6 days that changed Israel forever: The aftermath (Part 3)


The 1967 War happened more than 50 years ago, yet its legacy still reverberates throughout the world. Israelis were convinced they were facing another Holocaust. Instead, they achieved one of the most unlikely and legendary military victories in history. This miniseries explores the lead-up and legacy of the Six-Day War.

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Welcome back to our three-part series on the Six Day War. If you haven’t listened to the first two chapters, you might want to do that now, since this final one is going to be pretty confusing otherwise. 

IDF paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem shortly after its capture. The soldiers in the foreground are (from left) Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat, and Haim Oshri. (Photo: David Rubinger/National Photo Collection of Israel/Wikipedia Commons)

We’ve talked about the lead-up to the war: the excruciating wait for what many Israelis believed would be another Holocaust. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s stammering speech. IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin’s mental breakdown. The chilling broadcasts from Egypt and Syria, threatening the end of the Jewish state. (To quote Nasser again, “We intend to open a general assault against Israel. This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.” And Ahmad al-Shuqayri, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), who said that “no Jew would remain alive.” Ideas, statements, proclamations, which are often forgotten in the annals of history.

We talked about the war itself. The unexpected success of the preemptive attack on Egypt’s air force. The sweeping victory in the Sinai, in Gaza, in the West Bank. The moment that Israeli forces wound their way through cramped alleys that no Jew had walked for 19 years, of reaching the Western Wall at last. The final battle for the Golan Heights, which assured the security of Israel’s north. 

But those victories had a cost. Israeli soldiers were cut down by the dozens. The Arab armies measured their casualties in the thousands. A tragic series of miscommunications killed 34 Americans aboard the USS Liberty. Even as the war raged, young soldiers began to contend with the jarring reality of occupying a hostile population. Perhaps the highest price was exacted from the Palestinians. They hadn’t started the war. They hadn’t even participated. And yet, hundreds of thousands found themselves refugees once more, while roughly one million came under an Israeli occupation that would last for decades.

Our final episode of the series, and of the season, will explore this and other new realities. Like the change in Diaspora Jewry. The anger of the USSR and the Arab world. The issue of Jerusalem, and the revitalization of the Religious Zionist movement. The hardening of Palestinian resolve, and the ever-growing divide between two people who have to share one land. Israelis and Palestinians alike owe much of their modern identity – and thus their narratives – to the war of 1967. And it’s my hope that in telling this story, we might inch closer to seeing each other a little more clearly. And quoting myself from episode 1 of this mini-series, I must say…this IS the most important episode EVER.

Chapter 3: Iron and Gold

June 11, 1967.

They’d done it.

They’d won.

Six days before, ordinary Israelis had been digging graves for the coming apocalypse. Jews around the world had flooded the country with donations, supplies, even offers to host Israeli children in a kind of Kindertransport 2.0. No one had to say the word Holocaust. It haunted every decision, every discussion, every debate.

But the worst hadn’t come to pass. And from all the way in 2024, nearly 60 years later, I wonder: What’s the opposite of a Holocaust?

Because the victory of 1967 went well beyond the dizzying relief of not dying. This was Biblical. This was the Exodus from Egypt, when enslaved Israelites became a free people. This was King David, praising God: “הָפַ֣כְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי֮ לְמָח֢וֹל לִ֥֫י פִּתַּ֥חְתָּ שַׂקִּ֑י וַֽתְּאַזְּרֵ֥נִי שִׂמְחָֽה׃: You turned my lament into dancing. You undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy.” This was Queen Esther averting the genocide of her people, turning a day of mourning into a day of joy. This was the inverse of annihilation. This was a national rebirth.

These Biblical comparisons aren’t accidental. And they weren’t the exclusive domain of the religious. IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was as secular as they came, but when he was asked to pick a name for the war, his choice recalled the miracle of creation. God had created the world in under a week. Israel created a new reality in the same amount of time. So The Six Day War beat out titles like The War of Salvation or The War of the Sons of Light. (Nerd corner alert: The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness was the literal name of one of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the caves of Qumran only a few years before the war, proving, once again, that ancient Judeans went hard.)

No, the Six Day War fit. In the same amount of time it took God to make the world, the Jewish people had remade themselves. Only this time, the voice of God was the roar of a fighter jet and the rumble of a tank. And even the most stereotypical, no-nonsense sabras – who manned a tank one day and went back to work the next – understood that nothing would ever be the same.

We’ve talked before about the State of Israel’s mythmaking project. Early Israelis fought not just for a state, but for a new identity. Or rather, for a reclaimed identity. As they saw it, two thousand years of diaspora had turned once-proud Lions of Judah into sheep. But returned to their ancestral homeland, these so-called New Jews would scour the weak-kneed, trembling Diaspora Jew from their history. 

There was just one problem. The story of the brave, strong New Jew was inconveniently complicated by the fact that the Jewish state was in an unmistakably precarious position. Yes, Israel had won the war in 1948. But 19 years later, they were still fighting, still threatened with annihilation. Until June of 1967, they’d been living in a country that was nine miles wide at its narrowest point. The Jordanian army could have literally cut it in half, if they’d just gotten their act together.

By June 11, 1967, that existential fear was gone. No one, no one, could accuse the Jewish people of weakness anymore. The sabra was staring at his foreign-born counterpart with an expression that said I told you so. The battle for Israel’s identity was over. The New Jew had won. 

But his victory didn’t just transform Israel. It carried over to his brothers in the diaspora. 

Jews in Western democracies were already living in the kind of freedom, comfort, and safety that their great-grandparents could not have imagined. And yet, before June of 1967, they did their best to blend in. They tucked their tzitziot, their ritual fringes, into their pants and hid their kippot under a cap and introduced themselves as Mark or Henry or Leslie, instead of Moshe or Haim or Leah. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein – the Rabbi Emeritus of the Modern Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, and a towering figure in the Modern Orthodox world – remembered that “We never wore a kipa outside. I went to Columbia College and I never saw a kipa the whole time I was there. There was one guy who wore a hat.” And, to be clear, they weren’t ashamed of being Jews. They were just… not interested in drawing undue attention to their difference. 

The Six Day War changed all of that.

Rabbi Haskell Lookstein’s father, Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, noted poetically that ““We used to walk around like question marks. After 1967, we started walking like exclamation points.”

Jews no longer sought to hide their difference. They wore it with pride, for everyone to see. No more shoving their yarmulkes into their pockets, only taking them out for shul. No more tucking in their ritual fringes, or tzitzit. And though I don’t know exactly when American Jews started giving their kids exclusively Jewish names – like, I don’t know, Noam or Rivky, to use two totally hypothetical examples – I’d put money on the hypothesis that this trend started after 1967. (Nerd corner alert: The war coincided perfectly with the rise of the ethnic identity movement, during which Black and Chicano Americans publicly reclaimed and celebrated their own minority identities. Ethnic pride was in, and American Jews were standing tall.)

Jewish history had never seemed so relevant. The prophet Joshua, King David, the Maccabees – these once-mythical figures now had real-life analogues in Moshe Dayan, in Yitzhak Rabin, in the IAF, in every unnamed paratrooper and tank commander and sniper. Israel had just given Jews all over the world something to be proud of. Here was unquestionable proof that the Jewish people could do more than survive, as they had in 1948. Here was proof that they were strong enough to thrive. American Jews were ready. Between 1967 and 1973, more than 31,000 of them moved to Israel – far more than had come to Israel between 1948 and 1967.

But not all Jews were lucky enough to wear their pride publicly, or to move freely. 

Norman J.W. Goda wrote an excellent piece in the Sapir Journal (obviously, link in the show notes), where he points out that during the lead-up to 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle commented that Jews have, quote, “remained as they have always been, an elite people, self-assured and domineering” and that Israel was, quote, “a warlike state resolved to aggrandize itself,” which absolutely shocked French Jews. And while the Soviets restocked the Syrian and Egyptian airfleets, De Gaulle issued an embargo on weapons sales to Israel, which particularly hurt as France had been Israel’s chief supplier of military aircraft.

On June 10, 1967, the Soviet Union broke off all diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, outraged that the Jewish state had triumphed over two Soviet allies, destroying billions of dollars worth of Soviet weaponry in the process. The Kremlin took their anger out on their Jewish citizens, because of course Soviet Jews were personally responsible for the actions of a country thousands of miles away. The Soviets had been running a highly successful antisemitic and anti-Zionist disinformation campaign since the 1950s. After 1967, they stepped up their game. 

For more on how Jews in the USSR were mistreated post-1967, see our episode about Soviet Jewry. (Link in the show notes, as always.) Suffice to say, it was rough. Very rough.

But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and despite the USSR’s best efforts, Jewish pride flourished. The Six Day War turned Soviet Jews into the world’s staunchest Zionists, ready to risk everything for the sake of religious and political freedom. As Natan Sharansky, whose story we cover in that same episode, later wrote, quote:

“When I grew up in the Soviet Union, I knew that I was Jewish because it was written in the ID of my parents. But there was nothing positive in this word… The only Jewish thing in my youth was antisemitism.”

But, he said in another piece, and this is so, so powerful, ready for this? Quote: “The Zionist idea gave me – and millions of others – a meaningful identity. In June 1967, when I was nineteen, the call from Jerusalem – ‘The Temple Mount is in Our Hands – penetrated the Iron Curtain. Democratic Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War… , inspired many of us all over the world to become active participants in Jewish history…Forging a mystical link with our people, we discovered identity, or as we call it “peoplehood.” Suddenly, we Soviet Jews, Jews of silence, robbed of our heritage by the Soviet regime, realized there is a country that called us its children.”

Soviet Jews weren’t the only Diaspora community to bear the brunt of their governments’ rage. For weeks, Arab leaders had promised their citizens a crushing victory. Now, they had to explain – both to their people and to their backers in the Soviet Union – why a nation of Jews had so thoroughly defeated them. 

But they had no satisfying explanation. Arab leaders were not… amazing at self-reflection. Each cast around for someone else to blame. King Hussein gloomily blamed “Allah’s will.” (Nerd corner alert: For what it’s worth, the chief scholar of a major Islamic university echoed this sentiment, saying, quote: “God has punished… us that we may go back to him. He has afflicted us so that we may come [back] to him.” Judaism often does the same thing in the face of defeat. The Jewish holiday liturgy contains this cheery phrase: Umipnei chataeinu, galeinu me’artzeinu. Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land. So it’s possible that King Hussein wasn’t simply invoking Allah because it’s impossible to argue with the Big Guy. At least some people used the defeat as an opportunity for introspection.)

Syrian leaders, however, were not among them. They took the hilarious tack of insisting that actually, they had won the war. After all, they claimed, Israel went into the war intending to topple the Syrian government. (You guys know that I am all for viewpoint diversity, but less into lies. And this was, of course, a lie.) But Assad refused to let anyone challenge this fantasy, even reportedly ordering the execution of a junior officer who was asking too many questions.

The biggest cope, as the kids say, came from Nasser. By day two of the war, Nasser was forced to admit that Egypt was losing. Badly. His tanks were smoldering. Over a thousand Egyptian soldiers were dead or taken prisoner. He needed to come up with a reason why. He chose to go with a conspiracy theory that US President Lyndon B. Johnson would later name “the Big Lie.”

It went something like this: Israel was incapable of defeating the Arab states by itself. Clearly, it was being helped by US and British forces! Imperialist powers were colluding behind the world’s back to prop up the Zionist regime! To be fair, Israel had colluded with France and Britain back in 1956, during the Suez Crisis. But there was absolutely zero evidence that this was happening again.

Not that it mattered. By day three of the war, the larger Arab world was in on the lie. To be fair, it wasn’t particularly difficult to convince them. Aeschylus had it right a couple thousand years ago when he said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Remember, we’re in the age of peak Arab nationalism, which was heavily encouraged by the Soviet Union’s financial, political, and military support, not to mention its prolific anti-Zionist propaganda machine.

Whatever they believed, the Arab states were losing. So they took out their anger on their Jews. Hundreds of Jews were imprisoned in Egypt. Pogroms roiled Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco. Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria placed their Jewish populations under house arrest, imprisoning and fining community leaders. By the end of the war, dozens of Jews had been murdered and thousands expelled from their homes, having been stripped of all their assets.

The King of Morocco and the President of Tunisia were the only Arab leaders to speak out against the violence. In most cases, the mobs had the explicit approval of the authorities.

The consequences lasted well beyond the six days of war. Hundreds of Egyptian Jews languished in prison for months, as the Israeli government worked desperately to free them. (Jews kidnapped from their homes, suffering in exile while Israel tries to save them? Sounds familiar.) . If Jewish life in Arab countries had been uncomfortable before 1967, it was now near intolerable. 

Does this feel resonant to you, in the wake of 10/7? True: no one is imprisoning Jews because of the current war in Israel. No one is stripping our assets or putting us under house arrest. And thank God for that. But just as they were in 1967, synagogues have been targeted. Jews have been assaulted, harassed, and even killed. University students have come up against the violent fury of a mob. 

And yet, among the pleasures of hosting this podcast is the near-constant reminder that there is nothing that the Jewish people cannot survive. We’ve faced all this before, only to come out stronger. I know we have nerd corners, but do you think that counts as our very first encouragement and positivity corner? We’ll work on the name…

Diaspora Jews were not the only ones displaced.  Yes, it’s time to talk about one of the most difficult parts of the 1967 war. For Palestinians, 1948 had been a naqba, a catastrophe. 1967 was a naqsa, meaning the “defeat” or the “setback.” (For Palestinians, history literally rhymes.) Some 300,000 Palestinians were now refugees, nearly half of them for the second time in 19 years. Some saw their homes destroyed in front of their eyes. Like the 650 Palestinians who lived in the ancient Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. (Nerd corner alert: you might know that the Old City of Jerusalem is divided into Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, and Christian quarters, which makes the Mughrabi Quarter a mathematical impossibility. So I guess it was more like an extension of the Muslim Quarter. Anyway.)

The Mughrabi neighborhood lay directly in front of the Western Wall, which made it difficult to access the site. I believe that if they’d tried, Israeli authorities could have figured out a solution that didn’t involve bulldozing an 800-year-old neighborhood.

But they didn’t try. 

It’s unclear exactly who gave the order. On Saturday, June 10th – before the war had even officially ended! – the neighborhood’s residents were given three hours notice that their homes were about to be demolished. They refused until the first bulldozer struck, toppling a building. One resident later remarked: “The entire neighborhood was full of houses, and people felt depressed because these houses weren’t just their property, but also the property of their ancestors, from 800 years ago—or more…” Nearly a thousand years of history, bulldozed in two days, in order to make room for the Temple Mount Plaza in front of the Western Wall. 

This is a tough story to tell. Because as a Jew, I’m amazed and grateful for Israel’s existence. For the reunification of Jerusalem. For my ability to visit the ancient Western Wall. At the same time, I hate that an entire neighborhood was sacrificed to give me that privilege. But I also think it’s important for us to confront these facts. 

And amid the celebrations and the wild, raucous joy, some Israelis were beginning to grapple with the reality of a newly united Jerusalem. The celebrated writer Amos Oz was nine years old when his city was divided. He’d been born into the British Mandate. Raised in a city split in half. (Or, as he put it, quote: “All my childhood years were spent in the proximity of streets that must not be approached, dangerous alleyways, scars of war damage, no man’s land, gun slits in the Arab Legion’s fortifications, where occasionally a red Arab headdress could be glimpsed.”)

And now, at the age of 28, he, quote, “visited places that years of dreaming had crystallized as symbols in my mind, and found that they were simply places where people lived.” And yet, quote: “People live there, strangers. I do not understand their language, they are living where they always lived and I am the stranger…Their eyes hate me…I am walking its streets clutching a submachine gun, like a figure from one of my childhood nightmares: an alien man in an alien city.”

Most Israelis didn’t share this sentiment. Yes, they’d been barred from half of their capital for nearly two decades. But where they’d once sung songs of longing, they now sang songs of return. Just one month before the war, during Israel’s 19th Independence Day, a songwriter named Naomi Shemer wrote the song that would come to define the city. Maybe you know it. It’s called Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. On Israel’s 19th independence day, the song was mournful, ending with a wistful refrain, borrowed from the Bible: if I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.

The second verse read:

How the cisterns have dried, the marketplace is empty. No one goes to the Temple Mount in the Old City. And in the caves in the mountains, winds are howling, and no one descends to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho. If I forget you, Jerusalem…

But after the victory of the war, Shemer added a third, triumphant verse that often replaces the previous one during performances of the song.

We have returned to the cisterns, and to the market-place. A shofar calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City. And in the caves in the mountain, thousands of suns shine. We will once again descend to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho.

It’s gorgeous. And it became a kind of unofficial anthem, for the city and for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who flocked to the Western Wall in the weeks after the war. More than 200,000 came for the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot alone. That’s nearly ten percent of Israeli Jews, crowding a relatively small space, singing and crying.

But Jerusalem was not all gold.

Singer-songwriter Meir Ariel was 25 years old, serving as a reservist in the 55th Paratrooper Brigade that battled the Jordanians for control of Jerusalem. He was not only living history, but making it. And yet, his song for Jerusalem was very different. He called it Yerushalayim shel Barzel, Jerusalem of Iron.

It’s… awful. I mean, it’s beautifully written. But the words are difficult to read. Thanks to Sefaria and A.Z. Forman for the translation – link in the show notes.

Jerusalem of iron
Of dark and lead, can you not see?
No wailing at your wall now!
We set you free!

Our shelled battalion charged on forward
All blood and smoke and guns
As mothers ran out grieving, leaving
The corpses of their sons.

Lips bitten bloody, our battalion
Kept fighting, pushing through,
Till proud above that holy graveyard
The flag of David flew.

And he wasn’t just singing about Israeli casualties. 

The sniper nests have all been silenced
All the king’s men laid low,
So we can go to the Dead Sea now
By way of Jericho.

It’s a heartbreaking anti-war song, but it’s not entirely cynical. The last stanza ends with a cry for peace:

O my Jerusalem of Gold
Of lead and iron and of dreams
Within your walls forever
Let there be peace

It’s the kind of song that could have been written about the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the First Lebanon War of 1982 (link in the show notes for more on those). But the miraculous Six Day War? The war that demonstrated to so many that God was with the Jewish people? When I first learned about this song, it blew my mind. It’s not sung publicly. It’s not celebratory. It contradicts the narrative of triumph, of righteousness. It asks us was this sacrifice worth it? All these bodies, in exchange for the ruins of the Temple?

It’s the kind of question that only a soldier could ask amidst all the triumph and celebration. It’s painful and difficult and necessary for us students of history to consider who sacrificed, and what they gave up, to build the Israel we know today. This tender, complicated space is where reconciliation starts. Both within Israeli society, and with the Palestinians. 

But reconciliation can’t be one sided.

And let’s just say it was not top of mind for most of the Arab world. A few months after the war, the Arab League gathered in Sudan to discuss their response to Israel’s victory. Rather than focus on realistic options, they doubled down on their rejection of the Jewish state, producing a resolution known colloquially as “The Three Nos.” There would be No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiation with Israel. As Abba Eban said later, it was “first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.” (That guy. A real way with words.)

Meanwhile, 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank looked around like, ummm. What about us? For the past 19 years, the Arab world had been championing their cause – in word, if not in deed. But Israel’s victory made two things devastatingly clear.

One: The Arab world was in no position to defeat the Jewish state militarily. And
Two: Arab leaders were either unwilling or incapable of advocating effectively for the Palestinians. If they wanted to get anything done, they were on their own.

The PLO already existed by this point, but after 1967, they really began to step up. By 1974, during an Arab summit in Morocco, the host country introduced the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” – a position they’d worked hard to assume. Their struggle was no longer part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict – especially as Arab states began making peace with Israel. No, the Palestinian movement was ready to take matters into its own hands. Throughout the next decades, their attacks would become both more brutal and more sophisticated. (Link in the show notes for some examples.)

Palestinians weren’t the only Arabs who felt that Arab nationalism had failed. After 1967, across the Arab world, ultra-conservative Islamic movements began to step into the vacuum it left behind. The scholar Hussein Ibish notes that both secular nationalism and Islamism, quote, “continue to share an underlying framework of political attitudes… the same sets of enemies, the same sense of grievances, the same empty promises.”


Israelis, too, experienced a religious revival in the aftermath of the war. One with a distinctly nationalist flavor.

The Religious Zionist movement has existed since the 1800s, though a form of religious nationalism is embedded in Judaism’s very fabric. At its core, the movement centers on three tenets: the People of Israel, the Land of Israel, and the Torah of Israel. In other words, Religious Zionists believe that the Jewish people are commanded to live a Torah-observant life in Israel. What that means in practice is a whole other debate. 

Before Israel’s miraculous victory in June of 1967, Religious Zionists, and their rabbinic leadership, had little to say about territorial expansion. For one, they were focused on surviving the constant attacks of their Arab neighbors and holding on to the land they did have. Only after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza did the movement begin to consider what territorial expansion might mean. 

After all, hadn’t God promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish people? And hadn’t God instructed them, explicitly, to conquer it from the seven nations already living there? 

The Israelis had not entered the Six Day War on the basis of a Biblical command. But how could the Religious Zionist camp ignore the parallels? This was the land of their ancestors, back under their control. What was their victory in the war, if not obvious proof of divine intervention? They’d just been given an unexpected spiritual gift. It was now their duty to use it as He intended.

But what exactly did God intend?

For some, the answer was clear. Only a month before, on Israel’s 19th Independence Day, one of the foremost rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, had lamented, quote “Where is our Hebron – have we forgotten her? Where is our Shechem, our Jericho – where?…They divided the land of God! I couldn’t go outside to dance and rejoice. The true Israel is Israel redeemed, the kingdom of Israel and the armies of Israel, a people in its wholeness and not in a diaspora in exile.”

These writings would become the basis of the Gush Emunim movement, which translates to “the bloc of the faithful.” It was kind of a Jewish revivalist movement, rooted in the idea of settling the Land of Israel – including the newly-conquered West Bank. Though it wouldn’t officially come to life until 1974, the Six Day War was its spiritual beginning. Like all movements, it was ideologically diverse. In fact, 20% of its supporters were secular, drawn to its fervor and nationalism and Jewish pride. A fringe element believed that settling the West Bank would usher in the Messianic Age. And others? They simply believed that this was their land. Or else it was God’s land. Either way, it was no longer divided, which meant that the Jewish people had the right and the imperative to reclaim the entirety of their ancient home. And that meant building Jewish communities in the places where Joshua had conquered; where Bar Kokhba had made his doomed last stand against the Roman Empire; where the bones of our ancestors lie.

You might know these communities by their loaded, controversial name: settlements. If we’re free associating, the word settlement calls up the word settler, which calls up settler colonialism, which calls up theft, appropriation, taking something that isn’t yours. But to the religious Zionist movement, that’s impossible. God had made a promise thousands of years before. In 1967, he fulfilled it.  So, how can you “settle” what is yours? And I struggle with the question of these so-called settlements – or, if you prefer, these Jewish communities in the ancient Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria. Because on the one hand, I don’t argue with Jewish history. These lands are seeded with evidence of the Jewish story. Ma’arat HaMachpelah, the Cave of the Patriarchs. Kever Rachel, Rachel’s Tomb. Kever Yosef, Joseph’s Tomb.

 But some scholars – most notably Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz – cautioned against this romantic view of Jewish history. Leibovitz, who was Orthodox – though to be fair, Leibovitz is his own brand of Judaism and Jewish thought and for those who know him, they love him or can’t stand him…very hard to be in between with this guy, but one thing I will say…the guy always makes me think – and he was identified in many ways as a religious zionist for a long time.By the early 50s, however, he began to shy away from the label, and by the end of the decade, he argued for a complete separation of religion and state. In a 1968 essay called The Territories (and note the year, 1968), he wrote that, quote:

“religious arguments for annexation of the territories… are only an expression… of the transformation of the Jewish religion into a camouflage for Israeli nationalism…The conquest of the land by the army of the State of Israel is a great and impressive national achievement for every nationally conscious Jew… However, the conquest itself has no religious significance…The land of Israel is the Holy Land and the Temple Mount is a holy place only by virtue of the mitzvot linked to these locations.”

His obituary in the New York Times reads, in part, quote: “Soon after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Mr. Leibowitz began warning that the occupation of the territories would turn Israel into an agent of repression, whose citizens would be employed in growing numbers to police the Palestinians. Israel had to ‘liberate itself from this curse of dominating another people,’ he said, arguing that prolonged Israeli rule over the Palestinians would ‘bring about a catastrophe for the Jewish people as a whole.’”

There are two simultaneous truths. Truth number 1 is that the conquest of this land was remarkable, unprecedented, and redemptive and the wildest ways possible. And, there were many Palestinians living there…who did not want this. Let’s ask, how could Israelis safely and morally build new communities among 1.2 million Palestinians who viewed them as occupiers and thieves? Soon after the war, Golda Meir reportedly asked Levi Eshkol what Israel should quote-unquote “do” with the 1.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. His response, though clearly light-hearted, carried a barbed truth. “You want the dowry, but you don’t want the bride.”

The proverbial bride, for her part, didn’t particularly want to be married off either. (Have I beaten this metaphor to death yet?) The Palestinians hadn’t asked for any of this. They weren’t broadcasting genocidal rhetoric over Radio Cairo. They weren’t massing troops along the Sinai. They weren’t even fighting! And yet here they were, saddled with the consequences of a war they hadn’t started. Now, they faced a “choice,” and I’m putting that in quotes because both options were horrible. They could live as refugees in squalid camps, their homes lost forever. Or they could sneak back into the West Bank or Gaza, with the help of smugglers, only to live under Israeli occupation.

And I want to pause for a second to define the word “occupation.”  International law, whether or not you agree with it, does not recognize the sovereignty of a conquering state, and, quote, “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” In other words, to be occupied is to live under a foreign military, without representation or much in the way of formally enshrined civil rights.

Many of the 1.2 million Palestinians now living under Israeli rule had no citizenship… anywhere. Egypt controlled Gaza from 48-67, but had never offered citizenship to the Palestinians there. Jordan had offered citizenship to the Palestinians of the West Bank – but many still lived in the same refugee camps where they’d landed after 1948. Now that they were living under Israeli control, they were subject to a martial law system cobbled together from Jordanian and British Mandate laws, which left them in a kind of permanent limbo. They had no power of assembly and no right to organize – particularly for causes that Israeli authorities deemed “hostile.” (PLO meetings, for example, fell under this description.)

And yet, Israeli authorities were instructed to do all they could to make the occupation “invisible.” They retained the structures that Jordan had put in place during the past 19 years. Palestinian mayors, village leaders, and civil servants remained in their positions, running daily life much as they had before. In fact, Jordan even continued to pay the salaries of any Palestinian involved in state-run institutions – even though the West Bank was not technically a part of any state.

Invisible power structures separated Palestinians and Israelis. But in 1967 they had not yet etched themselves onto the landscape. From 1967 until the Second Intifada, Palestinian workers crossed into Israel freely in the tens of thousands. Israelis, for their part, frequently visited Palestinian towns. It’s hard to imagine now, but some Israeli teenagers learned to drive in Gazan driving schools. Israeli families came to the West Bank to do their shopping, where the prices were lower. Palestinian taxis ferried Jews to their homes in pre-67 Israel. And despite differences in political status, Jews and Arabs sometimes struck up friendships, celebrating each other’s weddings and holidays.

In his amazing memoir, Once Upon A Country, the Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh reflects on his childhood in Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem. Between 1948 and 1967, his home was a war zone, with all of the ugliness and divisions that go along with that status. Here is where you’re allowed to go. Here is where you’ll be shot. Here is our territory. That, across the barbed wire, is theirs. But paradoxically, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem first made their way into Israeli hands, much of this ugliness disappeared from the landscape. Nusseibeh writes that, quote, “it was miraculous to see how the barbed wire and shoot-to-kill zones, things I had lived with since childhood, were gone. It was only then that it dawned on me how the war had ended the division of my country. Defeat had given me back my homeland.”

This rosy optimism didn’t last, of course. An invisible occupation is still an occupation, and martial law is harsh and unyielding. But I think that the two sides could maintain this relative quiet because both believed the situation was temporary. The general feeling among the IDF leadership, based on their experience in the Suez in 1956, was that Israel wouldn’t hang on to the West Bank and Gaza for more than a few months. David Ben Gurion, for example, called to return the land to Jordan and Egypt immediately, without asking for anything in return.

For once, he and the UN were in perfect agreement. At the end of 1967, the Security Council had unanimously adopted Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from territories gained in 1967, and for all states in the region to finally make nice with one another. I don’t want to shock you, but that didn’t happen.

In any event, Israelis were absolutely not interested in giving up Jerusalem. Even the most dovish voices believed that the eastern part of Jerusalem, or East Jerusalem, with its 44,000 Palestinians, should be part of the Jewish state. In fact, when a sociological research institute surveyed Jewish Israelis on questions like Should Israel hold on to the Old City? in the week after the war, 94% of Israeli Jews answered yes.

But when Israeli authorities offered the Palestinians of East Jerusalem a chance to apply for citizenship, they declined, less than thrilled by the state’s dismantling of the Arab municipality and the deportation of the mayor to Jordan. Ever since, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have occupied an uneasy limbo, somewhere between full-fledged citizens and unwelcome guests in their own homes. (You can hear more about their complicated status in our Sheikh Jarrah episode – link in the show notes.)

The status of Palestinians wasn’t the only issue. There was also the whole Temple Mount-gate – the most contested 35 acres in the entire world. The Israeli paratroopers who entered the Old City on June 7th, 1967, had hoisted an Israeli flag over the Temple Mount: a triumphant cry to the world that the Jews had come to take back their ancient birthright. But Moshe Dayan, who was watching the scene through binoculars, immediately radioed the paratroopers’ commander to take the flag down, lest he set the whole Middle East on fire. The commander reluctantly complied.

You see, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam. And since 1929, it’s been used as a flashpoint and a rallying cry for the Palestinian cause. (Link in the show notes for more on that.) Dayan was well aware that Israel needed to tread lightly if it didn’t want to find itself fighting some kind of holy war. So he did something he really, really wasn’t supposed to. He made another unilateral decision, without asking for permission or waiting for instruction.

He took it upon himself to formally return the entire complex to its Muslim administrators, aka the Waqf, signing away the right of Jewish people to pray at their holiest site. And plenty were outraged, whether or not they were religious. How dare Dayan make this decision? But Dayan recognized something to consider, and he felt he had to make the call quickly. . The Temple Mount is a religious symbol, yes. But it’s also a nationalist one that distills every aspect of the conflict into one 35-acre complex. 

So as painful as it might be, I understand why Dayan conceded the most powerful symbol in Judaism. Because his message would underpin Israeli policy for decades. Peace is more important than symbols. Than holy sites. And yes, than land.

It’s perhaps an obvious position for a secular person to take. But even though the religious bloc disagreed with his position on the Temple Mount, they were surprisingly united on the question of ceding land for peace.

The most respected voices in the Religious Zionist camp agreed that if the Arabs were willing to make peace, it was not only okay to give up the land, it was a religious imperative. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik argued, quote, “It is prohibited for rabbis, or anyone else, to declare in the name of Torah that not even a single parcel of land should be returned if a stable peace could save the lives of thousands and tens of thousands of our brethren who dwell in Zion.” Of course, there were many who disagreed, but a surprising number of rabbis agreed with him. Was it a mitzvah to settle the land? It was. No mitzvah could supersede the existential safety of the Jewish people. There were few prices too high to pay for peace.

But as religious figures debated this largely theoretical question, the Israeli government only allowed but incentivized citizens to build – or in some cases REbuild – communities in the West Bank and Gaza. (By the way, this was true of both left-wing and right-wing governments.) Some, like the settlements now dotting the Jordan Valley, were strategically placed – a first line of defense against still-hostile neighbors. But others were a defiant signal to the entire world that Israel was here to stay. If Israel’s neighbors wanted this land back, they’d need to give up on their stubborn insistence that the Jewish state would just disappear.

There was no better symbol of that defiance than the re-built community of Gush Etzion. Maybe you remember the story of Etzion bloc from our series on Israeli independence. Here’s a refresher:

[patch in Convoy of 35 episode]

And now, in 67? It’s been 19 years. The Jordanians no longer held the Gush. And the children who had once lived there – well, they were all grown up now. And they were going to take back their home. 

And yet, for all their defiance and triumphalism, and despite their sense of history slotting neatly into place, Israelis were and are just… people. 

As Sari Nusseibeh reflects in his memoir, quote: “I was shocked most by their simple clothes and boorish gesticulations, like peddlers in the old city bazaar. How could such a badly dressed, ill-mannered people, who couldn’t even stand in line for a cab defeat all the Arab armies in the same number of days it took God to create the cosmos?”

First of all, Sari, shade. That description never fails to make me laugh. But his next sentence breaks my heart. “Their working class appearance actually boosted my spirit. Just as I had suspected since listening to the Beatles over enemy radio waves, they were normal people just like us.”

Normal people just like us.

How different could the world have been if we all saw each other that way? If Israel could have figured out how to offer West Bank Palestinians a chance at a decent life? If the Palestinians could have taken it?

What if, what if, what if. 

So… that’s the story of 1967. And like we said at the start, we could have spent an entire season on this. Instead, we concentrated on the points that we thought were most important. Here are six fast facts, two pulled from each episode of this mini-series.

  1. The Arab states had been scrapping with Israel for 19 years. Tensions bubbled through the summer of 1967, and Egypt threatened Israel with a war of extermination. Syria was all in, but Jordan had to be dragged along for the ride.
  2. In late May, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, effectively strangling Israeli trade. This was an act of war. But the Jewish state lacked the powerful backers or sheer size of the Arab world. Their only hope of winning lay in a preemptive strike.
  3. On June 5, 1967, the IAF launched one of the most audacious campaigns in military history. In a matter of hours, they destroyed the Egyptian air force, and the victories kept piling up.
  4. Within six days, the Jewish state had not only won the war by, you know, continuing to exist. It nearly quadrupled in size, controlling the Sinai, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Israel finally had defensible borders – not to mention valuable bargaining chips for future peace negotiations.
  5. Most importantly, for the first time in 2,000 years, the historic capital of the Jewish people was under Israeli control. Many were outraged when the Temple Mount was handed to Jordanian religious authorities for “administration.” Still, that didn’t cancel out the jubilation among the Jewish people, whether in Israel or beyond.
  6. The war upended Israeli and Palestinian society. The Religious Zionist movement gained prominence. Israel now administered a population of 1.2 million Palestinians, whose nationalist resolve hardened in the wake of ’67. Diaspora Jews felt a new sense of pride – though some were persecuted for Israel’s victory. Sixty years on, we are still grappling with the war’s legacy. 

Those are your six fast facts, but here’s one enduring lesson as I see it.

I’m not really a film guy, yes, I’ve seen The Godfather…Stop asking me… but I think the world owes a debt to the legendary Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, for giving us the name for one of the most fascinating aspects of human nature. In his movie Rashomon, four separate people witness a murder. Unfortunately, every single one of them remembers it differently. 


Well, memories are unreliable. Perspectives can shift depending on where you’re standing. There’s no such thing as what really happened. Because what really happened depends on where you’re standing. On your self-interest or your ideology or your biases. We call this unreliability the Rashomon Effect. A perfect example: Israelis call these six days The Six Day War. For much of the Arab world, it’s the Naqsa, aka the setback. Some ideologues claim that Israel started the war to expand its borders, though I don’t think there’s much historical evidence for that. That’s why others – like me – start the story very differently. 

But lately, I’ve been wondering whether the Rashomon effect can apply to one person’s perspective. Because the more research rabbit holes I fall into, the more perspectives I learn to hold. I see the same event, over and over, from multiple angles. And so many of them become true – even as they contradict one another.

And that’s why a holiday like Yom Yerushalayim is tough for me.

“Jerusalem Day,” as it’s called in English, celebrates the day that East Jerusalem and the Old City came under Israeli control. On the secular calendar: June 7, 1967. On the Hebrew calendar: 28 Iyar, 5727. It’s a holiday with multiple dimensions: religious, national, historical. And I want to celebrate all of those dimensions without feeling uneasy.

But right now, in 2024, I don’t think I can. 

The religious part is easy for me. On the morning of Jerusalem Day, I say hallel, the special prayer generally reserved for joyous Jewish holidays, both major and minor. The word hallel means “praise,” and it’s apt – the six Psalms of hallel celebrate and thank God.

The historical element is easy too. As former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek noted in 1977, quote: “This beautiful golden city is the heart and soul. If you want one simple word to symbolize all of Jewish history, that word would be Jerusalem.”

But the national element, or rather the nationalist element. That’s where I run into trouble. Because two things can be true. I can be overjoyed that Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem, is once again in Jewish hands. I can be proud and grateful for my freedom to worship at one of Judaism’s holiest sites. I can be awed anew by the power of history every time I brush the ancient stones of the Western Wall. 

And I can feel all of that, while still feeling profoundly pained by how some Jews celebrate our sovereignty. It’s certainly not everyone – but in recent years in particular, Jerusalem Day has become incredibly divisive. Some ultranationalist young Jews parade through the Muslim Quarter during a Flag March, shouting racist slogans that make my blood boil. 

Because saying a prayer of thanks is one thing. Rubbing it in others’ faces… that’s where I have a problem. No, I’ll change that. That’s where we, the Jewish people, have a problem. Because it’s not enough to distance ourselves when our brothers and sisters do things that embarrass and horrify us. This flavor of nationalism – ethnonationalist, blind to anything outside of it – is scary. It dehumanizes everyone outside of itself. Palestinians. Arabs. Non-Jews. Even whatever remains of the Israeli Left.

I believe that God works in mysterious ways. I believe there’s a reason that He put Israelis and Palestinians right next to one another. I believe, too, that there’s a reason that Israel now controls the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Old City. And not a single one of those reasons has to do with ultranationalism. With booting out or mistreating or dehumanizing anyone who isn’t like us. 

Those of you with siblings might remember asking your parents who they liked better. Who’s your favorite, mom? It’s me, right? Sometimes, it feels like the whole human race is jostling to be God’s favorite, pointing at various “proofs” as though to show, see? He likes us best! I don’t pretend to know how God works. But I very much doubt that He’s constrained by this narrow, zero-sum way of thinking. So if there’s anything you take away from this series – from this season! – it should be this. 

The Jewish story is miraculous. Jewish history is ancient and vibrant and rich and alive. I am grateful and lucky and proud to be part of this resilient, beautiful, diverse, incredible nation.

And I bet, if you asked a Muslim Palestinian, or a Christian Palestinian, or a Druze, or whatever, they’d say the exact same thing about their history, their story, their culture. And it would be 100% true. Because identities are not zero-sum. The Palestinian story doesn’t have to be false in order for the Israeli story to be true. Neither rely on the other for legitimacy. 

We can disagree. We can take our own positions, adopt our own perspectives. We can say I think you’re wrong or I don’t see it that way. That’s normal. That’s healthy. That’s fine.

But if we ever want to put down our weapons, we cannot say Your identity isn’t legitimate. Your trauma isn’t real. Your story isn’t true. Jerusalem, and Israel, and history – they are big enough to belong to all of us. 

But we need to choose to believe that. We need to work towards it together. And we need to ask ourselves: Do we want a city of gold… or a city of iron?

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