I have several memories, as much of the War, as being newly married and
about to go out to Israel at the end of August because I had postponed going
on Shnat Sherut (Year of Service) precisely to clinch paying court and get
married. Today happens to be our fortieth anniversary. The whole situation
was on the horns of dilemmas, both personal and public, and then the whole
thundercloud collapsed as a total surprise to everybody into the Israeli
victory - for me on the Wednesday with the capture of Jerusalem and the
release, almost incidentally, of the results of the Monday morning airstrike.
We had all expected a 1948 length and style slogging match, but with Arab
manned Russian tanks. That is why I did nothing, expecting to go in the
summer if things continued to boil - and before the week was out, it was
all over, much to my relief and as surprised as anybody.
There was a fortnight's run-up as the pundits in the papers and television had a field day. Television was still black and white and my wife and I went round to her parents from our flat every evening to see the news bulletins. The most outstanding incident was watching the normally totally urbane and smooth Abba Eban being savaged by the then "Paxman" whose surname was Barratt - and if the clip is anywhere in the archives it is worth watching. Eban was between planes to or from the US and was being interviewed in London, no doubt after a similar but more suave exchange in the FO who would have understood his parries.
He politely dealt with, or parried, all Barratt's questions like anybody who has heard all the routine before. Later in my own minor speaking and political career I twigged that audiences seldom differ because the headlines have primed them. Then Barratt thinking this was an all too slippery politico; we can harrass the blighter to spill beans, or at least look stupid in his constituency; began to hector by tone as if he was a substantive opposing negotiator instead of the mere press hack that he was.
Eban took it for a further trip "round the market stalls" but then turned the tables by asking curtly, if not with donnish tutorial impatience, whether he was not negotiating with the Arabs? Barratt was twit enough to agree, and Eban asked him whether he - [Barratt ]- was the Arabs? To which Barratt admitted "No" and Eban capped the interview with, "Thank you!"
It was a clash worth watching for anybody who has to deal with press big heads.
On the Monday 5 June my wife had got up first and woke me with, "Frank it's started;" and I remember sitting up and sitting for some moments on the edge of the bed before getting on with the day. I had grown up in Paddington, central London between bomb sites & with ration books, so the prospects looked pretty heavy for real, even if not on the doorstep, as there were, and are family in Israel - but that is background story.
The other colossal moment, and all the more so because my late parents
and I were/ am nationalists and not seriously observant and not into the
God squad side of things - if anything well Frenchified anti-clerical -
were listening to the morning magazine Home Service [Radio 4] news and hearing
Michael Elkins voice announcing that Israel had just released the message
of the troops commander in Jerusalem, "The Temple Mount is in our hands..."
Motta Gur's famous signal. This all came over in Elkins' distinctive "gravel"
voice and with it millenia of Jewish history came off the page like an uppercut.
The rest of the week was a sort of carnival of grinnning high spirits as
the relief exploded - but we were still British restrained, don't be too
At work most colleagues (I am a secondary school teacher and then was in a boys' grammar) took it all as a tremendous joke for the most part when the cards fell out as they did. Suez was a - sore - living memory and this was a sort of vengeance by proxy as much on the Americans, went down very well especially for those who had served in British Middle East forces. I remember one colleague - wartime RAF who was a bit sour before, and quiet after who said Nasser was only trying to retrieve his pre - '56 position in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba; which admittedly was fair comment even then, till the rhetoric went over the top.
In the week after the war there was typical un-hyped item in the news that Israel had offered to return to the Green line but that the Arabs had not responded - typically 'we have to report this but we are not going to make anything of it' - and the attitude among ourselves was also so what! They will have to come crawling if they want the land back. We really thought peace was on the cards till the Khartoum conference and even till the attack on Hamadia. That was personally pertinent because it was the kibbutz of one of my cousins and the funerals meant our visit was called off.
I also remember a conversation in the post office - the lady behind the counter being quite pleased the Express and Torygraph being pro Israel and I rather spoiled her day by saying they were enjoying the discomfiture of Nasser [more than the love of Israel].
Finally there was a census under 24 hour curfew at the end of June under and I remember the results coming out in the Jerusalem Post in autumn - October or November even, and that there were 960 000 Arabs in the new taken areas. There were also 40 000 people among them who had been born outside the Mandate borders," however drawn," ie outside Israel and Jordan and I noted that to remember both figures which somehow looked like future material for disputes, the 40 000 immigrant Arabs was also the shortfall on a million Arabs in the census.
- Frank Adam