Thursday, June 07, 2007


During the 1948 war, Jordan captured approximately 2,000 sq. miles of Judea and Samaria west of the Jordan river, and the "Old City" of Jerusalem; 1,300 Jewish residents were expelled or taken to Jordan as prisoners. Jews living in West Bank and Gaza Strip were forced to flee the invading Arab armies. Kfar Etzion and other villages in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem corridor fell to Arab forces in May 1948 and those captured were massacred. For 19 years, Jews were denied access to the Wailing Wall.

The Israelis had been ordered to use small arms wherever possible to avoid damaging Holy places in the Old City. They were up against Jordan's Arab Legion, which had been formed and trained by the British under Glubb Pasha. The fighting was fierce, often hand-to-hand, and house to house. Jordanian mortars and shells continued to be fired into Jewish Jerusalem; snipers positioned in minarets, and behind churches rained bullets down on the Israelis as they made their way through the narrow, cobbled streets.

Slowly but surely, they pushed the Jordanians back until at last the Old City was back in Jewish hands. The destruction had been terrible; during the Jordanian occupation, the Arabs destroyed 58 Jerusalem Synagogues and systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Soon, the repairs would begin; in a few weeks, Israel would remove the barbed wire and minesfields erected by the Jordanians that had divided the city since 1948; both Arabs and Jews would finally have free access to the city. Soon enough the city would be whole again. But, for a moment, time stood still.

Listen to CBS reporter, Michael Elkins report on the battle for Jerusalem here.

Listen to Israel Defense Forces entering the Old City of Jerusalem and reclaiming the Western Wall on June 7, 1967 (in Hebrew) here.

A transcript is available here. (bottom of the page)

The historic radio broadcast of the liberation of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall
was researched, transcribed and translated by Yitschak Horneman / Quality Translations, Jerusalem

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Strike Zion!

Flying in fast and low to evade Egyptian radar, the Israeli Mirage III and Super-Mystère fighters struck at dawn. All but 12 Israeli jets, kept back to defend the home front, were utilized in the operation. Almost simultaneously, 11 Egyptian airfileds were attacked, destroying over 200 planes. Several hours later, after refueling, Israel struck again destroying another 100 planes. Enjoying near complete air superiority, Israel's tank battalions and infantry began to move across the Sinai and into the Golan Heights.

Upon the outbreak of hostilities on June 5, 1967, Israel had issued strict orders to her soldiers that there was to be no firing against the Jordanians. The Israeli government had secretly pleaded with King Hussein of Jordan, to keep out of the war; but, the plea was rebuffed by the Jordanian monarch. Fearful of losing his throne and perhaps even his life, he aligned himself with the Arab coalition and put his forces under Egyptian command. Even the Jordanian attack, Israel's PM, Levi Eshkol sent a message, through an intermediary: “If you don’t intervene, you will suffer no consequences.” When two hours passed without a reply, Israeli forces struck back at Jordanian positions.

After many hours of intense fighting against Jordan's well-trained Arab Legion, Israeli troops succeeded in taking control of the roads into Jerusalem. As the long day closed, they moved into the city. The Battle for Jerusalem had now begun.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hot Enough for June

The war was, in many ways, inevitable. Neither Israel nor her Arab neighbours were satisfied with the outcome of the 1948 conflict. Israel had been left with borders that were difficult to defend, her citizens vulnerable to attacks from all sides. The Arabs had never supported the Partition Plan, and having failed to abort Israel at the outset, began planning for the day when they could eradicate the Jewish state.

Relations between Israel and Syria had been dismal for years. The two countries has sparred over control of water from the Jordan River, and Israel held the Ba’ath regime responsible for terrorist attacks perpetrated by militants operating from Syria.

Syria, anticipating an Israeli response to the border violations, signed a defence agreement with Egypt. According to the agreement, signed on 4 November 1966, an armed attack against either of the two signatories would be considered an armed attack against both. And, once war erupted, the Syrian and Egyptian armies were to operate jointly under the command of the Egyptian chief of staff.

In 1967, Egypt began to turn up the heat. On May 16, Egypt ordered UNEF troops to evacuate the Sinai region (U Thant agreed, without consulting either the UN General Assembly or Security Council, and much to Nasser's delight, also pulled troops out of Gaza). Thousands of Egyptian troops, 80,000 men and 600 tanks in less than three days, poured into the area and began to entrench themselves. Israel turned to both the US and the United Nations for assistance. Both suggested 'patience'; the Security Council was all but deadlocked by the Soviets and France. Fearing they were becoming politically isolated, Israel’s response was to begin to call up reserves--18,000 men on May 17, and an additional 17,000 the following day.

But it was Nasser's decision to close the Straits of Tiran that was the defining moment. Most countries, including the US, considered the closure to be a casus belli, an action tantamount to an Act of War. Israel required the Strait to reach Eilat, at the time it's most important port. And the Arabs also increased the vitriol of their rhetoric: Syria's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Makhous declared that “the withdrawal of the UN forces means ‘make way, our forces are on their way to battle.’” According to then-Defense Minister Hafez el-Assad, the Syrian army had “its finger on the trigger and demand[ed] that the battle be expedited.” 1.

Again, Israel pleaded with the US to intercede, but America was unwilling to challenge the Soviets, which were sponsoring the Arab states (and according to recent historical documents, had been lying to the Arabs telling them that Israel was preparing for war). 2.

Nevertheless, Nasser knew full well that closing the Straits would force Israel into war. After only a few weeks, Israel was running low on oil and food. Then France refused to honour previously signed agreements for planes and parts. Egypt continued the provocation: We are now’, Nasser declared, ‘on the verge of a confrontation with Israel’....‘If’, he added ominously, ‘the Jews threaten us war? I say to them “Welcome”, we are ready for war!'

With everyone still suggesting patience, time was running out. Both Egypt and Syria continued to amass troops and build defences. Israeli hospitals began to collect blood. Emergency morgues were prepared. Israel's military leaders now advised a preemptive strike: “Whoever waits for the Egyptians to start the war has got to know that we’ll lose the land of Israel!” Moshe Dayan declared, “It’s lunacy to wait!” The final straw was an intelligence report that Egypt was moving its army from a defensive to an offensive position, apparently with the intention of occupying Eilat.

After weeks of exhaustive efforts to forestall war, the Cabinet voted in favour of a preemptive strike. The attack would begin early the next morning, Monday, June 5.

1. Theodore Draper, Israel and World Politics: Roots of the Third Arab-Israeli War, p. 60.


Monday, June 04, 2007

In the Days of War

In a few days, the world will mark the 40th anniversary of the 'Six-Day War.' To say that the Middle East is still dealing with the consequences of this conflict would be an understatement of Biblical proportions. Over the next few days I'm going to be (finally) updating my blog with thoughts and links on the war and its lasting effects.

It goes without saying, a number of groups around Vancouver will be marking the occasion in various ways. On Friday, June 1, Jews for a Just Peace screened BC filmmaker Jack Silberman's documentary, Raised to be a Hero.

Silberman's film may reflect a genuine opinion within Israel that the continued military presence in the disputed territories has been detrimental to both Jews and Arabs, but to suggest that the 'Refuseniks' represent a growing revolution, as some have done, is misleading at best. It may be true that 1,600 reservists have refused duty in Judea and Samaria (also known as the "West Bank" since Jordan's illegal annexation of the territory in the late '40's) and Gaza, but this number is a mere fraction of Israel's army. Almost all Israeli men do three years of mandatory military service. A mere 1,600 out of a standing army of around 445,000 - less than 1/3 of 1 percent - isn't much of a revolution. Contrast this with Russia, where an estimated 15 percent of those called up for military service illegally dodge the draft. If there's an ideological revolution worth mentioning, it's the realization that last year's disengagement from Gaza was a strategic and political mistake. In fact, far more 'refuseniks' refused to remove Jews from Gaza than have ever refused service in the territories. In an attempt (which failed) to forestall the evacuation of Gaza's Jewish residents, 10,000 soldiers signed a petition that declared "Jews don't deport Jews." The West Bank is even more complicated. There had been a perpetual Jewish presence there since Biblical times until the Jordanian occupation in 1948. Jordan expelled Jews from the West Bank and prohibited them from visiting religious sites. Since 1967, Jews have been able to return to the area. The settlements, regardless of their legal status, are problematic; but it has been Palestinian violence, since Yassir Arafat rejected peace negotiations and initiated the second intifada, that has demanded checkpoints, targeted killings and nighttime arrests. Indeed, as rockets continue to fly out of Gaza, one must wonder if disengagement from the West Bank, ostensibly the political demand of the 'refuseniks,' would really further the peace process. But, as I said, it's a complex issue. With any luck, the film will initiate dialogue but without due respect to the facts, constructive debate will be drowned by the rhetoric that tends to prevail.