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Remembering the Six Day War

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Yesterday Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, a day commemorating the reunification of the Old City under Israeli control control. Thousands of Jews marched through ancient streets and alleyways carrying Israeli flags and singing loud boisterous patriotic songs. It’s a national holiday.

Forty-nine years ago on June 5, 1967, a war broke out that changed the face of the Middle East. Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. The Six Day War was fought on the battlefield, in the hearts and minds of men, and at the United Nations where Israeli envoy, Foreign Minister Abba Eban, skillfully argued Israel’s case to the world. Claiming an existential threat Israel preemptively attacked and wiped out the Egyptian Air Force. The name of the war evokes Genesis; God created the world in six days. But in reality, after destroying the Egyptian Air Force, Israel’s most formidable foe, the war was won. Ready to fight for their precious nineteen year old country, worldwide Jewry boarded planes bound for Tel Aviv.

And Israel kept the fact of their recent nuclear capabilities a secret.

I too mark this day on my calendar but in a different way. When the Israelis were euphorically celebrating their victory I was experiencing the fear of war and the humiliation of defeat. I may have been the only Jewish person who was living with a Palestinian family during that war.

I had been enjoying the life of an American expat wannabe writer when I met a South African Jew heading to an Israeli kibbutz. Months later I decided to meet him there. Since time was more available than money I hitchhiked from Paris and followed the Mediterranean coast through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria and Jordan. I conveniently ignored the fact that Jerusalem had been a divided city since 1948, until Jordanian officials informed me it would take three days to get a visa allowing me to pass through a United Nations checkpoint known as No-Man’s Land. From the youth hostel on the border I could see the lights twinkling in Israel — which I did not enter until after the abyss of war.

Damascus Gate Photo:Iris Keitz

Damascus Gate, Photo:Iris Keltz

The Damascus Gate opened my way into the Old City. Giddy with discovery, I had no expectations except for echoes of a familiar prayer––next year in Jerusalem.

On my first day I met a family who offered to guide me around the Old City. They introduced themselves as Palestinians, the first time I’d ever heard that word. It was a good thing I had no idea they were suppose to be my enemy, or I might have refused their gracious hospitality. They knew I was Jewish, which was why the family insisted on taking me to the Wailing Wall, embedded in the ancient Moroccan Quarter. There was no giant open-air synagogue. “You’re Jewish,” they said. “All Jews love this wall.” Upon their insistence, I pressed my forehead to the sacred wall, although in truth, every wall in Jerusalem looked ancient and felt sacred and filled with the secrets of thousands of histories. The family offered trips to Jericho, the Dead Sea, to Abraham’s tomb in Hebron, and daily walks through the Old City, and so I delayed crossing into Israel.

Photo: Iris Keitz

Photo: Iris Keltz

I was living with them in Jerusalem when war erupted and changed their lives forever. We were hiding in Ramallah when the Israeli army conquered the Old City and immediately headed to the Wailing Wall to blow the shofar announcing their miraculous victory. But in my experience, an army was not needed to liberate the Wailing Wall. I witnessed the initial merging of east and west Jerusalem after nineteen years, which was a short honeymoon. With access to their old homes and villages in Israel proper, the Palestinians felt as if they were home, and if they’d only been integrated into Israeli society and treated equally before the law, I don’t believe the road would be paved with so many broken families.

Fear is contagious. On that day so many years ago, I was as afraid of the Israeli soldiers as the Palestinians. Neither my complexion or hair color set me apart. Only my thick thick New York accent and passport could set me apart, as an American. But before I could access either I worried the soldiers might harm me, perhaps kill me, and claim collateral damage. We all know innocents die in war. And in truth, all twelve Palestinians I hid with were innocents. They were simply going about their lives when war broke out and changed their lives forever. If I’d known Hebrew I might have told the soldiers these people were friends. My silence on that day has come to haunt me. Instead of celebrating forty-nine years of peace in the democratic state of Israel we are slouching towards the fiftieth year of a brutal military occupation. Every year June 5th is marked on my calendar. It’s the day I learned that my so-called enemies were friends.

Photo: Iris Keitz

Photo: Iris Keltz

Iris Keltz
About Iris Keltz

Author of Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: My Journey in Palestine and Israel — Nighthawk Press, Taos, New Mexico, Publication Date May, 2017. Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie: Tribal Tales from the Heart of a Cultural Revolution, Cinco Puntos Press, Tx, 2000

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20 Responses

  1. DaBakr
    DaBakr on June 6, 2016, 2:08 pm

    Obviously,a personal account is just that, unique and personal. But the amount of ommissions, wether deliberate or born from ignorance on the status of ‘relations’ between jews and Arabs in pre ’67 Jerusalem is preposterous.
    . Jewish people all ‘seem to love’ the ‘wailing wall’? Really.
    How about the dozens of synagogues (at least 56 by count of the recent trove of aerial photographs of Jerusalem in the 1920s) destroyed by the occupation from’48-’67. What occupation?

    . Or, jewish graves dug up with tombstones used for outhouse walls and street paving. Laws preventing both Christian and jew from worshipping their religion or prevented from gathering at their places of worship. There are so many more things this traumatized author seems to block from her memory. That there are kind and loving Palestinian families that have lived in and around jerusalem for many many years is no surprise to Israelis. (And more cynically, before 67 Jerusalem was still a backwater town with little opportunity for locals to make a decent wage and guiding tourists was one of the many’jobs’ Palestinians would work on. ).

    If the author is pining for the ‘old’ Jerusalem pre 67 she is entitled. but for most Christian and Jewish families life under the dhimmi system was no barrel of peaches.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on June 6, 2016, 4:44 pm

      “Dabakr” did get a pair of those self-guiding shoes! Or maybe he works barefoot, with a dowsing rod. I don’t know. But he never misses.

    • eljay
      eljay on June 6, 2016, 6:31 pm

      || DaBakr: … for most Christian and Jewish families life under the dhimmi system was no barrel of peaches. ||

      The contents of the barrel did not and still do not justify Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine and all of the past and on-going (war) crimes committed by Zio-supremacists.

    • Brewer
      Brewer on June 7, 2016, 7:04 pm

      ” Or, jewish graves dug up with tombstones used for outhouse walls and street paving.”

      I tend to grieve more over the thousands of fresh tombstones laid over Gazan graves after Israel “mows the lawn”.

  2. Walker
    Walker on June 6, 2016, 4:03 pm

    What a story, Iris! Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Boris
    Boris on June 7, 2016, 8:52 am

    Jews in Israel were prohibited from praying at the Western Wall. Now everybody has access to their holy sites.

    “… I met a family who offered to guide me…” I imagine they were not doing it for free.

    • annie
      annie on June 7, 2016, 11:12 am

      boris, obviously “everybody” does not have access to their holy sites. this is either an outright lie of willfully ignorance. and your imaginings reveal you know nothing about palestinian culture.

      • Boris
        Boris on June 8, 2016, 12:16 pm

        annie, let me spell it out for you:

        Today Muslims can pray at Muslim sites, Christians and Christian, Jews at Jewish.

        As far as “everybody” , if an individual is a security risk – like a Hamas terrorist or an editor on Mondoweiss – than she may be prohibited from entering Israel and, thus, unable to reach their religious target.


      • annie
        annie on June 8, 2016, 12:31 pm

        As far as “everybody” , if an individual is a security risk – like a Hamas terrorist or an editor on Mondoweiss

        thanks for confirming your original statement was a lie. thousands of people are routinely denied access at the whims of the zionist regime.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 8, 2016, 12:48 pm

        , “if an individual is a security risk – like a Hamas terrorist or an editor on Mondoweiss”

        All they have to do is say “Horowitz” and they’re ‘in like Flynn’!

        Anyway, I think that will be a wonderful development, I can’t wait till Israel interrogates Jewish visitors as hard as they do Palestinians! Gotta keep out the mosers!

  4. DavidDaoud
    DavidDaoud on June 7, 2016, 12:57 pm

    Iris, did you eventually go live in that Kibbutz in Israel and meet the South African Jew you mentioned?

    • annie
      annie on June 7, 2016, 1:13 pm

      you may have to buy the book to find out david

      Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: My Journey in Palestine and Israel — release date oct 2016

  5. Steve Grover
    Steve Grover on June 7, 2016, 10:02 pm

    I celebrated Jerusalem Day by going to the Chicago Jewish Festival and see Shuli Natan sing Yerushalyim Shel Zahav there.

    • James North
      James North on June 7, 2016, 10:51 pm

      Mooser: You went too far this time. Please close your Steve “Grober” sock puppet fake account.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 7, 2016, 11:46 pm

        “You went too far this time. Please close your Steve “Grober” sock puppet fake account.”

        Oh, crap, I knew I would, sooner or later. You are right, a very, very ugly side of me, comes out when I post as “Steve Grover”.
        Go ahead, delete my “Steve Grover” account, if you think it best.

      • LeaNder
        LeaNder on June 8, 2016, 5:43 am

        Come on, James, took a short look. No harm meant but: Consider me unconvinced.

        Weren’t you obsessed with Mooser’s identity too many years ago by now? Or was that Phil? I vaguely remember I didn’t like the image produced …

        New solution to an old problem? Or is it based on writing style matching? Or more about missing seriousness?

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 8, 2016, 11:57 am

        “LeaNder” There’s nothing else to be done. If the Mondo Editors or Mods don’t close the “Steve Grover” account, I am completely incapable of doing it myself.

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover on June 8, 2016, 12:03 pm

        MW has assured me that they won’t give me the boot until I catch up to you in number of comments.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 8, 2016, 12:54 pm

        “MW has assured me…”

        Sure, “Steve”, what else do the pink elephants tell you?

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover on June 8, 2016, 1:20 pm

        Thankfully my “pink elephants” don’t tell me to be anti-Zionist and pro BDS like your’s do.

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