Monday, June 4, 2007

Six Day War's 40th anniversary

It was one of the scariest and yet most invigorating times for American Jews.

All across the nation, Jewish groups were gathered, listening to news from 5,600 miles away. Remember, 24-hour news networks such as CNN didn't exist. For those outside of newsrooms, the word came in fits and starts.

The Israeli Air Force had wiped out Egypt's air arm in a raid remarkable for its intensity and accuracy. I still remember one radio newscaster saying "You couldn't find a shell hole outside the target." These guys didn't miss.

But still, Jews came together to donate what they could: money, offers to fight or at least to travel to Israel to relieve soldiers and sailors from support duties such as materiel repair so they could go fight, prayers, hope, support. You did what you could.

The most inspiring news of all, however, was the word from Jerusalem. Because King Hussein believed Egyptian propaganda that the Arabs were winning, he brought his forces into the conflict. The Jordanian army, the Arab Legion, was a force to be feared. The Jews, however, weren't to be denied.

For the first time since they were forced out in 1948 under force of arms, the Jews re-entered the Old City. The Wailing Wall became the Western Wall. After the shofar blasts, there was wailing no more.

The Old City, including the remainder of the Temple Mount, was in Jewish hands. No longer did Jews have to look from far away at Judaism's most holy site. They could walk up, at first through piles of junk and around buildings put up cheek by jowl with the wall, then from an expansive plaza. Any Jew who could make his or her way to Jerusalem could walk up and touch the wall, lean on it, cry on it, put a piece of paper into it inscribed with a prayer, a wish, a hope.

The rebuilding of the Old City began soon after, with the first task the clearing of the rubble that, until the Jordanians got their hands on it, was magnificent synagogues, holy sites, homes and businesses.

Skip forward 40 years. The Jews still hold the Old City, along with that part of the West Bank not given to the Palestinians. The largest conquest, the Sinai with its oil reserves, and Gaza have all been given up in the so-far-vain hope of peace.

So, on we go. In other parts of the world, including the Western Hemisphere, victors in war are not asked to return the spoils. The United States still owns Arizona, New Mexico, and California taken, with the small exception of the Glasden Purchase, by war from Mexico. Nobody asked Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and the rest to give themselves back to Spain after beating the Spaniards at War. The United States wasn't asked to return Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other territory to Spain. Nobody asked Brazil to give itself back to Portugal after tearing itself away by force of arms.

Indonesia would not give itself back to the Dutch, toss out all its Muslim institutions in favor of Dutch Reformed.

Nobody, in the time from 1948 to 1967, hectored Jordan to return the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jews, even though it was taken by force of arms. But Israel is expected to return the Golan to Syria, the West Bank to a loose confederation of war lords and half of Jerusalem to a dysfunctional quasi-government that cannot even govern itself.

Those were heady times, between 1967 and the next war in 1973, then Entebbe in 1976.

Israel's first prime minister, David ben-Gurion, said he longed for the day when Israel could be just another nation.

I think he was wrong. Being just another nation doesn't get you any respect, especially if the world discovers that the place is run and populated by Jews.

Being just another nation is for everyone else, not Jews, in the eyes of the world. Why? I wish I knew. It might make things a bit easier, 40 years after the greatest military victory in history.

1 comment:

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