Covering the history of Israel from 1948-1973, this article includes candid insightful interviews with the major figures of the day, including Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, and Jehan Sadat.
“I witnessed one group who hardly spoke Hebrew and were tomorrow to go to a fierce battle. Of the Latrun police station. Ben Gurion was obsessed with taking the station since it controlled the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem road. Three attempts had failed. I was at the headquarters when the fourth attempt was being planned. I saw those who had arrived. They spoke Yiddish. They asked me if I was going to Tel Aviv and they gave me notes and letter to post in Tel Aviv. The next day 200 soldiers were killed and I never knew if they were among them.”
After Israeli troops captured Beersheba and outflanked Egyptian forces, Egypt agreed to negotiate an Armistice Agreement. In 1949 on the Greek island of Rhodes, four Armistice Agreements were signed between Israel, Egypt, Transjordan and Syria. The War of Independence had ended. The country had been secured. But Israel’s casualties were staggering. One percent of the population – six thousand people – had perished in the fighting. The Palestinians had suffered a major trauma. Hundreds of thousands had fled their homes, many hoping to return after the fighting. Others had been evicted and driven out.
“My first memories of 1948 were 2 things. The deep sound of bombing, and my parents talking about bombs being ped. I can recall feelings of horror and fear. I was 5 or 6 years old. Also the large number of people in the Manger Square, half families and their household, sheep, camels, something between imagination and reality.”
Israel was a fact, but a fact which most Palestinians refused to accept. Palestine had been split into three entities. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jordan annexed the West Bank. Gaza became Egyptian occupied territory. Palestine no longer existed except as a memory. It was a state of mind. The personal and national sense of loss was profound.
“1948 was extremely traumatic. My father maintained there was a sense of historical denial of Palestinian existence and culture, that others have been defining us and our identity. We have a deep sense of injustice. The trauma was existential. We are a people with a land and a past.”
Israel reveled in its newfound independence. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion set two priorities, security and immigration. The country began the twin tasks of building a strong army while absorbing hundreds of thousands of new immigrants. In just four years Israel would double its population by 600,000.
“I never envied the role of Ben Gurion. To independence of the state knowing that same day that Arab armies were ready to invade the small country. No tanks. No planes. Just “Napoleons”. And to lead and defend 100,000 immigrants. To forge a democracy. A man like Ben Gurion lives once in a thousand years. First the IDF has to maintain the existence of Israel. BG said the question of survival is paramount, without it nothing else can be done. First you have to exist. Israel is the only country whose actual existence is actually threatened. But the army must also play a role in other areas. E.g. immigration… A small country of 600,000 to accept in four years 750,000, it is beyond its capacity. They came. Put into tents. Hut barracks. No schools. No hospitals. Who took care of them? The army. The army role regarding immigrants… imbued with a sense of mission. It was an objective of the country.”
“The army emerged in his mind as the most important instrument to change Israel. Where the army begins the Diaspora ends. There are to be no favoritism. No compromise. At the same time a pioneering army. He created the Nachal. Teaching new immigrants. Army must be democratic. No class distinction. Simple dress, food.”
New immigrants flooded the country. First the survivors of the Holocaust, the remnants of European Jewry. Then came Jews from Arab countries, from North Africa, from Eastern Europe. The conditions were hard and facilities almost non-existent.
“He did not react to that massive influx. He made it. (Immigration) It was the raison d’etre of the state. No restriction. That was the reason for the state. He opened the gates, never said no. Ben Gurion said the state was not established for people who live here. But for those who have to come here. The influx of immigration was his dream.”
Most of the newcomers were housed in transit camps and makeshift shantytowns. For many, especially those from Arab countries, the experience was traumatic.
YITZHAK BEN AHARON
“The difficulties of absorbing this kind of culture into the set up of the country. The European Ashkenazic character. We thought it would be the most ideal thing to convert them actually, from their original Arabic French mixture, to our own notions. And do it in a massive way. This threw up in our faces.”
Many of the new arrivals found themselves having to adapt to a Western-Israeli culture which was totally alien. It led to deep-rooted feelings of discrimination which would emerge to the surface a generation later.
In the early years Israel’s economy was in dire straits. The massive influx of newcomers and pressing defense needs all but emptied the country’s reserves. A policy of strict price control and food rationing led to a flourishing black market. Israel was down to its last few supplies. And then rescue came in the form of highly controversial Restitution Agreement with West Germany. The Germans agreed to pay billions of marks to help “resettle Jewish refugees uprooted during the Nazi years.” It recognized the “unspeakable acts perpetrated against the Jews during the Nazi regime.” The issue was stormy, emotional and charged.
“How much money to take from Germany? How much money to take to forget that I killed your mother? There is no exchange. Money for blood and blood for money. I remember it well. I remember it personally. I had to decide what I think as a human being and as the son of my mother. My mother died in Thereisanstadt. The night before the vote I did not sleep and looked into the Bible. Getting confused. If you don’t get confused by the situation it proves you don’t understand it. So I read Descartes to clear my mind. So I decided to vote in favor, to take the money and show that our answer to the Shoah is that we are still living. Proves we are still around.”
Leader of the opposition Menachem Begin led the onslaught against the government. He viewed the agreement as nothing less than treachery of the highest degree. Begin had lost both his parents in the Holocaust and had himself barely escaped with his life. He and many like him were not about to accept “blood money” from West Germany. The stormy demonstrations against the agreement reached their climax with an attack on the Knesset.
“I remember them very well. Sitting in Knesset on first floor. It’s easy to throw stones. One MK had a permanent injury on his forehead. I said to Ben Gurion you have to go, it’s dangerous, there are stones, he said no if I go now it’s the end of democracy in Israel.”
Police intervened, dispersed the rioters, and Begin himself was suspended for three months from the parliament. The Restitution Agreement was ratified and German financial aid started to flow. The funding was critical. It helped settle immigrants and created the foundation of heavy industry, Israel’s merchant navy and its railway system.
In Jordan, a young Hussein became king after the assassination of his father Abdullah in Jerusalem. Syria was ruled by a military regime. In Egypt, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, swayed Cairo’s masses with his plans of social revolution and forging a united Arab empire. He saw Israel as a colony of the West, and alien entity in Arab land which must be destroyed. Nasser helped organize Palestinian guerrillas, fedayeen, to launch attacks against Israel from the Gaza strip. David Ben Gurion who was both Prime Minister and Defense Minister gave top priority to ending the raids.
“There were infiltrations. Bombs and shooting. The army had to deal with that. But he was more worried about the reaction of the newcomers. He had to give them a sense of security. He was in favor of retaliation. But also was concerned for the political aspects of dealing with the infiltrations. The U.S. and U.N. The main concern was in providing security for the newcomers while not letting Arab raids go unanswered.”
As the death toll rose the Israeli army created a special unit. Its task was to carry out cross border retaliatory attacks. The commander of the unit was a young officer and brilliant tactician called Ariel Sharon. Israeli reprisal raids were fierce and deadly.
“The retaliation policy was criticized internationally. The UN repeatedly condemned Israel; Israel shrugged it off since there was never criticism of the actions which sparked the retaliation in the first place. On some occasions we went too far. In one case after an Arab raid near the Kineret we killed 70 Syrians including women and children. I sent a letter to Ben Gurion complaining. Ben Gurion wrote he too felt we had gone too far but after hearing your defense in the UN I thought we had a case after all.”
The Arabs who remained in Israel were relatively few. A way of life had been changed forever. Entire villages had disappeared off the map. Israel viewed its Arab community for the most part as hostile to the Jewish state and a potential security threat. Its allegiance and identity was Arab. They were placed under military administration, a state of affairs which would last for 18 years.
“The military rule is in our memory as a folklore. It designed our relationship to the state and the state’s relationship to us. The only channel between the state and the Arabs was the security channels. Having even a license to work, to leave your village. Their relation to the state was entirely alienated and it continues to be the case. You needed permits, not everything was permitted unless the law prevents it, but everything was prevented unless you got a permit. This was the relationship. Freedom was the exception not the rule. I remember the military rulers were invited to weddings for example. One officer at least. There are stories of officers intervening in how people called their children. For example if Gamal, that meant you had a connection to Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was an attack on the state. So you would be called for investigation if you called your son Gamal. The military rule interfered with all aspects of life. It was a real military rule.”
In 1956, on the eve of the Sinai Campaign, Arab workers returning home to their villages of Kafr Kassem were unaware that a curfew was in place. The Border Police force had been given orders to shoot anyone breaking the curfew. When the gunfire ended 49 villagers lay dead. A state inquiry recommended that 11 police be brought to trial. Eight were convicted of murder but all were freed within four years. The incident left a deep scar across the Israeli Arab community.
The story turns to Egypt. Threats of renewed war from Cairo and President Nasser’s pledge to destroy the Jewish state became more menacing after Nasser concluded an arms deal with Czechoslovakia.
“They acquired a lot of arms. They pulled ammunition and weapons into the Sinai. It worried us. In the first half of 1956. We knew we were not good in defense. The new settlements could not defend themselves.”
“The arms Egypt received from the USSR via Czechoslovakia threatened our air force. They had jets and we had propellers. Our air force could be rendered ineffective.”
In a desperate search for weapons Israel turned to France. The move was proposed by Shimon Peres, the Director-General of the Defense Ministry.
“Why did I go to France? There were four countries producing the arms we needed. The US, Russia, England, and France. US refused arms to Israel. England was pro-Arab, also Russia, that left France.”
Nasser angered by the stoppage of western aid to his country nationalized the Suez Canal. It was a step which displeased France and Britain.
“What happened came after President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. He paid $70M. But Britain and France did not accept it. They thought the Suez traffic will end and a struggle ensued with France and the UK. France and England invaded the Sinai on the pretext of Suez with Israel.”
Egypt’s blockade on Eilat and the continued guerrilla raids coming out of Egyptian territory contributed to Israel’s feeling of encirclement. When Nasser forged a military pact with Syria and Jordan, Israel decided to take action. But not unilaterally. Contacts were established with Britain and France. A secret deal was coordinated to invade the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula with support from British and French troops. Final negotiations were conducted between Ben Gurion and French and British representatives in Sevres near Paris. Accompanying him were Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan.
“When we went to Sevres in the car sat Ben Gurion in a big hat, Dayan with sunglasses. I in the middle. Ben Gurion was tense. He asked do the French know that I didn’t decide. I am going because I was invited. At Sevres we negotiated. We talked philosophy. Several points. One: we are not mercenaries but fighting for a national goal. Two: clear Israeli goals to open the Straights of Tiran and end Fedayeen infiltrations. Three: to be equal partners. Four: that the UK should also participate. We were staying at Reynolds. Ben Gurion called us to Sevres after a sleepless night. He took a paper with 10-15 questions. We had no map, but Dayan took out a cigarette box opened it up and drew a map on it. Map of Sinai. The plan was a thrust into Sinai, and the start would be at the Milta Pass, then opening the Straits, and moving on Gaza to end the cross border raids.”
October 29 1956. The war, codenamed “Operation Musketeer” begins. Israel ped paratroopers into the Sinai while three armored forces with air support advanced on strategic targets. The Sinai Campaign was militarily an overwhelming success, routing Egyptian troops within 100 hours.
“The campaign lasted 100 hours, casualties were light. 20,000 POW’s. It was a brilliant campaign which achieved all our aims.”
But the British and French side of the offensive quickly collapsed. The Soviet Union issued threats of possible nuclear confrontation. The US demanded an end to the “Suez Adventure.” Britain bowed to international pressure and accepted a U.N. ceasefire. The French soon followed suit.
“There was frustration with the French and the British, they did not deliver the goods. They didn’t manage the timetable. When the war was over they evacuated and we could not be left alone. The political consequences were very poor enabling Nasser to convert his defeat into victory and success. He had fought three great powers and survived.”
“When we remember the Suez, we see it as international scheming contrary to international law.”
Within weeks all foreign forces were withdrawn from the Sinai. Israel emerged militarily strengthened from the operation. The blockade on Eilat had been lifted. United Nations peacekeepers took up positions to prevent guerrilla attacks out of Egypt. But despite the gains Israel had risked its relations with the United States by its collusion with the superpowers. It had enraged world opinion. And while the Sinai Campaign provided a decade of relative quiet there would be no peace. The foundations were laid for the next war.
“One of the achievements of the Sinai Campaign, we had almost ten years of quiet until 1967. It was one of the most important factors in building the country. Between 1956-67, a vital decade for building the economy.”
Israel and France enjoyed warm relations for the better part of ten years following the Suez campaign. Trade between the two nations grew. Cultural ties developed. Most important for Israel was the development of French weapons sales and equipment. France became Israel’s chief supplier of arms. Even more significant was the development of the Atomic Reactor built with French cooperation in Dimona. It was a move which would change the balance of power in the Middle East.
“From the beginning of the State Ben Gurion thought we should have atomic energy. That Israel’s strength should be based on science. But there was also defense aspects after the Holocaust experience.”
“I would write an autobiography and call it from Dimona to Oslo. The deterrent was imaginary but it enabled us to pave the way to peace. We were perceived as an unbeatable nation. If to prevent was, reduce the will to attack, or convince the enemy that he does not have a chance then Dimona was a clear step.”
1958, a decade after independence Israel was developing rapidly. The Ten Year Fair celebrated the country’s economic achievements. There was a feeling of optimism. Small quantities of oil had been found. Tel Aviv had become a city like any other. Theatre, cinema, nightlife. The country’s newsreels never missed an opportunity to bring the “human story.” Like rescuing a pigeon, the fashion show, fun and games. And exciting new products, which were “made in Israel” flooded the market. There was even an Israeli built car. Israel became a stop on the itinerary of the world’s rich and famous. The Beatles however never arrived. The government disapproved of the “decadent” “Beatlemania.”
Dozens of newly built towns, development towns, populated mainly by new immigrants popped up in the north and the south of the country. New regions were opened for settlement and agriculture. The national water carrier was built bringing water from the north to the center of the country. So impressive were Israel’s achievements that it began to provide aid and assistance to developing countries in Asia and Africa.
But then the darkest shadows of the past reappeared. In 1961 Adolph Eichmann, the man responsible for the murder of millions of Jews during the Second World War was captured by Israeli secret agents in Argentina and flown to Israel. The trial of Eichmann electrified Israel and the rest of the world. Witness after witness testified in the Jerusalem court about the atrocities which occurred in the hell of the Nazi Death camps. The wounds of the Holocaust were visible to all including many Israelis who preferred until then not to deal with the horrors endured by the dead and the living. Or even listen to the survivors. It was as if the voices of the millions of men, women and children, tortured and murdered by the Nazis, could now be heard. Eichmann was found guilty, executed and his ashes thrown into the sea.
Jerusalem, Israel’s capital was a divided city. It was the seat of government, and was home to the Hebrew University, but its population consisted mostly of the ultra orthodox, immigrants who arrived in the 1950’s and old timers. A border separated Israel held West Jerusalem from the Jordanian held Eastern sector. There lay the historic Old City, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. In 1965 Teddy Kollek became mayor of Jerusalem.
“It was a miserable place. All the important places were on the other side, you couldn’t get there, there was no theater, no immigration to Jerusalem. All the important institutions were in Tel Aviv.”
The new city mayor had no idea, when he showed Hollywood film director Alfred Hitchcock the reality of divided Jerusalem, just how soon that would change.
The most explosive frontier was in the north along the Israeli Syrian border. At the heart of the conflict lay water, the mot precious commodity in the thirsty Middle East. When Israel began pumping water directly from the Sea of Galilee, Syria started to divert the sources of the Jordan River. Israel retaliated by shelling and bombing the Syrian construction teams. At the same time Syrian artillery shelled Israeli villages and fields from the strategic Golan Heights. The shelling caused mounting Israeli casualties.
In April 1967 Israeli jets attacked Syrian cannons on the Heights and shot down half a dozen Syrian MIGs in an aerial dogfight. Syria signaled its ally Egypt that a response was necessary. President Nasser moved troops and equipment into the Sinai. The Soviet Union supported the Egyptian moves. Nasser then demanded and gained the withdrawal of all UN forces in the Sinai and reimposed the blockade of the Straits of Tiran. The situation was a startlingly close repeat of the 1956 scenario. War seemed inevitable. The IDF Chief of Staff was Yitzhak Rabin.
“Rabin came to me the day after the Egyptian blockade and I asked what can we do diplomatically. He said time, time. We are not equipped in the south (after the UN pulled out). The idea was to judge the position of allies. In Paris de Gaulle was disinterested in Israel. I said 10 years ago France had been emphatic in its support of Israel. Yes said de Gaulle, in 1956, now it’s 1967. “Ne fait pas la guerre.” He seemed more frightened than me since he believed the war would not be localized. In London talks were more of a success. In the US Johnson said you are victims of aggression.”
Eban had secured political support for Israel from its closest ally. The United States.
“I can tell you that I was in the cabinet, and Nasser never thought of waging a war against Israel. During the time that Syria was part of the UAE Nasser stood firm against the Syrian demand to wage war. I believe Nasser never intended to wage war in 1967. When he ordered Egyptian forces to go into Sinai he did not have a plan against Israel. He thought he would force a closure and bring Israel to the negotiating table.”
Egypt concluded military pacts with Jordan and Iraq. Israel felt encircled. It was a tense terrifying period of waiting. Many believed a second holocaust was at hand.
“It was a very long time. Nobody knew what was going to happen. People were called up for weeks. Nothing happened. Except Naomi Shemer wrote the song ‘Jerusalem of Gold.’”
The strain was particularly acute on General Yitzhak Rabin. The Chief of Staff visited the retired leader David Ben Gurion to discuss the situation. Ben Gurion was furious at Rabin who became depressed and disappeared for 36 hours.
“Ben Gurion said how dare you! You are fighting alone against 2-3 Arab nations. In 1956 we fought Egypt under the umbrella of France and the UK. Yitzhak tried to explain that things had changed, that he was ready, but there was no support, the conversation put doubt in his mind. The combination of fatigue, no sleep, cigarettes. He came home at six. I saw he was depressed. He said he was going to Beersheba to visit the head of the Southern Command General Gavish. I told him no way. You are going nowhere. He agreed. We called a doctor who gave him a sleeping shot. He handed over responsibilities to Ezer Weitzman for the period he would be sleeping. The next day he awoke and felt much better and went back to work.”
The strain also took its toll on Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. During a critical radio broad to the country Eshkol had started to stammer. In a move to reinstall a sense of confidence in the nation Eshkol appointed former Chief of Staff and national hero Moshe Dayan as Minister of Defense. The cabinet voted to create a national unity government and opposition leader Menachem Begin joined the cabinet. Early in the morning of June 5 the Israeli Airforce went into action against Egyptian bases and aircraft.
“The Six Day War, I wouldn’t call it the 6-day war, but the 3 hour war. That was the time it took to destroy the Egyptian Airforce.”
In six days of war Israel lifted the Egyptian blockade on the Straits of Tiran; captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip; occupied the entire West bank of the River Jordan; took control of East Jerusalem and its Old City; gained control of the Golan Heights; and defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
“There was one month mourning period for the 800 dead. It was a trauma. Overwhelming. I couldn’t cope with it. A neighbor’s son had died. There was also satisfaction. The home was flooded with flowers and chocolates. Letters. People were in shock. To conceive all of that, the Wall is ours. Jerusalem is ours. The West Bank for peace. I don’t think it would have worked. It had to follow on to be the holders of the West Bank with all of the hardship.”
Many in Israel viewed the Six Day War as a near miraculous deliverance from Arab threats of annihilation.
“I was happy. I then did not see the price we had to pay for this victory. Victories are not coming cheap. You have to pay. Many people, R. Tzvi Yehuda Kook, R. Goren, Bnei Akiva, looked at this as God’s hand leading our history into the final redemption. I personally said we had no right, but I said we had to be very careful, have to believe in God but can’t measure steps of God with a stopwatch in hand. Therefore have to distinguish between military victory and redemption that will come. But we are not allowed to say that this is already redemption.
The Arabs saw Israel’s victory as a humiliating defeat.”
“The mood when we were defeated, it was a big shock. We thought Nasser was confident; people were humiliated by the defeat. I was with the veterans, the vets were very sad. When Nasser left that made people want him to stay. There were demonstrations in the street. My husband asked him to stay. It meant a disaster. I was with the war veterans. It was hard to see the defeated troops crying, the wounded, I could never forget. The defeat was very hard for everyone. We discovered the leaders were not doing the best work.”
For the Palestinians of whom more than a million had fallen under Israeli rule, the Six Day War was a disaster. It was a devastating blow which shattered the dreams of defeating Israel and returning home. Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza became a daily, deadening and humiliating way of life.
“In 1967 I was in University of Beirut. The 5th War took place and my home came under occupation and I couldn’t go home. I became personally a victim. I tried everything possible to get news, to find out about the family, then came months and years to go home.”
“I was sitting in university in Cairo, left and went to the Union and we volunteered to go to the front. But was ended quickly. I flew to Syria and then sneaked my way to the Jordan Valley. I heard a press conference with Moshe Dayan on BBC and then I was sure that Israel had won the war, I didn’t trust the Arab media, on “Arab advances,” on the ground it was totally different. I felt that my whole world was collapsing and had collapsed. My life came to an impasse. Because all my life I wanted to come back to my village and spend the rest of my life there. I refused to leave with my family to Kuwait, the US, all my dreams in being home. When I realized I could not go back it was like a block. I could not dream beyond. That’s why when I picked up a gun, for me it was inevitable.”
“1967 was a shock tragedy defeat. It was the defeat of a dream, the dream of enlightened Arab nationalism, which was supposed to unite the Arab world. The first phase was the defeat, and the tragedy and the shock. Then looking for reasons why it happened. Then coming back to consciousness and reality and that was that the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza were under Israeli occupation. The Arabs in Israel discovered these parts of their nation that they were separated from and tried to identify with the Palestinians while at the same time continuing their own struggle.”
Thousands of Palestinians began to work inside Israel providing a cheap source of manpower which would become an economic fact of life for the next 25 years. Israel was swept away by a feeling of euphoria, of overpowering self-confidence and a belief that it was invincible. While some believed the moment was ripe for a peace settlement, the extent of the overwhelming Arab defeat excluded such a possibility. No Arab government could face such a crushing humiliation.
“I never believed a peace settlement was possible on the morrow of the 6-day war. The psychological balance was wrong. The Arabs were crushed and humiliated. Israel was buoyant, jubilant. The Arabs d there would be no settlement on the basis of the military results of the war since it underestimates the Arab potential. I went to the Johnson administration and said Israel would accept a peace settlement with Egypt, Syria and Jordan on the basis of the international boundary. I was ready to discuss with Hussein handing back 70% of the West Bank. So we cannot be criticized for not wanting peace.”
“For me post-1967 was a historical opportunity to make peace. All of the West Bank was in our hands. I wrote a letter to Levi Eshkol and spoke about it for Israel to call on the Palestinians to make peace. The opportunity was lost.”
Israel waited for a “telephone call” from Arab leaders, but the call never came. When the leaders of 13 Arab countries met in Khartoum their message to Israel was blunt and clear. “No peace; no negotiations; no recognition.”
“The importance of 1967 is not in the military victory. A fundamental change had occurred in the Middle East which started a new conflict between Egypt and Israel which never existed before 1967. And between Israel and Jordan. Israel and Syria.”
A vacuum was created. No peace, and no war. There was a move towards settling critical areas of the captured territories. Some politicians thought it would jolt the Arabs into talking peace with Israel. Housing construction began in Jerusalem. In the Etzion Bloc which had been the site of fierce fighting in the War of Independence. Approval was given to build a Jewish neighborhood, Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron. Settlements were set up in the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. Israel got used to its new dimensions. Israelis were thrilled by rediscovering their Jewish heritage in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. They visited Jericho, Bethlehem, and flocked to the Old City of Jerusalem and Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
“The city where the joy and victory most intensely felt was in Jerusalem. The fact that it was possible to move in and out. It was flourishing. Jerusalem was the dearest prize of our survival and victory. I felt admiration for Jordan that some improvements had been made. It was a central celebration of the Jewish people. The wall, the arrival of the generals. It was a center-piece of national fervor which never burned brighter.”
“I remember being here as a student. A week after the war. The radio instructed people on getting to know Hebron, Bet El, etc… As if to reeducate the Israelis about the Biblical homeland. I felt that Zionism encompassed everything. And the states of Israel had sort of forgotten about the Land of Israel. But this was the opportunity to go home again. Emotionally the biblical land of Israel is us. If you take away Judea and Samaria, Shilo, Hebron other sites where prophets kings and priests stood, and battles were fought, if you take this away there is no Judaism, and without Judaism there are no Jews. For me the presence of Jews in the homeland is the most natural thing, in the biblical horizons.”
World wide Jewish support was overwhelming. American Jews and Jewish communities everywhere had contributed and assisted Israel generously since its independence. The victories of the Six Day War had inspired Jews with an overwhelming sense of pride and mission. They contributed more money to Israel than ever before. Hundreds of millions of dollars were raised in emergency funding from Jewish communities worldwide. The 67 War also awoke the spirit of Soviet Jewry, which had been sealed behind the Iron Curtain for decades.
“The 6 Day War was for me revitalized an entire generation of Soviet Jews. It was a turning point. The waiting, and then more hatred but also more respect. Israel is closely connected with you, a mystical connection between you and Israel. That’s how we became Zionists, and later also Jews.”
The scale of Arab defeat produced a new militant extremism among the Palestinians. The Palestine Liberation Organization which had been founded in east Jerusalem in 1964 was now dominated by Yasser Arafat and his militant Fata faction. Bullets, said Fatah, not words, was the only way to dislodge the Jews from Palestine. In March 1968 Fatah fighters and Jordanian soldiers clashed with Israeli troops who had crossed into Jordan on an operation against Palestinian guerrilla bases. The Battle of Karameh was a turning point for the Palestinians. The fact that they had fought Israeli soldiers face to face and inflicted heavy casualties gave them a psychological victory.
“It was a clear victory. We did not defeat the Israeli Army; we were 150 against 3 brigades. It was a victory in sense that it achieved political goals. We were supported by the Jordanian army, but if we had not stood and fought nobody else would have. We were young, dreamers, we were defining victory. Not in terms of destroying the Israeli war machine but if thousands of volunteers would replace us after the battle. If the cause made headlines. In the media.”
The strongest support for the Fatah was in the Palestinian refugee camps of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But the attempt by Fatah to mount an uprising against Israeli troops failed. Arafat moved has base of operations from the West Bank to Jordan. In the Gaza Strip the Fatah resistance lasted longer. The dense crowded sprawl of narrow streets and small houses created an ideal atmosphere for hit and run ambushes against Israeli soldiers on patrol. But in 1971 General Ariel Sharon bulldozed wide roads through the Gaza refugee camps.
“In Egypt president Nasser was determined to make Israel pay for its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. He d “I cannot conquer the Sinai but I can wear Israel out and break its spirit by attrition.” The War of Attrition was fought across the Suez Canal. It was marked by devastating artillery duels and cross canal infantry attacks. Israel constructed the massive “Bar-Lev” line of fortresses along the east bank of the Canal to protect its troops. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers died in the fighting. Thousands were injured. Egyptian casualties were massive. In depth strategic Israeli air attacks forced hundreds of thousands of Egyptians living in the Suez Canal zone to leave the area. The Soviet Union reinforced Egypt with vast amounts of arms and ammunition including SAM missiles. Thousands of Russian military and air force personnel were stationed in Egypt. Finally after five Russian piloted MIGs were downed by Israeli jets, the Soviet Union urged Egypt to accept a US –brokered cease fire negotiated by American Secretary of State William Rogers.”
A different kind of attrition was taking place along Israel’s eastern border. The Palestinians had firmly established themselves in Jordan. The Jordan Valley served as a launching pad for operations against Israel. Palestinian attacks against civilian targets and ambushes on Israeli army patrols were common and often deadly. Israeli retaliation was swift and massive. But King Hussein of Jordan was becoming increasingly apprehensive over the degree of Palestinian influence and political control in his country. The Palestinians had long overstepped their welcome. After a second assassination attempt on his life the King sent in his troops to wipe out the Palestinian forces. It was September 1970. A date etched in the Palestinian consciousness. It became known as “Black September.” Hundreds of guerillas were killed. The rest fled to Lebanon where they would set up new headquarters.
“I don’t believe the targeting of any civilians is justifiable. I cannot condone terrorism. But at the same time one can look at historical perspectives without attempting justification. The seventies were a different era and they cannot be measured by the references of the nineties. Violence was used everywhere. I have not condoned violence against civilians anywhere. Many of the acts of the revolution, in a different context, were the actions of people whose very existence was denied. Demanding negative action. People who are demanding the attention of the world resort to negative acts.”
By the early 1970’s Israel was locked into a military concept. If believes itself strong and impregnable. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ruled out the possibility of an Arab attack. He was busy dealing with the administration of the occupied territories.
“Dayan had the wrong priorities. The issues could not be resolved by Ja’abari or the residents of Gaza. He should have seen the risk of power in Egypt, the threat of armies from the Arab states. He placed his efforts in the wrong place and that was his tragedy.”
“Israel was prisoner of its own concept. As if “we know everything,” defeat anyone. It was a big mistake.”
It appeared as if the situation would continue forever. The Sinai Peninsula would remain in Israeli hands. The Palestinians would stay under Israeli rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Syria could not possibly launch an attack from the north.
Life was getting better in Israel. The standard of living was improving. Jewish immigration had started to trickle from the Soviet Union. There was a few political scandals, a little corruption. Some said it was high time for a change of government. There were street demonstrations by the “Black Panthers,” young Israelis whose families had emigrated from Arab countries in the 1950’s. They angrily charged that they had been discriminated against by the Israeli establishment. They demanded equal rights and the kind of opportunities now being offered to new arrivals from the Soviet Union and other countries. It was a harbinger of the social time bomb ticking in the country.
In Egypt Anwar Sadat had become President after the death of Gamal Nasser. Sadat was deeply disappointed at what he saw as the lack of international interest in resolving the Israel Arab conflict and the crucial return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The way to redeeming the Sinai would be through war. Sadat said he was ready to sacrifice “a million soldiers” to regain the Sinai. Sadat carefully plotted his movies in coordination with the Soviet Union and Syria. The plan was to mount a surprise attack on Israel on two fronts and regain the Sinai and the Golan Heights.
“Before the war, one night we were walking in this garden. I felt the war was starting since he told me to pack his bag. As a woman who went through this I was very torn. I had to encourage him but then I remembered what had happened to us. I said Anwar you are trying your best, you have prepared. Even if you are defeated you didn’t accept humiliation. All of a sudden he stopped. He said, Jehan I will not be defeated. I shall be winning this war. I was surprised and shocked. He didn’t need my encouragement. He was sure.”
On the Day of Atonement 1973, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Egypt and Syria opened up a coordinated offensive in the north and south of Israel. It was a terrifying totally surprise attack, which would end forever Israeli complacency. It claimed 2,700 Israeli dead and many more wounded. It shocked the nation and would change the face of the Middle East forever.