th Battalion, of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade] lost 36 fighters in this battle. Even though today I am full of pride that I took part in the liberation of Jerusalem, for a year after the war, I couldn’t smile or listen to music. At the time, I was willing to give back the Kotel in order to bring my friends back.”
Much of the other committee meetings were focused on settlements.
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, a former commander of the Southern Command, called for increased construction for security and in order to solve the national housing crisis, speaking in a Knesset Interior Affairs Committee meeting.
“Israel’s security needs require us to continue holding on to the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills,” he said. “There’s a real need to stem the continued takeover of Negev lands by the Beduin and their attempt to control the entire area between Arad and Dimona and the [Ramon] Crater.”
Galant, a former major-general who is thought to be eying a run with the Likud in the next election, said that expanding settlements in the Jerusalem area, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Atarot, Efrat and Gush Etzion, is also important.
“Together with the leaders of Judea and Samaria, we will continue strengthening these areas for Israel’s security,” he said.
The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee discussed how settlements absorbed immigrants from around the world over the years – including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who made aliya from the USSR to Gush Etzion.
“Aside from all of the difficulties, the towns and residents of Judea and Samaria managed to see the big picture,” Edelstein said. “They were welcoming and inviting and embraced tens of thousands of immigrants from around the world. It’s not just good for the immigrants; it’s a national project to which these settlers impressively contributed, and they deserve great praise for this effort.”
Meretz boycotted all activities in the Knesset related to the Six Day War, with faction chairman Ilan Gilon penning a letter of complaint to Edelstein.
“Marking the Six Day War in the Knesset without talking about the occupation and the damage it causes, without inviting bereaved families, fighters and those who sat in shelters, is disconnected from reality.
Meretz will not lend a hand to the Right’s nightmare for the State of Israel,” Gilon wrote.