A cover of Haaretz Shelanu from 1967. Haaretz Archives

The Israeli Children of the Six-Day War, Then and Now

Fifty years later, Haaretz revisits the kids who sent in letters and poems immediately after the Six-Day War. Today, they feel mostly disillusionment



Issue no. 39 of Haaretz Shelanu (“Our Haaretz,” also meaning “our land”), the children’s weekly of Haaretz, which was sent to subscribers on June 6, 1967, must have constituted a considerable headache for the editors. On the previous day, Israel had launched an air offensive against Egypt that immediately escalated into a full-scale war, whose results six days later no one could have predicted when the magazine went to print. Thus, together with the concrete threat of annihilation that hovered over the country, the editors faced a local threat that cannot be taken lightly, either: the threat of irrelevance. Haaretz Shelanu found a relatively elegant solution in the form of a cover page that did not refer directly to the rapidly developing news. At its center was a soft image of a flock of pink flamingos, with the symbolic caption: “Fly, fly, bring peace.”

Symbolically, just a month later, after the scale of the Israeli victory had become clear, the image of the gliding flamingos was replaced by that of a squadron of warplanes flying over the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem. Caption: “A dream that became reality.”

The ecstasy generated by the military achievement trickled even into the games, quizzes and ads. The magazine’s young readers were invited to test their knowledge in a game of “Identify the Planes,” and the food company Mata launched an ad campaign under the rubric of “Know the IDF Generals.” Every purchaser of three packages of margarine or milk margarine (“halavina”) would receive a photo of one of the architects of the victory (Maj. Gens. Uzi Narkiss, David Elazar, Mordechai Hod, and others).

Haaretz Shelanu took part in the wave of patriotism and euphoria that washed over Israel, and did not flinch from its religious aspects. A subsequent cover carried a photograph of IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren at the Western Wall. Readers were invited to take part in a game called “Know the Holy Places” (first prize 1,000 Israel pounds!). The reporter S. Pinhas (pen name of the writer and poet Pinhas Sadeh) published his gushing impressions from visits to Bethlehem (“The city of the matriarch Rachel and of Jesus”) and Hebron (“The city of God’s favorite”).

But with all due respect to the adult writers, Haaretz Shelanu (which appeared between 1951 and 1985) always took special pride in the intensive participation of its subscribers in shaping the magazine’s contents via special columns, readers’ letters and the publication of many articles by “LJs” – little journalists. Naturally, the young writers echoed the prolonged trumpet blast of victory that was sounded at the time. Their writing, too, was military-religious in character (“The tanks are charging”; “We’ve returned to eternal Jerusalem”; “The Western Wall – a marvelous and sublime place”). There was also some space given to ethical issues (“How to behave toward the defeated”), bereavement (“My best friend was killed”) and to what the future portended (“In the hope that we will reach a settlement with the Arabs”). 

Haaretz Archives

A particularly poignant letter was by Dov Lerer – a boy from the town of Rekhasim, near Haifa. It was titled “Who Remembers” and was published about two months after the war. “Dear Editor,” Lerer wrote, “The battles have fallen silent. Many family members have already returned home. The war atmosphere is slowly fading. But we are still far from the atmosphere of the days before the war. Does anyone still remember the recession? Who remembers now that Oded Kotler won an award at Cannes? Who still remembers the rush for the Toto [sports lottery] or that Maccabi Tel Aviv almost beat Ignis Varese in basketball? May we never return to the days of after June 5. May no more soldiers be killed in battle because of political ambitions of people who are far from the Middle East. I wish our only problems would be who will be the champion of the National League. Or which is better – the State Lottery or the Sports Toto? In short: For us to be a regular country already, and to live a regular life.”

We tracked down children of Haaretz Shelanu and showed them texts they had written and that were published in the magazine. Half a century later, it turns out, the enchantment with stories of heroism has dimmed, the enthusiasm of the encounter with sections of the homeland has waned and now they, too, long for the realization of the modest wish for a “regular life.”

August 1, 1967

My precious gift

Dear Editor,

I want to tell you about the IDF’s present for my birthday. My birthday is exactly on June 6. My father was in the army and my birthday wasn’t celebrated. My mother told me that when my father comes back from the army I would get a present. It was the eve of the sixth of June. I listened alertly to the news and heard that the IDF defeated the air forces of four Arab states. What a fine present I received. I thank the IDF very much.

Niv Peretz, 12, 11 Bialik St., Be’er Sheva

2017

Niv Peretz, 62, today a purchasing manager for a chemicals factory, father of three children and grandfather of two, lives in Arad

“Today the letter sounds a bit fascist, but at the time it was consistent with the atmosphere on the street. I remember there was a blackout in Be’er Sheva – we were told to cover all the windows – and that impressed me very much as a boy. It was quite an experience. I was also very happy and proud that the letter was published in the paper. Today, I look differently at the whole subject of wars; on top of which, to refer to war, and even a victory in war, as a present sounds a little nutty. If I were to read about an Arab boy who ‘celebrates’ his birthday with the abduction of IDF soldiers, I imagine I would be shocked. But I guess it’s all a question of which side of the coin you’re on.

“I don’t have to tell you that from the perspective of time, many people, of whom I am one, think the war was a mistake. Not the actual combat, but the conquest of all the territories that accompanied it – or at least the fact that we haven’t given them back since then. I remember that very soon after the war there were people like Yigal Allon, Uri Avnery and Yeshayahu Leibowitz who warned that it would be an irreparable disaster, but at the time no one listened to them.”

April 2, 1968

“The Six-Day War”
The column let rip
Into the Gaza Strip!
Faster than an impala
We captured Ramallah!
Nothing could stop them,
They took Bethlehem.
And all alone
We captured Hebron.
We didn’t even fidget
Before we took Egypt,
We got to Sinai
And Nasser said: Ai, ai, ai

Ami Giz, second grade, Beit Hayeled School, Jerusalem

2017

Ami Giz, 57, tour guide, father of three, lives in Jerusalem

“What did we know then? We were told that we were the good guys, the Arabs were the bad guys, and that that was the balance of forces. As a boy, you have no reason to doubt any of it. Today, I hold completely opposite views. As a tour guide, I work across the country and show the conflict in all its aspects, all its complexities. In my view, our situation today is far worse than it was before the war. We’ve become prisoners of this conflict. It’s managing us, everything revolves around it.

“If there’s something in that poem that’s relevant to where I am today, it’s the affinity for places and sites. Those are exactly my fields – geography, love of the land – and quite possibly those seeds had already sprouted by then. But take note that all the places mentioned in the poem became catastrophes. We shat on everything we touched. Gaza is Hamas; Sinai is ISIS; Bethlehem looks like a ghetto. We took the Church of the Nativity – the second most important place for Christians in the world – and surrounded it with fences. And there’s Hebron, of course, which is the microcosm of the tragedy, the greatest calamity. We devastated the main street there, shut down all the stores and turned it into a series of checkpoints and barriers. More than 100,000 people were harmed by what we did there. It’s because of sights like that we’re hated in the world. Take the most right-wing person on a tour of Hebron and he will become an Israel-hater. The situation there is beyond explanation. We killed hope for the Palestinians, and by the same token we also sank into hopelessness.”

August 1, 1967

“My brother fell in battle”
Many fell in the harsh campaign
Much blood was spilled
Precious blood
My brother’s blood included
It’s sad at home, no ray of happiness
Only crying and sadness
Precious blood was spilled.
No song is sung
No dance is danced
My brother’s blood was spilled.
And I have another brother, too,
My younger brother.
He’s sad, too
His heart is also torn to shreds
He doesn’t sing, either.
It’s sad at home: no ray of light
My brother’s blood was spilled
Mom and dad are sad
So very, very sad
Nothing consoles them or ever will
My brother’s blood was spilled. And is no more

Gili Zawady, third grade, Salomon School, Petah Tikva

2017

Gili Stav, 59, mother of two, lawyer, lives in Baku with her husband Dan Stav, Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan

“The poem was published at the time without my consent. What happened was that I told a friend of my parents, a teacher, that I had no one to talk to, and she said, ‘Write.’ So I wrote. My father got hold of it and sent it to the paper, and when I found out I was very angry with him. I was a girl of 9 and my brother, Yoel, who was 20, was my role model, my pride. His death felt so private – that’s why I was so angry.

“Today, I look differently at the whole subject of commemoration, and I’m still ambivalent about it. On the one hand, there’s a wish to talk and evoke the memory, because we, the members of his generation, will be the last that really knew him. On the other hand, talking brings all the dirt to the surface – what it did to my family, how it crushed my parents.

“The occupation with death itself is also difficult, especially the unrelenting feeling that it could have been different. Yoel fell in the battle for Tel Faher [in the Golan Heights] – one of 33 soldiers who were killed there. He lay there for hours and bled to death. In fact, the physician who brought him down from the tel still saw him alive. I have no doubt that if he’d been evacuated in time, he would still be with us.

“Today, I look at one line I wrote – “For the homeland, only for the homeland” – somewhat differently, more realistically. I imagine that as a girl it gave me some sort of pride, a kind of compensation and a feeling that Yoel’s death was not in vain. But today I have a different perception of the whole homeland thing. I care less about politics and the territories, and I’m more concerned that things like that won’t happen again. Today I’m the mother of a boy who’s serving in a combat unit, and it’s not easy.”

June 27, 1967

To: Maj. Gen. Mordechai Hod, Air Force commander
Dear Sir,

Following the IDF’s brilliant victory, a major part of which must be credited to you, I feel an inner urge to congratulate you on the great victory. When I heard and read about Israel’s magnificent aerial victories, I knew how big a part you played in these victories. When I reflect on the campaign, I remember what you said when I interviewed you: “The person who sits in the machine is more important than the machine itself.”

I wanted to express my feelings of esteem and admiration for you, which have increased even more since the great victory, in which you had such a large part. Fortunate is the nation that has such commanding officers!

With admiration and most sincerely,

LJ [little journalist] Ilan Blatt

2017

Dr. Ilan Blatt, neurologist, senior deputy to director of neurology department, Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, father of two, lives in Ra’anana

“In June 1967, I was a boy of 13 in Tel Aviv whose bar mitzvah was postponed by the unexpected war that descended on us. I liked to write, and I was a ‘little journalist’ in Haaretz Shelanu. Flying was my favorite hobby, and my exclusive interview with the commander of the air force was a great thrill for me.

“My immense esteem for the IDF as a whole – and for the air force, and its commanders and its pilots in particular – hasn’t changed. I think we have a smart, sophisticated army, strong and tremendously powerful, but also moral at a level that exists nowhere in the world. I am proud that I and my two daughters served in the IDF, the people’s army, and I expect every citizen of the country to make his contribution to the state’s security. The IDF and all the security branches are our mainstay, and there is no disputing their role in ensuring our existence in light of the totality of the regional threats.

“At the same time, I am disappointed that, 50 years after the Six-Day War, we have not yet managed to resolve the bloody conflict with the Palestinians. Neither of the two sides, the Israeli or the Palestinian, is blameless in this regard. I expect my government to set the conflict’s resolution as an attainable goal, and not only as a vision for the end of days. I am frustrated by the political direction in which the state’s leaders are steering us today, which is moving us away from that goal, and I hope we go back to navigating the ship to the desired aim of achieving peace and security in our generation.”

July 9, 1968

“Peace”
If you will it, it will not be a dream,
If you will it, peace will beam
Peace for the future, peace for all time
Peace that will not be frightened to chime
No one else will be killed
No soldier will be drilled
No shedding of blood,
No graves to be dug 
Buildings will rise, factories will thrive
Our energy will be invested in work that’s a blessing 
The nations will fly banners with a slogan that’s pressing:
Long live peace, for all eternity

Haim Shvartzberg, eighth grade, 226 St., no. 7, Jaffa

2017

Haim Shvartzberg, 63, criminal lawyer, father of two, grandfather of three, lives in Tzur Yitzhak, northeast of Herzliya 

“What I thought would happen did not happen. In effect, we moved 10 steps backward. I am today considered what’s called a ‘leftist traitor,’ even though my views haven’t changed much since I was a boy of 13. Already in the Six-Day War, with the whole heated and ecstatic atmosphere, I was able to look one step ahead. Obviously the style is naive, but it seems to me that it nevertheless reflects a different way of looking at things.

“In 1973, I was a soldier in the Armored Corps and I was wounded in the fighting in the southern sector. When you charge ahead with the tank, all you think about is how to survive, not about peace. But that yearning was always there and the war didn’t change it – on the contrary. When you’re lying in the battalion aid station, and armored personnel carriers and half-tracks arrive and unload large numbers of  bodies of soldiers from the Paratroops and the Armored Corps, you find it hard to understand the point of war. Unfortunately, the word ‘peace’ hardly exists today in the political dialogue.”

April 2, 1968

“Poem about pilots”
The pilots, the pilots,
Sitting on a chair and smoking,
And suddenly a loud bell is heard,
The pilots leap up, 
The engine is turned on.
The cannons were bright,
The targets were hit,
The work was done right,
And very soon they came home.
The pilot heroes brilliantly
Helped Armor and Infantry

Amos Gever, eight, third grade, Har Nevo School, Tel Aviv

2017

Amos Gever, 58, owner of a company that’s involved in high-tech and philanthropy, father of three, lives in Ramat Gan

“The truth is that I’d pretty much erased that poem from my memory. I suppose the choice of pilots was due to the fact that the air force decided the war, so it stuck. In general, as children we were pretty much stuffed with the ethos of strong Israel, heroic soldiers, and so forth. Today, the whole business looks a lot less appealing. I think I experienced the first significant crack when I took part in Operation Litani, in 1978. There, in Lebanon, a few pennies dropped in regard to the immense stupidity of the generals, of [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and of politicians as a whole. I remember sending my parents very critical and cynical letters from there. That’s the point at which a big question occurred to me, namely: ‘What in the hell are the people up above doing?’

“Afterward, as a reservist in the West Bank, the cracks only multiplied. I was already old enough to understand that something very bad was going on here. You see that money and might and reinforcements are being heaped on territories that are not ours. The development of Gush Emunim [the pro-settlement organization], the wink-and-nod approach, the transfer of tax money to them, created the great rupture that exists today. There were those who could have prevented the horror, but all the security hawks, who were never great ideologues, always said, ‘Yes, but...’ They frightened people, they said we needed a security zone, and from here to there it grew and deepened and took root.

“I don’t want to sound like some old codger, and certainly not like a defeatist. I see myself as a true Zionist, a proud left-winger of the good old variety, but from the distance of time I think this war turned out to be ruinous for our society, to the point of endangering our continued existence here.”

September 19, 1967

Water – even for the enemy
I would like to comment on the article by Dov Lerer (issue no. 49) that we must not laugh at someone who is asking for water, even if he is our enemy. We don’t have to take an example from the Arab states. Only when everyone is brought up to love humanity will peace prevail in the world.

Varda Sternberg, 11, Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot

2017 

Varda Koren, 61, speech therapist and team instructor in the Education Ministry, mother of three and grandmother of one, lives in Kfar Vradim, Galilee.

“I believe in the same values I expressed 50 years ago. And even if my naivete has faded somewhat over the years, the yearning for peace still exists. The war itself was a very special experience for me, and not only from the national perspective. A few weeks earlier, I was in a serious, life-endangering accident, together with my mother. I came out of it covered with casts and significant liver damage. On June 5, when the war broke out, my mother and I were evacuated from the hospital because they had to prepare to receive soldiers. We were transferred to a makeshift recovery room at the entrance to the kibbutz’s bomb shelter.

“I don’t really remember the article that I responded to in that letter, though I have a vague memory of an essay about water being denied during a siege in the war. In any event, what I wrote very much echoed the humanistic education we received from the kibbutz and also at home. My parents, who were Holocaust survivors, always emphasized the need to preserve one’s humanity. Precisely those whose rights were trampled and who were shown no compassion know how important it is to see your enemy, however cruel he is, as a human being.”

July 11, 1967

“War”
A terrible word echoes in our ears,
A hard word of blood and fire
A word in which you sense the smell of mire,
War!
Alarm and down to the shelter,
Alarm and hearts pounding,
Alarm and after it cannons sounding,
War!
Destruction of homes, avenues of trees,
Fields of flowers,
Destruction of art, destruction of holy towers.
War!
Families bereaved of sons, fathers,
Families grieving for those who went, never to return,
Families whose loved ones were lost in battle’s storm.
War!

LJ [little journalist] Ofer Thaller

2017

Ofer Thaller, 62, journalist, owner of Thaller Communications, Inc., father of two, lives in central Israel

“I was a boy of 12, a Haifa kid who for the first time was exposed to a real alarm. The boy of that time was sensitive, inquisitive, read newspapers, but certainly had no political agenda and had never heard of ‘right’ and ‘left.’ The war did not take us by surprise, because for a long while before it broke out, we ‘little ones’ helped the older neighborhood kids affix paper on glass so it wouldn’t shatter in explosions, and paint car headlights black for the nightly blackout. Already then, my father bought me a big, heavy tape recorder, on which I recorded my voice, the thin voice of a child, describing day by day the events of the war.

“Today, 50 years later, I encountered that somewhat childish but very mature poem, which I had no memory of having written as a boy at the end of the war. I examine the words, which speak of the terrors of the war, and not about our ‘soldier heroes’ or about the ‘heroic victory’ that swept the country. I find that it was actually the war that shaped my adult personality. No, I don’t remember feeling euphoria. On the contrary: Already then, as a boy, I had a sour feeling about war, which exacts such a steep price and whose results – whatever they may be – do not justify taking life. War is not a source of national pride. War is a disastrous event, only a last resort. It’s supposed to be no-alternative war only.

“At my advanced age, and after taking part myself as a soldier in the Yom Kippur War and as a reservist in the Lebanon war, that feeling has grown sharper. It does not stem from political involvement or from taking sides on the right or the left. It stems from philosophical, ethical and moral disillusionment. The Six-Day War did not contribute to the country’s long-term security consolidation. It generated only social polarization and an impasse in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

July 9, 1968

“The Arabs don’t understand what peace is” 
Dear editor of Haaretz Shelanu,

We are not so close to the border, but in our area we hear all kinds of things: a soldier stepped on a mine near [Kibbutz] Masada, two mines were found in the grape-packing shed. When there is shelling, we sit in the classroom listening to the shelling, and we can’t concentrate. Planes go by above us, and that interferes. But what can we do, when the Arabs don’t understand what peace is and don’t want to make peace?

Atalia, our teacher, reads us a story in the bomb shelter. We also have games and books. If we have to stay there for a long time, food is brought to us. After the shelling we go up to the roof, and opposite is the Golan Heights in all its glory.

My request is to be in contact with a city girl of 10-11.

Sincerely,

Gila Fogel, 10, Kibbutz Ofakim, Jordan Valley

2017

Gila Pe’er, 59, kindergarten teacher, mother of four and grandmother of two, lives in Tiberias

“This letter takes me back to a period of a great many fears. We heard the voices, the crying of those whose loved ones were hit, but no one really shared anything with us, the children. That caused a kind of feeling of lack of control, and lack of control becomes fear. As for ‘the Arabs don’t understand what peace is’ – listen, that was written with the naivete of a girl, but in some way it’s still relevant. Both we and they are in the same place, stuck in the same bog. Fifty years have passed, and the sides still don’t know how to create this thing called peace.”

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