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Effects of Israeli-Arab 1967 Six-Day War still felt 50 years later

Free Press wire reports | 6/9/2017, 12:19 p.m.
Ron Kronish was an American college student when Israel defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies during the 1967 Six-Day ...
Several days after entering the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel cleared the most sacred Jewish place, the Western Wall of the Temple. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Free Press wire report

JERUSALEM

Ron Kronish was an American college student when Israel defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies during the 1967 Six-Day War.

That war, whose 50th anniversary was marked on Monday, had a profound effect on many Israeli and Diaspora Jews that is felt till this day.

Jews — as well as many Christians — viewed Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan as a kind of miracle. Israel had beaten three much larger countries and, for the first time in 2,000 years, Jewish holy sites were in Jewish hands.

But the war, which also saw the capture of the Golan Heights, Gaza and the Sinai, displaced up to 325,000 Palestinians. (There are now an estimated 2.5 million refugees and their descendants living in the West Bank; Israel has relinquished the Sinai and the Gaza Strip.)

For Rabbi Kronish, now 70 and a Reform rabbi dedicated to interreligious peace building, Israel’s lightning victory over its hostile neighbors “was life-changing. It made our Jewish identity very Israel-centric.”

Until then, Rabbi Kronish said, young American Jewish activists were largely preoccupied with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

“I was caught up in the victory, I felt that history was happening and I wanted to be part of it,” said Rabbi Kronish. As it did for tens of thousands of other North Americans, the war spurred him to move to Israel, albeit several years later.

The war, which reunited the eastern and western parts of Jerusalem, also inspired Jews being persecuted in what was then the Soviet Union to fight for the right to emigrate and freely practice their religion.

“When the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces broke through the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City, they also punched a hole in the Iron Curtain, inspiring us Soviet Jews to start our struggle for freedom,” recalled Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik and current chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“This struggle, supported by Jews around the world, ultimately brought down the Iron Curtain and enabled a million (Soviet) Jews to come home to Israel,” Mr. Sharansky said.

North American immigration, though far more modest, jumped from 739 people per year in 1967 to 8,100 in 1969, for example.

Sara Yael Hirschhorn, whose new book “City on a Hilltop” explores why thousands of North American Jews decided to settle in the West Bank in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, said the war was “a watershed moment for American Jewry, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.”

Dr. Hirschhorn said Jews in Israel and abroad watched in dread as Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian troops amassed on Israel’s borders in May 1967 and viewed Israel’s victory as a “modern-day miracle, something that prevented a second Holocaust.”

The Americans who moved to the West Bank — she estimates that 15 percent of Jewish settlers are American citizens — viewed the captured territory “as the unconquered or newly conquered frontier, and they wanted to be pioneers. They felt that founding a settlement was taking an active role in their realization of Jewish and Zionist aspirations.”