(Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part series excerpted from journal entries kept by Fried, an American volunteer in Israel just before and during the Six-Day War, culminating with the reunification of Jerusalem.)
Wednesday June 7:
Jerusalem is Ours. Israel is ecstatic.
Today was certainly the most eventful day of the war. Certainly the most interesting day in my life, and certainly a day which will be remembered forever in Jewish history. People are hugging each other, both dancing and crying in the streets.
The day started once again by the sounds of the air raid sirens in Tiberias, and by exploding shells on the Syrian border. We turned on the news broadcast the moment we awoke and heard that Israel had completely repelled the Egyptian attack, and that Israel had captured Gaza. Each broadcast brought something new and more interesting than the previous one.
At 10:00 a.m. the broadcast reported that Israel had entered deeply into the Sinai. This brought great relief to the many border settlements in the area, especially Nachal Oz, which had been under attack for 72 hours and had been greatly damaged. The radio reported that the children of that kibbutz had come up from the shelters for the first time in four days to breath fresh air. There was also to be a wedding in which five couples were to be married.
The big news however was on the Jordanian front. Jenin, the Arab stronghold from which settlements in the Bet Shean valley were being bombed, was captured. Kalkilia, the site from which Tel Aviv and Netanya were shelled, along with Tulkarem, were near surrender. In early morning, Jerusalem was still being heavily shelled. It was reported that the Jordanians had thrown the UN out of their strategic positions between the old and new city. The UN asked then Jordanians to leave, but they did not. Israeli soldiers then attacked and took those positions. Secretary General of the UN, U-Thant then asked the Israelis to return the positions to the UN. Israel’s reply we were told, was not fit to print. Fighting continued on the road to Mt. Scopus, sites of the old Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center. Both were lost in the War of Independence in 1948 and were soon to be liberated. Fighting too continued in the Hula Valley and the upper Galilee. Syria was still bombing the border settlements and Israel could make no headway there, as Syria still controlled the surrounding mountains.
The 2:00 p.m. news was astounding. Israel was now deep into the Sinai, approaching the Suez Canal, and El Arish was taken. The Egyptian air force was annihilated, and its army was in retreat. The Straits of Tehran were cleared and Sharem El Shekh was about to surrender!
On the Jordanian front, following the surrender of Kilkilya, battles for Jericho, Bethlehem, Shechem, and Ramallah would cause them all to surrender later that day. The road to Mt. Scopus was now opened and Latrun too was taken by Israel. This news was particularly good for Israel’s morale as these places were of tremendous emotional significance since 1948.
On the Syrian front more and more settlements were being shelled and burning. There were air battles between Israeli and Syrian and Iraqi planes; however, Israel had shown significant air superiority against both countries. Lebanon had made her entry into the war by sending over one plane which was immediately shot down. There were no further incidents with Lebanon.
Work ended at about 4:00 and dinner again was early so that there would be no difficulty in having a full black-out. The early evening news confirmed that in excess of 500 Arab planes had been destroyed and Egypt was begging for a ceasefire. But the same dreary news was reported from the Syrian front, much burning and destruction.
At 8:00 that evening the report mesmerized all of Israel. Everybody sensed that it was imminent but no one had really expected or believed it could happen. Everyone in every corner of the kibbutz, indeed in all of Israel was glued to the radio. The announcer, in a clear and steady voice said that after two days of intense fighting, the battle for Jerusalem is now over. “Ha’ir Ha-atika Shelanu, the Old City is ours!”
From early morning, something inside of me said watch the children today. Their eyes and their faces were aglow. It appeared as if they sensed they were experienced something remarkable, something that comes only once in thousands of years. A mystical air had fallen over everyone.
The adults tried to hold their tears, but to no avail. I could never describe the emotion in that room that night, but it was a something I know, I will never ever feel or see again. For the first time in 2,000 years, a Jewish army had conquered Jerusalem. The Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the City of King David, the holiest places in all of Judaism are now returned to the Jewish people.
The radio then switched to a recording of the proceedings at the Western Wall. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of all Israeli forces, with machine gun in hand, and canon fire in the background, led the Mincha services. He then recited Kaddish, his voice trembling with overwhelming emotion, picked up his Shofar and had a soldier blow several longlasting, piercing “Tekias.” He then recited the twice annual Jewish prayer of 2000 years, but with one word changed. “LeShana HaZot B’Yerushalayim.” This year in Yerushalayim. Soldiers in their late teens and in their 20s, many who lived all their lives in the shadow of the Old City but were never allowed to enter, older officers, and an entire army contingent, stood as tears flowed. Religious and nonreligious alike participated. The significance of this liberation of Jerusalem is beyond belief. The heart has returned to the body. Israel is now a whole country.
The news was coming fast and furious. Essentially Israel was now in full control of all of the West Bank of the Jordan River. Numerous historical sites, really Jewish biblical sites, were now liberated. Bethlehem with the resting place of Rachel, wife of Jacob; Hebron, the resting place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Shechem, Jericho, and an untold number of others were now all in Israel’s hands. What an outstanding victory.
In another context, another amazing victory took place on this day. The Etzion Gever block, home of both religious and non-religious settlements, lost virtually the day before the war ended in 1948 with horrific casualties, was now also in Israeli hands. The survivors of these settlements had extra reason to celebrate, and perhaps even to return to their original settlements some day.
As I get ready to sleep, I find myself, as tired as I am, unable to sleep. The events of the day, what an amazing day, go round and round in my head. I feel as if this was a day directly out of the T’nach. A day today transposed from 2000 years ago. A day which will go down forever in Jewish history.
Thursday, June 8:
Once again I awoke to the sounds of rumbling tanks and bombing in the north. The midday report put a few issues to rest. Egypt had accepted a ceasefire and Egyptian planes and 600 Egyptian tanks were captured or destroyed. Countless numbers of trucks, Jeeps, artillery, and numerous other military items were taken by Israel. Essentially, in both the West Bank and the Sinai, just the mopping up remained. Interestingly, much of the booty, the planes, the tanks, the Jeeps, etc. were American made. My hard-earned taxes, at last, had gone for a worthy cause, admittedly in a rather round about way. The Israeli government announced that they were extending civilian services to the captured cities in Jordan. This we saw as an indication that Israel had planned to keep these captured cities. We all hoped so.
And now the focus was on Syria. The terrain in the Hula Valley is not to Israel’s advantage. From the Kinneret north to Kibbutz Dan, Israel is deep in a valley. The heights occupied by the Syrians are extremely steep and rocky. They further protected their positions with barbed wire and mines. Their artillery is so deeply entrenched underground that an air attack does no good at all. From these high positions, the Syrians damaged Tiberias and and had almost completely destroyed several border settlements. Something had to be done to stop the shelling.
Much of the day passed without further significant news. Israel will, however, face a new future and certainly many new problems. I finally got to bed at about 11:00 p.m.
Friday, June 9:
The shelling continued as did the blackout; however, now Israel’s full concentration was against Syria. All day and all night convoys were passing on the road below us, as the road was closed to all but military traffic.
At about 3:00 p.m. it was announced that Israel captured Kunitra, a city about 40 kilometers into Syria. Several other smaller cities were overtaken, but still the Syrian gun positions on the heights, even though surrounded, were impregnable. The Syrians, realizing their eventual defeat, concentrated on the particular settlements closest to them. They did not leave a single building standing.
Syria, then, to everyone’s surprise, announced that it had accepted a UN Security Council’s ceasefire, which they said Israel would go along with.
The Kibbutz’s Sabbath preparations were also affected. Kibbutz members were to have dinner at home instead of the dining hall. The various working groups and volunteers would eat in the dining hall. Sabbath prayers were also on a divided basis. Nevertheless, the prayers were wonderful and spirited. Somehow it added a little bit to the service, as many of those partaking in the service carried rifles and dressed combat ready.
As night fell we again saw fires across the entire countryside. One particular fire, at Kibbutz Almagor engulfed about 11 fields and the flames were said to be 30 feet high. Many of these fields were just about ready to be harvested. What a shame.
Once again I went to sleep to the sounds of bombs and shells, but the feeling was that it would soon be over. As soon as those Syrian gun positions would be taken, Israel would respect the ceasefire now in place. It was a matter of common knowledge in the Kibbutz that Israel had disregarded the ceasefire in order to knock out those positions. As elated as I was, with the tension of the war easing, it was sad night for me. Being so far from the people I love, I wondered what Elayne, my wife to be was thinking at that time, and if my parents were still worried about me.
Shabbat, June 10:
Never does a dull day go by in Israel, but this day was more than just interesting. The Shul davening was quite beautiful and lunch was the best I have ever had on a kibbutz as it included roast beef and chulent. The former is rarely seen in this country.
Jets continued overhead and after lunch I climbed the water tower. The tower is about 100 ft. high, and is the central look-out point for low flying planes in this area. The two soldiers stationed up there had binoculars, and were connected by phone to the central military command. They had exact information about every plane in the area.
I borrowed a set of their very powerful binoculars and was able to see the fighting in Syria. While the tanks and planes were barely visible, it was interesting to see a group of planes circle an area and then watch a pillar of black smoke rising from it. From the tower, it was plain to see that the Syrian gun positions were no longer firing, and that parts of Syria were in flames.
At last, some relative peace and quiet. After lunch almost everybody retired for a much needed Shabbat afternoon nap.
The roads were still filled with convoys, but by this time they were flying captured Jordanian and Egyptian flags. Every sort of vehicle, hundreds of them just captured, were passing by, filled with troops. It was an amazing sight to behold, the Israeli Army in all its glory. Victorious in Jordan, victorious in the Sinai, victorious in Jerusalem, they were on their way to capture the Syrian Heights. It made me feel so proud. That evening our small group again celebrated, singing to commemorate the end of the war.
Sunday, June 11:
Last night, for the first time since I came to Israel, sleep was peaceful and quiet. It was a fantastic victory. Within three hours almost the entire combined Arab Air Forces were demolished, and within days their armies utterly defeated. Israel now controlled all of the Sinai, the entire West Bank, and was fifty miles deep into Syria, truly a miracle in our time. We wondered, with Israel now the recognized military power in the Middle East, how would all these new territories be integrated into Israel?
As I laid down to sleep that night, a new passion had overcome me. It was time to leave the Kibbutz and join my cousins, who had also volunteered, on a new adventure. There was a whole new Israel now, over 3 times its original size, and we wanted to get out there and see it all.
Sigmund Fried is a contributor to Jewish publications in Israel, the United States and Canada, and author of “TheIsraelNarrative.com,” a commentary on current Israeli and Jewish affairs, and lives in Teaneck.
By Sigmund Fried