I was in the ninth month of my first pregnancy when the Six Day War broke out, fifty years ago. I have written in some detail about this point in my life in my first novel, ‘The Balancing Game,’ so if you have read it I apologise for being repetitive.
The way that, together with some scared neighbours from upstairs, we hunkered down in our ground-floor apartment, with sandbags at the door and sticky tape pasted on the windows, still remains fresh in my memory. In my ‘delicate’ condition I refused to go to the public air-raid shelter, not wanting to find myself surrounded by people, both adults and children, in a place which I assumed would be neither comfortable nor clean. I may have been wrong in my assumption, but I was not to be budged. We were living at the time in one of the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem that was not very near the then border with Jordan, so perhaps that gave me a sense of security.
I know that the situation in which Israel found itself aroused the anxiety of Jews around the world, and all the more so of my immediate family, parents and sisters, who were then living in London. I had been advised by the British Embassy to leave the country, but the practicalities of leaving Israel seemed almost insurmountable then, and I somehow assumed that things would work out.
And work out they certainly did. After two or three days and nights during which we heard artillery falling around us, and planes flying above us, the announcement came over the radio that we could leave the shelters and our homes and emerge into the light of day. When I went outside I was astonished to find that all the houses were standing, unscathed, and nobody in the immediate vicinity seemed to have been hurt. This was all the more astonishing to me because as a child growing up in post-world-war London I had seen more than one house that had been destroyed during the Blitz, so that the remnants of those damaged buildings were a not uncommon sight.
And then there was the euphoria, the sense of relief at the news that not only had Israel not been obliterated, as the Arab leaders around us had promised, but that our forces had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in averting the threat to our existence and overcoming the armies that threatened us.
With hindsight it seems that our joy was premature because many years of anguish and tragic events were to follow, but at the time all this could not be imagined. The idea of being able to go to the Old City of Jerusalem, to Jericho and to many other places that until a few days previously had seemed to be as remote as the other side of the moon was intoxicating. And we did indeed go to those places. In Hebron there were expert glass-makers whose wares soon adorned our house, and in the Old City of Jerusalem we were entranced by the beautiful ceramic objects made by the Armenian craftsmen. Altogether, a new, exotic and enchanting country opened up before us, and the inhabitants seemed quite happy to interact with us and engage in commerce with us Israelis.
Much has changed since then, but it is still possible for the average inhabitant of Israel to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, enjoy its lively markets, take tourists to see its exotic places, and visit the Western Wall, where previously Jews were forbidden to go. Today, the places that are holy to any of the three major religions of the world are freely accessible to their respective adherents, a situation which did not exist before.
Fifty years have passed and much has changed, but it would be a tragedy if Jerusalem were to be divided again, preventing Jews, Moslems and Christians from whatever country from going freely about their business within it or worshipping openly at their own particular holy site.
In those fifty years I have grown older and, hopefully, just a little wiser, my children and grandchildren have been born here and almost all the members of my wider family now live (or lived) in Israel.
These have been fifty momentous years, both for me personally and for my country.
And now the baby that very considerately waited for another two weeks to be born has grown up to become a devoted wife, successful professional and treasured mother of three.
Happy birthday, Dana!