Remembering June 5, 1967

Condensed from a longer article

TEL AVIV – June 5 is the 35th anniversary of the day Israel’s “Defense” Army crossed the 1949 armistice lines, recognized by the world as Israel’s borders, to invade Egypt and Syria, the Jordanian-occupied Palestinian West Bank including the Arab part of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian-held Palestinian Gaza Strip. Israel thus opened what was later called the “Six Day War” – which has already lasted over 12,500 days. The Israeli government’s drive to conquer all of Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean coast, while cleansing it as much as possible of the indigenous Palestinian Arab people, still undermines any hope for true and lasting peace.

On June 5, 1967, I was working as the secretary of the Communist Party group in the Knesset and as the parliamentary correspondent for the party’s newspapers. As usual on Mondays, I left home early for Jerusalem. At Haifa, I had just sat down on the express bus when the air raid sirens sounded. We thought it was one of the many tests in those days.

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In Jerusalem at last after what became a tortuous all-day trip over roads clogged with heavy army equipment and trucks full of soldiers, I went to the cafeteria in the Knesset (parliament) building. There I heard the real story of the day, the story not told by the Israeli state-run radio. Under the transparent pretext that the Egyptians might attack Israel, the Israeli air force, in a blitz attack, destroyed almost the entire Egyptian and Syrian air force on the ground. At the same time, rather than Egyptian armor attacking Israel as the newscasts said, the Israeli armor invaded Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

At 5 p.m. the parliamentary session began. Finance Minister Pinhas Sappir presented three urgent bills to finance the war. They were to be rushed through all three readings to become law the same day.

One after the other, representatives of the various parliamentary groups took the floor, each trying to outdo the others in enthusiasm for the war. With one exception: the Communist Party deputies.

Party chair Meir Vilner was calm and to the point. “For the sake of Israel’s security and its future as an independent state, respected by its Arab neighbors in the region, in the interests of our Israeli people: STOP!” he declared. “Return the army back to the Armistice Lines (of 1949) immediately!”

The hall was quiet, until Vilner stated that “the truly interested parties in this war are the American and British imperialists, who want to strengthen the interests of their big oil monopolies and military bases in the region with the blood of our sons and daughters.” Deputies sprang to their feet with cries of “traitor,” “enemy of Israel,” “Moscow Mercenary,” and “don’t let him continue to speak.” As the tumult continued, he declared, “You are afraid to listen to the truth! Now you are trying to stop freedom of speech even for elected Knesset deputies!”

The vote for war or peace, for war taxes and war loans from the public, was clear. All in favor but the two Communist votes.

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I went to file my report to our two papers in Haifa and Tel Aviv. The Arab language Al-Ittihad was going to press the next day. The Hebrew Zo Haderekh would be printed the day after. No one answered at Al-Ittihad, so I called editor-in-chief Saliba Khamis at home. He said all members of the editorial board and staff, as well as many Arab party activists, had been arrested, and he himself was under house arrest. “What about the paper?” I asked. “We will do our best to get it out on time,” he said. Later I learned that Khamis from his home, aided by the wives of the arrested editors and one of the printers, did a mighty job to get the paper out on time. At Zo Haderekh, too, heroic measures were taken.

At 9 p.m. the Knesset session resumed. The second and third readings of the war tax and war loan measures were rushed through, no further debate allowed.

An hour later we left, lights dimmed, for Tel Aviv. On our way down the mountainous highway, we saw a lot of lightning stemming from gun battles, heard more artillery and air bombardments, and saw many fires burning in Palestinian villages and towns across the nearby border of the Jordanian-held West Bank.