By Patricia Levinson.
This is my personal story, living in Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.
It was May 1967. My husband Lionel and I were living in Israel.
Abdul Nassar had closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking all Israeli shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba, which included 90% of the oil that Israel needed. He also demanded the withdrawal of all UN Peacekeeping Troops from the Sinai Peninsula.
Pan Arab nationalism once again swept the Middle East, and Jordan, Syria, Iraq and several other Arab countries rushed to form an alliance with Egypt. The President of Iraq stated “the existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is an opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948”.
For Israel, these actions were a declaration of war. The people of Israel knew that it was not a question of if there would be war, but when it would start. Israel knew it would be attacked on every front. The mood was reflected in the poignant new song flooding the airwaves. Written by songstress Naomi Shemer, Yerushalyim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold, it spoke of a longing for the beauty of Jerusalem and included a verse that spoke with regret that the you could no longer go down to the Dead Sea via Jericho.
We were living in the Charles Clore International House, the married graduate student housing serving the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, 15 miles south of Tel Aviv. Lionel was a PhD student in the Department of Electronics, and I was working as a biochemist in the Biodynamics Department.
Every day we watched our friends and colleagues don their military uniforms, and catch the busses that stopped on the street below our window. Tanks rumbled down the main street of Rehovot, chewing up the asphalt as they headed south. Slowly Clore House emptied, leaving only wives of the Israeli students and foreign students. Most of our Israeli friends doing their doctorates had already been through their army service plus undergraduate degrees, and were in their late 20s or early 30s. Most were married. Most were also officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and they were going off to command their units.
It was also obvious that the Weizmann Institute, with its international reputation, would be a prime target in the upcoming war. I took first aid courses, learning that if the bomb struck directly, that was it. But if it landed nearby, I was to contact A or B. I donated blood. We bought blue paint to paint our lightbulbs and flashlights, as well as candles, water, food, and batteries. We made sure our curtains closed tightly to prevent any light seeping out, and took to sleeping in our clothes with comfortable shoes next to the bed. We helped to tape the large glass windows to stop them from shattering. A truck load of sandbags arrived, and we laughed. They would be of no use in protecting the building with its glass exterior.
Every day I went into work. Those of us remaining had the task of making sure that the research experiments of those who were being called up could be maintained. That way the students could pick up where they had left off when they returned after the fighting was over. We removed all the radioactive chemicals used in our experiments from the labs and sent them off for safe storage underground. Suddenly someone realized we had not removed all the chemicals that contained cyanide. Frantically we collected them and sent them off as well.
There were also the very expensive sterile colonies of mice used in the research which needed to be maintained. Some animals were moved upstairs so that if electricity was lost, not all the animals would die. The rest had to be fed and their cages cleaned daily. Each day I would go through the process of showering and putting on the special sterile clothing and work with the animals.
We would also read the newspapers and listen constantly to the news. My Hebrew improved by leaps and bounds, as I had to know what was happening, and the English newscasts once a day were totally inadequate.
Very early on the morning of June 5, we were woken up by the sound of airplanes flying overhead. A few moments later, the first air raid siren went off. This was it. We scrambled to grab our shoes, radio and flash lights, and headed down to the air raid shelter in Clore House.
Kol Yisrael, the Voice of Israel, was announcing that the Israeli air force had caught the entire Egyptian and Jordanian air forces unawares, and had destroyed them on the ground before any planes could take off. There were strong denials from the BBC, who were quoting the Egyptians.
That night after eating a hasty dinner by the light of one candle, we sat huddled over the radio. A neighbor knocked on the door to say that we could see the fighting at Latrun, which Israel had not been able to hold on to in 1948, from the roof of Clore House. It was obvious that both Jerusalem and the Sinai would be the focus of the fighting for the next few days.
On the morning of June 7th, the third day of the war, I was working in the lab, when one of the doctoral students in the department walked in the door. He was a senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), fighting on the approaches to Jerusalem, and had been helicoptered into Tel Aviv for a meeting at Military headquarters. On the way back to the front, he stopped in to check on his experiments. He explained to us that the IDF had taken the mountain heights on the West Bank of the Jordan, including the cities of Shechem and Ramallah, and were rapidly approaching Jerusalem. He told us that the Israeli forces would be in east Jerusalem by evening.
That night Lionel and I sat in the blackout and wept as the radio played the sound of the shofar being blown at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. We quickly rounded up some juice and cookies, and gathered with all the other students at Clore House for an impromptu party. Many of them had no idea whether their loved ones were alive or dead, but the reunification of Jerusalem was a miracle to be celebrated. We said a shehecheyanu, and sang Jerusalem of Gold with the new words that were being used that spoke of now going down to the Dead Sea via Jericho.
The war ended on June 10th after both the Sinai and the Golan Heights were captured by the Israeli forces.
Participating in the first “civilian” tour of Jerusalem
Three weeks later, the Weizmann Institute organized a trip to Jerusalem for the “foreign scientists” who had stayed during the war.
We traveled by bus on a rough road that took us through Latrun to Jerusalem.
The first stop was the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.
We went up to Mount Scopus via a carefully marked road that was still being cleared of land mines. The entrance to the road was guarded by a soldier, and the old sign saying no admission in English and Arabic was crossed out, and a bright yellow sign had been added that said “Har Hatzofim” in Hebrew (Mount Scopus) with an arrow pointing straight ahead. (See photo above).
Lionel and I were horrified to see the bombed-out shell with enormous holes in the walls that had been the magnificent Hadassah Hospital. The only thing left intact was the Hadassah Medallion in the floor at the entrance with its laurel leaves and motto, “The healing of the daughter of my people”. The Hadassah flag once again flew proudly over the ruined hospital.
Earlier that week, an Arab man had proudly handed the keys to the Hospital that his family had guarded for 19 years, to Charlotte Jacobsen, the National Hadassah President. Arab residents of Jerusalem started coming to Hadassah with their admission cards they had kept since Hadassah lost the Hospital on Mount Scopus in the war in 1948.
The Israeli government asked Hadassah to restore the buildings, and reopen the Hospital on Mount Scopus, even though Hadassah had recently opened a new Hospital at Ein Kerem in 1963. Hadassah responded with a resounding “Yes.”
Our trip to Jerusalem would not have been complete without a trip to the Western wall. We followed the route that the Israeli paratroopers had used, and went onto the Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, via the Lions gate, and down to the Western wall, which was simply a narrow street with a high wall on one side. (It was only later that today’s large plaza was constructed by demolishing several buildings and digging down about 30 feet to the lower stones of the wall built by King Herod over 2000 years ago). We left our messages and prayers in the cracks.
From there we went on to Bethlehem, where despite the barbed wire and army vehicles, we were warmly greeted as tourists and given a tour of the Church of the Nativity.
The final stop on the trip was Hebron and the Kever ha Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs). Hebron was terrifying. The hatred was palpable, and the occasional firing of snipers could still be heard.
We will never forget that trip!
Hadassah and Jerusalem
Hadassah has been an intrinsic part of the history of Jerusalem for over a century. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, always says that Hadassah is Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is Hadassah.
For Hadassah, this year of the reunification of Jerusalem is not only a celebration of the restoration of our Hospital on Mount Scopus, it is a celebration of building bridges to peace. Our ethnically diverse professionals treat the health needs of all the residents of Jerusalem, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Hadassah does more that 50% of the medical research in Israel, in service to humanity. Hadassah also goes to extraordinary lengths to save lives, taking in the most difficult patients from Israel and well beyond, including many Arab countries, serving the medical needs of the City of Gold and beyond.
In the words of *David Fintzi, a young man from Romania who was severely burned and who was brought to Hadassah when hospitals in Romania and Germany had told the family there was no hope: “Hadassah is where you go to live, when you should have died.” Today David has made Aliyah, and is a medical student at Hadassah.
Hadassah lives Tikun Olam. The Hadassah Hospitals grew out of an ideology that embraced Tikun Olam – making the world a better place. They have always been “more than a hospital”.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Ki Mitzion tetze torah, u’dvar Adonai mi Yerushalayim”. (For the law will go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem). From Hadassah’s Jerusalem, the healing shall go forth as Hadassah continues the quest to make the world a better place.
Photo above: Guard at the newly reopened road to Mount Scopus, July 1967. Note the yellow sign showing Har Hatzofim (Mount Scopus) straight ahead.