In May 1967 my American parents, together with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley led me to believe that the State of Israel might not exist by the summer. On May 14th there were reports of Egyptian troop movements into Sinai. On May 16th Radio Cairo announced, “The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” On May 18th Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force to leave Sinai. On May 23rd he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Iraqi President Abdur Rahman Aref said, on May 31st, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified . . . Our goal is clear–to wipe Israel off the map.”
Another Holocaust was about to transpire, it seemed, but this time it would be easier. Close to two and a half million Jews lived in a narrow strip of land surrounded by Arab enemies, whose powerful armies vowed to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.
As a twenty-one year old Jew in Cleveland, I was horrified that such a disaster could befall my people again, so soon after the initial Holocaust. Had nobody learned anything from that epic trauma? As a recent college graduate planning to embark on a one-year study program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I was also scared that if the dot known as Israel disappeared from the map, I would have to stay in Cleveland with no Plan B. Suddenly my own insignificant, post-university life aligned with the survival of the Jewish State.
On the morning of June 5th, 1967 my mother entered my frilly suburban bedroom to let me know the war had begun. I cried into my pillow. They can’t destroy Israel, I sobbed to the sheets. My Jewish identity and study plan would be wrecked. It was too late to get accepted to graduate school. Granted, I was fed up with studying. My signing up for the one-year program was actually a front to get to Israel in a legitimate way. What I really wanted to do was gather chicken eggs at Kibbutz Ginosar, where I had fallen in love with Israel during the summer of ’66.
Nasser was ruining my plans. Would I have to waitress at Stouffer’s and live with my parents? I dropped out of bed, my face blotched with tears.
By the time I walked downstairs and sat in front of the TV, Israel was winning the war. Her air force had destroyed Egypt’s planes while still on the ground. I would not have to waitress in Cleveland. Even if the one-year program was cancelled, I could fly to Israel as a volunteer.
Israel’s stunning victory gave my father the pride of being a Jew that sixty-four years in America and nineteen years of the Jewish State had not instilled. Before June 1967 my father, raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa, among six other Jewish families, was not a proud Jew. As a child he had been accused of killing Jesus. He didn’t defend the Jewish People when his classmates called him a kike. By the time he was in his twenties, he had changed his name from Steinberg to Stonehill. Selling butter and eggs was easier as a Stonehill. But after the Six Day War, my father sprinkled his corn-fed English with his latent Yiddish. He stood taller. Of course he would send his daughter to Jerusalem on August 1st, when the group would leave for the one-year program.
Fifty years later I am still here, albeit in Tel Aviv. Often, I feel like May 1967 has never passed. Our “leaders” still portray us as being vulnerable victims of a hateful neighborhood. They speak as if our stunning military victory never happened, as if we don’t have the power to occupy and oppress another people. They deny that we are experts at mass oppression and that we export this expertise to police forces and armies throughout the world.
If you live in a country that wants to subdue a particular local population, Israel is your go-to country of expertise. We know how to limit freedom in legal ways, steal land legally and push people like cattle through iron tunnels.
Ours is a benign occupation, we were told in the first decades after 1967, but should you really want to see what the occupation looks like in 2017 or hear what the soldiers have to do to keep the local Arab population scared, you will be called a traitor, or worse, and you may not even be allowed to visit the country.
Yes, we won an astounding military victory in June of 1967, but we lost so much more that the heart breaks. It breaks to remember one’s adolescent innocence in the belief of the righteous Jewish State and it breaks at the entrenchment of the messianic Jews in the seat of power; it breaks reading of the pomposity and cruelty of Jews in Hebron and it breaks to realize the institutionalization of Jewish superiority; it breaks witnessing the dearth of humane and upright Jewish leaders, infused with prophetic wisdom, who could reach out to our Arab neighbors in brotherhood, humility and respect.
Today, in May 2017, Israel is an abnormal place. A certain dimension of time stands still. The nation’s clock is stuck in May 1967. Our “leaders” assume we are still victims. We are still waiting for the war to begin. If not Egypt, then the bombs will come from Iran. If not Iran, then Hezbollah in Lebanon, or ISIS or BDS or the anti-semites in France, England, the US. Though it is strong militarily, Israel acts like a scared bully.
Now, just as in May 1967, I am afraid. Fifty years after those months that brought a tectonic change, I fear that the state I loved will be destroyed from within.