Chanukah is the traditional time of year for the phrase “Nes gadol haya sham” (“A great miracle happened there”), but we can’t help thinking of that miraculous reference to Jerusalem this week as we mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and the revival of Jewish access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
While many Jewish organizations and individual activists are focusing on the troubling aspects of this anniversary — occupation, refugees, little hope for peace — it’s important to understand the history of what happened in the spring of 1967.
You can find the outline on Pages 19 to 22 and details at the website of the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org), but no revisionism or regrets can change the clear record. Israel launched a devastating, decisive airstrike the morning of June 5, 1967, not to add territory or to regain access to Judaism’s holiest sites (blocked since 1948), but simply to survive.
It’s possible Gamal Abdul Nasser was playing an Arab nationalist bluff when he vowed to draw Israel into a war that would destroy the Jewish state, when he built a military alliance to do the job and when he ordered a U.N. peacekeeping force to withdraw from its buffer zone between Israel and Egypt.
But if someone loads a gun and points it at your head, it’s smart to assume he’s willing to pull the trigger. Especially if he kneecaps you at the same time, which is what Nasser tried to do to Israel by closing the Strait of Tiran and blockading Eilat.
The nearly flawless execution of Israel’s military strategy was miraculous not only because it ensured Israel’s survival for the foreseeable future, but also because it created the conditions for peace.
Israel’s victory broke the dream of pan-Arab nationalism exemplified by the shaky union between Egypt and Syria. A weakened, isolated Egypt was thus in a position for a leader other than Nasser to make peace in exchange for the return of the Sinai.
By losing the West Bank, Jordan experienced a demographic shift. It took a civil war and a quarter-century, but that change freed Jordan to make peace.
The advance in the Golan Heights gave Israel a defensible northern border, enabling people to live without the constant fear of bombardment from Syria. The particular evil of the Assad regime has stood in the way of peace, but the threat from Damascus is minimal.
We look forward to the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s annual meeting Wednesday, June 7, when former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro will help mark the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ event five nights later with the three paratroopers from David Rubinger’s iconic 1967 Western Wall photo should be unforgettable, and we urge all who can to attend.
Still, something is missing from the anniversary.
It’s understandable that many Jews approach this anniversary with empathy for the Palestinians and fear for the corrosive effects of occupation on Israel and the Jewish people.
But we regret that, unlike Jewish Atlanta 50 years ago, we couldn’t come together en masse as a community for just one week, or even one day, to celebrate a miraculous victory and the restoration of a Jerusalem where people of all faiths have access to their holy sites.