In June 1967 I was a 14 year old school boy attending a Jewish school in London.
I remember how the tension had been building up day after day. Nasser was challenging Israel's existence, and trying to choke the Jewish state by cutting off the strategic port of Eilat.
Then as now the Arabs nations openly declared that their aim was the annihilation of the Jewish state.
For perhaps the first time in my life I was experiencing how different it was to be Jewish - the indifference to the plight of our people by the British was in marked contrast to our state of anxiety for Israel and by extension our own survival which appeared precarious to say the least.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Jewish people outnumbered one hundred to one were to be overpowered by the massive armies gathering on her borders and assisted by the Soviet superpower.
In the UK the general consensus of opinion at the time appeared to be that the odds were impossibly stacked against Israel's survival. Israel was then perceived as a friendly nation whose people had suffered great tragedy and trauma. However there was of course no question of the British stepping in to help after all the relationship between Britain and the despotic Arab regimes was considered to be more important.
The older generation were thinking back to events thirty years prior and recognised the same indifference to our plight coming from the rest of the world. This was made all the more poignant in my own family who had only recently discovered that two sisters of my Grand Mother who we had assumed to have been murdered in the holocaust, had in fact despite the best of efforts of the British, escaped to Palestine and were now living in Haifa. Our thoughts were with them but we were overcome with a feeling of helplessness.
The morning of June 5 1967 was a morning like no other, I remember when along with other pupils on my bus I alighted outside the school to be met by other pupils waiting for the buses to arrive, and to break the terrible but not entirely unexpected news that Israel was at war.
On entering the school I experienced the loudest silence that I had ever heard and this was a school that was not known for the quietness of its pupils. During the morning assembly that followed the prayers of the pupils was palpable.
The first period of the day was supposed to have been English Literature, the teacher incidentally was not Jewish, and looking back as an adult I am sure that no amount of even the finest teaching training could have prepared her for what was about to happen.
It was impossible for either the teachers or the pupils to concentrate and I remember the classroom Radios which formed an integral part of the blackboard and which at the time were state of the art were permitted to be switched on.
Our teacher switched on the BBC News, at that time the BBC was highly regarded as a professional and reliable news source, carrying great integrity - a far cry from what it has become today.
The leading story read in a voice carrying great gravitas and with the received pronunciation of the finest Queen's English, that was so typical of that era, spoke of jubilation in the Arab world now that their armies had finally entered Israel and were liberating it. The Egyptian army had marched from Gaza and reached Tel Aviv, Haifa had been heavily bombed and was next to fall.
All at once the Israeli children in the classroom burst into tears which set off the wailing and crying of the other children. Our teacher was doing her best to comfort the class but was clearly outside of her depth in such a situation.
During that afternoon we heard that heavy fighting had broken out in Jerusalem, and one of my more poignant memories was coming home from school and seeing our many Jewish neighbours who had come out into the street, one of which was beside herself crying "My daughter is in Jerusalem - they are fighting in Jerusalem". It was not perhaps what she said but the despair in her voice that as a 14 year old I can remember so well.
The London evening papers carried maps with details of how Israel had been bombed and the position of the advancing armies. There were no photographs.
International communications were very different in 1967, there was none of the immediacy that we take for granted now. Visual Reports had to be despatched and could not be seen for many hours after the event, depending on how far away they were taking place.
By the next day it had become increasingly apparent that the claims of victory by the Arabs were fictitious - on the contrary it was Israel that had marched into Egypt.
At school, emotions began to run very high after we heard that the Western wall - the holiest site in Judaism which hitherto the Jews had been singled out amongst the peoples of the world and denied access to, had fallen into Jewish hands for the first time in 2,000 years, and the shofar had been blown.
When the news was confirmed a special school assembly was called, the like of which had never been seen before. Standing a row behind me in that assembly was my classmate Yuval Goren, son of Rabbi Goren, the very Rabbi who had blown that shofar.
The Headmaster a strict old fashioned disciplinarian whose powerful voice was enough to strike fear into any pupil, spoke in a voice choking with such emotion that I could barely recognise it, he declared that we were privileged to be Jews who were living at the time and to witness such momentous events.
The Head of Religious studies was next to speak, and it was not long before his voice broke in front of the silent children. He cried out that he would challenge anyone to deny that how such a small and vulnerable people could not only overcome such a powerful enemy without the help of anyone else, but also with all the logistical complications of war, for not a single thing to have gone wrong. - How? He cried, how can anyone deny that this has not been a miracle from almighty G-d?
How different things are forty years afterwards. Former Egyptians and Jordanians and their descendents (or for that matter anyone who wants to) call themselves "Palestinians". Up to 1967 they had lead a something of a peasant life in a backward society. Infant mortality rates similar to that of the UK in 1911, and literacy rates were even lower.
The concept of the "Palestinians" was only three years old, and in its infancy. If the word was ever mentioned during the war I certainly cannot recall it. Maps uncovered after the war showed plans on how the victorious Arab armies intended to split the land between them, there was no intention of giving it to any "Palestine".
In forty years the Palestinians have grown to become the largest identity theft that the world has ever experienced.
Since then of course thanks to Israel, not that anyone would give Israel any credit for it, those Arabs have undergone a transition into a western society and can enjoy a much higher life expectancy with all the privileges of being part of an advanced western nation.
Along with the increased population and literacy rates courtesy of the Israeli health and education systems which they could now avail themselves of, also came the ability to communicate with one another and the outside world.
With education and Universities freely available which Israel encouraged and a new found freedom they no longer call themselves Egyptians or Jordanians, and with obscene media manipulation and highly successful intimidation have convinced the world to reverse the International perception of the Arab/Israeli "David and Goliath" situation.
In those days Israel was on the front line the cold war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Now she is caught up in the West Versus Islamism conflict.
One principle remains the same however and that is the fate of the free world is inextricably linked to the fate of Israel
Michael CookeBACK to Diaspora Recollections