Six-Day War diary

Six-Day War diary

On June 3, 1967, Siggy Fried flew to Israel. He kept a journal.

Siggy Fried and  his wife, Elayne, have lived in Teaneck for 40 years, and they brought up their three children, Adam, Avraham, and Allison, there. But on June 3, 1967, as soon as Shabbat ended, the 23-year-old, a Brooklyn native, then a student at the City College of New York, got on a plane and headed toward Israel — and toward history.

Mr. Fried kept a journal, and every evening during that extraordinarily momentous week he pulled out his pad and his pen, and wrote about the day’s events.

Years later, he found the journal again, and sent us an except.

Monday, June 5

As I write these words, jet fighters are battling above us, bombs are exploding around us, and the nation of Israel is at war.

I arrived in Israel late last night as part of a group of American volunteers. Our objective: to show solidarity with Israel and to offer whatever help we were capable of, at this terribly frightening time. We left our jobs, schools, families and friends, and our mothers crying at the airport.

Everyone understood, war was imminent.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, ruler of Egypt had just closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.

He ordered the United Nations peacekeeping force to leave the Sinai immediately. He replaced them with 10 highly mechanized Egyptian military divisions, approximately 120,000 men, with tanks, trucks, artillery, and all stationed adjacent to Israel’s southern border. His 500-plane Soviet supplied air force was there to support his army. He proudly proclaimed for all to hear that his soldiers were ready to throw every last Jew into the sea.

Egypt then formed a military alliance with Syria, while Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon all expressed their readiness to support his attack on Israel. Those countries also publicly proclaimed their intention to destroy Israel and kill every Jew there. Some 20 plus years after the Holocaust, just 19 years in the life of Israel, the world again stood quietly by as Jews were threatened.

They just watched.

Our flight from New York went without incident, but we shared fully half the cabin with large boxes containing gas masks. They were marked “Ft. Bennings Georgia.” We later learned that the Egyptians had stored massive quantities of poison gas in the Sinai, ready for use against Israel.

As we approached Israeli airspace and could almost make out the Tel Aviv shoreline in the distance, somebody called out “look at the wings.” We could barely believe our eyes. Two Mirage fighter jets, one on each wing tip, were there to escort us in. Our spirits now soared, and as the plane touched down, a spontaneous chorus of Hevenu Shalom Aleichem broke out.

Emotions were high. We felt as if we had finally come home..

To our amazement, Lod airport was effectively closed. It was dark, almost nobody there, and there was not a single plane on the tarmac. We were greeted by a representative of the Jewish Agency, then by a representative of Americans and Canadians for a Safe Israel, given some useful gifts, and thanked for our dedication to Israel. Then we were dispatched immediately to our assigned destinations. Our group of eight volunteers arrived at Kibbutz Lavi at 11:30 p.m. Israel time.

We were met by a member of the kibbutz assigned to us, given rooms and bedding. He apologized for the lack of official welcome, as he said the situation did not allow it. We were told that morning prayers begin at 5:30 and breakfast at 6, and in order to get a good start we should be there by on time.

At 7 a.m. our orientation began. It consisted of a thank you from the state Israel and the kibbutz, a description about what was expected of us, and a short tour of the kibbutz.

Kibbutz Lavi is an Orthodox farming settlement, founded by a group from England in 1949. Located in the hills of the southern Galilee at an elevation of 600 feet above sea level, its views are magnificent. The holy city of Safed and Mt. Meron are to the north, Lake Kinneret and the mountains of Syria are to the east, and Mt. Tabor is to the south.

A building on Kibbutz Lavi in 1967.
A building on Kibbutz Lavi in 1967.

While the kibbutz is primarily agricultural, it had several thousand chickens, about 200 cows, a shop that produces furniture for synagogues, and a guest house —its largest source of income. The dining hall is the fulcrum of the community and is surrounded by beautiful lawns, gardens, living quarters, and one of the most beautiful synagogues in Israel.

As our rather hurried tour concluded, again we were reminded that time was short and there was much work to be done. Our first job was to dig ditches to be used as shrapnel shelters around the dining hall, schools, and the various buildings that children occupied.

Shortly after we began, a kibbutz member came running over to our instructor and informed him that “the Egyptians had started. They invaded in the Negev.” Within a few minutes, the kibbutz was in an uproar.

We were at war, and I was in disbelief. Here I was, not even a day in Israel, and all hell was breaking loose.

We were instructed to start digging immediately. “Dig fast and deep. You might need these ditches yourself.”

Immediately after lunch, an emergency meeting was called, during which the kibbutz’s military commander instructed us about the necessary precautions. Dinner was to be served before dark, and there was to be a total blackout. No one was to leave the residential area for any reason and excessive walking about was prohibited. An army truck had brought a supply of rifles and submachine guns, and the night patrol was to be tripled. The telephones were to be attended at all times.

At the conclusion of the instructions, the military commander informed us that he had received word from the central military command that Israel was in the process of repelling the Egyptian attack, and that more than 130 planes at the Cairo airport had been completely destroyed. That news certainly brought a momentary sigh of relief, but we were now at war.

Things started happening at a fantastic pace. Fighter jets and bombers were flying directly above us towards Syria, and bombs were heard exploding on every side. The number of downed Egyptian planes had risen to 149, but had not yet been officially confirmed. Every radio on the kibbutz was at full volume, and at every new broadcast work stopped as groups gathered to listen.

In the interim, Radio Cairo broadcast that the Egyptian army had split Israeli forces in the Negev into two, thereby dividing them completely. They reported that Tel Aviv and Natanya were bombed heavily.

As the day progressed, several other kibbutz members joined the ditch-digging crew. By now it was mutually agreed that there would be no room for any of us because the women and children would be the first ones in.

All sorts of rumors were floating around, most positive but some negative. The radio reported progress in Syria but said nothing about the war in the Negev against Egypt. That led to a fear that Radio Cairo’s boasts might be true.

At about 2:20 in the afternoon we were all startled by a tremendous noise in the sky.

Above us, slightly to the north, there were three planes that seemed to be in an air battle. They were flying, turning, and diving in all sorts of ways. Then suddenly we saw a parachute open carrying a man earthward, while his plane burst into a ball of fire, and crashed into a mountain. A helicopter then approached and picked up the man. The plane continued to smoke for 4 hours afterward.

At first we heard the downed plane was an Israeli Mirage. That was followed up by a report that the downed plane was a Russian Ilyushin from the Syrian air force. As night approached, there was an official confirmation of 130 Egyptian and 12 Syrian jets destroyed. This brought a certain feeling of relief to us.

By now it was completely dark, except for the fires in the distance. All of us expected to be hit at any minute. We were only five miles from the Syrian border. Nevertheless, many people had gathered in the dining hall to hear the news together.

At about 10:30 p.m., feeling extreme fatigue from 10 hours of work, I went to bed. I thought of my mother, and of how she must be worrying. If only there were some way I could get a message to her.

Tuesday, June 6

We awoke this morning after a night of very little sleep. Bombs continued to explode around us, and the steady drone of air raid sirens from Tiberias were clearly audible. The war was now in full swing.

At about 3 a.m. a huge convoy of tanks and trucks had driven by on the road below, and during the two and a half hours it took to pass, no one got any sleep. Between the rumble of the tanks and the deadly explosions in the distance, a sort-of extra closeness began developing between our group and the kibbutz members.

During the news broadcast at breakfast we learned that Tiberias, the Hula valley, and the kibbutzim on the Syrian border were being shelled heavily. Those were the massive fires that we had seen in the distance. We also were told that Israel had now taken the battle to Jordan.

The morning was again spent digging ditches, and the afternoon in the vineyards pruning grape vines. The work hours were from 7 a.m. to noon, and then from 12:30 until 4:30 p.m. A total of 9 hours. But there were breaks every hour for news, and with more breaks every time jets flew overhead, not too much can get accomplished.

For the most part, the news was very positive.

As evening approached, the war was reported as being one-sided. Israel had downed no fewer that 400 Arab planes. That was a truly unbelievable number. Not only that, but Israel had lost only 16 planes and 7 pilots as it did so.

Israel was bombing Syria, but still there was no word from the Negev. All sorts of theories were advanced explaining why there was no news. The prevailing opinion was that we did not want the world to know how far we had advanced, for fear that it would stop us in mid-battle.

That evening there was a gathering of all the volunteers workers, the regular work-study groups, and some of the kibbutz members. It turned out to be a beautiful little party; we sang Hebrew songs and danced Israeli dances — all by the light of two little candles.

As soon as darkness came, the roads and fields again were filled with troop and artillery movements. It soon became apparent that this nighttime movement was one of the Israeli army’s main tactics. Imagine an Arab attack force’s surprise! It expects a position to be held by a certain number of soldiers, and suddenly finds itself attacked by ten times that many.

During the day, troops kept off the roads, instead moving through fields. That kept their positions and concentrations secret. It’s plain to see that in order to do this successfully, soldiers must have an excellent knowledge of the terrain. And I think that no one knows their country better than Israelis.

And so, off to sleep. The bombing continues, and the fires burn across the countryside. Our kibbutz still is blacked out, and again we prayed we would not be hit.

From left, Israeli paratroopers Tzion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Chaim Oshri stand at the Western Wall after Israel captured the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on June 7, 1967.
From left, Israeli paratroopers Tzion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Chaim Oshri stand at the Western Wall after Israel captured the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on June 7, 1967.


Fifty years later, the same soldiers — from left, Tzion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Chaim Oshri — stand with Siggy Fried (in the striped shirt, second from the right.)
Fifty years later, the same soldiers — from left, Tzion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Chaim Oshri — stand with Siggy Fried (in the striped shirt, second from the right.)

Wednesday June 7 

Jerusalem is ours. Israel is ecstatic.

Today certainly was the most eventful day of the war. Certainly the most interesting day in my life, and certainly a day that will be remembered forever in Jewish history. People are hugging each other, dancing and crying in the streets.

The day started once again with the sounds of the air raid sirens in Tiberias, and with exploding shells on the Syrian border. We turned on the news broadcast the moment we awoke and heard that Israel had completely repelled the Egyptian attack, and that Israel had captured Gaza. Each broadcast brought something new, and more interesting than the previous one.

At 10 a.m., the broadcast reported that Israel had entered deeply into the Sinai. This brought great relief to the many border settlements in the area, and particularly to Nachal Oz, which had been under attack for 72 hours and had been badly damaged. The radio reported that the children of that kibbutz had come up from the shelters for the first time in four days to breathe fresh air. There also was to be a wedding for five couples.

The big news, however, was on the Jordanian front. Jenin, the Arab stronghold from which settlements in the Bet Shean valley were being bombed, was captured. Kalkilia, the site from which Tel Aviv and Netanya were shelled, was near surrender, and so was Tulkarem.

In early morning, Jerusalem still was being heavily shelled. We heard that the Jordanians had thrown the U.N. out of its strategic positions between the old and new cities. The U.N. asked the Jordanians to leave, but they did not. Israeli soldiers then attacked and took those positions.

The U.N.’s secretary general, U Thant, then asked the Israelis to return the positions to the U.N. Israel’s reply, we were told, was not fit to print.

Fighting continued on the road to Mt. Scopus, site of the old Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center. Both were lost in the War of Independence in 1948 and soon were to be liberated. Fighting too continued in the Hula Valley and the upper Galilee. Syria was still bombing the border settlements and Israel could make no headway there, because Syria still controlled the surrounding mountains.

The 2 p.m. news was astounding. Israel was now deep into the Sinai, approaching the Suez Canal, and El Arish was taken. The Egyptian air force was annihilated, and its army was in retreat. The Straits of Tehran were cleared, and Share El Shekh was about to surrender.

On the Jordanian front, following the surrender of Kilkilya, battles for Jericho, Bethlehem, Shechem, and Ramallah would cause them all to surrender later that day. The road to Mount Scopus now was open and Israel took Latrun too. This news was particularly good for Israel’s morale. These places had been of tremendous emotional significance since 1948.

On the Syrian front, more and more settlements were being shelled and burning. There were air battles between Israeli and Syrian and Iraqi planes, but Israel had shown significant air superiority against both countries. Lebanon had made its entry into the war by sending over one plane, which immediately was shot down. There were no further incidents with Lebanon.

Work ended at about 4, and dinner again was early, so that there would be no difficulty in maintaining a full blackout. The early evening news confirmed that more than 500 Arab planes had been destroyed, and Egypt was begging for a ceasefire. But the same dreary news was reported from the Syrian front, much burning and destruction.

At 8 that evening the report mesmerized all of Israel. Everybody sensed that it was imminent, but no one had really expected or believed it could happen. Everyone in every corner of the kibbutz — indeed in all of Israel — was glued to the radio. In a clear and steady voice, the announcer said that after two days of intense fighting, the battle for Jerusalem was over.

“Ha’ir ha-atika shelanu. The Old City is ours!”

From early morning, something inside of me said watch the children today. Their eyes and their faces were aglow. It appeared as if they sensed they were experienced something remarkable, something that comes only once in thousands of years. A mystical air had fallen over everyone.

The adults tried to hold their tears, but to no avail. I could never describe the emotion in that room that night, but it was something that I know I will never ever feel or see again. For the first time in 2,000 years, a Jewish army had conquered Jerusalem. The Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the City of King David, the holiest places in all of Judaism were now returned to the Jewish people.

The radio switched to a recording of the proceedings at the Western Wall. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of all Israeli forces, with machine gun in hand, and canon fire in the background, led the Mincha services. He recited kaddish, his voice trembling with overwhelming emotion, and then picked up his shofar and had a soldier blow several long-lasting, piercing tekias. Then he recited the twice-annual 2,000-year-old Jewish prayer but with one word changed. “Leshana hazot b’Yerushalayim. “THIS year in Jerusalem.”

The Western Wall, a week after liberation.
The Western Wall, a week after liberation.

Soldiers in their late teens and 20s as well as older soldiers and officers — many of whom lived all their lives in the shadow of the Old City but were never allowed to enter — stood as tears flowed. Religious and nonreligious alike participated. The significance of this liberation of Jerusalem was beyond belief. The heart had returned to the body. Israel was now a whole country.

The news was coming fast and furious. Essentially Israel now was in full control of all the west bank of the Jordan River. Many historical sites — really Jewish biblical sites — were now liberated. Bethlehem, with the resting place of Rachel, wife of Jacob; Hebron, the resting place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Shechem, Jericho, and an untold number of others all now were in Israel’s hands. What an outstanding victory.

In another context, another amazing victory took place on this day. The Etzion Gever block, home of both religious and non-religious settlements, which was lost, with horrific casualties, virtually the day before the war ended in 1948, also now was in Israeli hands. The survivors of these settlements had extra reason to celebrate, and perhaps even to return to their original settlements some day.

As I get ready to sleep, as tired as I am I find myself unable to sleep. The events of the day — what an amazing day! — go round and round in my head. I feel as if this was a day directly out of the Tanach. A day today transposed from 2,000 years ago. A day that will go down forever in Jewish history.

Thursday, June 8

Once again I awoke to the sounds of rumbling tanks and bombing in the north. The midday report put a few issues to rest. Egypt had accepted a ceasefire. Egyptian planes and 600 Egyptian tanks were captured or destroyed, and Israel took countless numbers of trucks, Jeeps, artillery, and many other military items. Only the mopping up remained, in both the West Bank and the Sinai.

Interestingly, much of the booty — the planes, the tanks, the Jeeps, and so on — were American-made. My hard-earned taxes had gone for a worthy cause, although admittedly in a rather roundabout way. The Israeli government announced that it was extending civilian services to the captured cities in Jordan. This we saw as an indication that Israel had planned to keep these captured cities. We all hoped so.

And now the focus was on Syria. The terrain in the Hula Valley is not to Israel’s advantage. From the Kinneret north to Kibbutz Dan, Israel is deep in a valley. The heights occupied by the Syrians are extremely steep and rocky, and the Syrians further protected their positions with barbed wire and mines. Their artillery was so deeply entrenched underground that an air attack does no good at all. From these high positions, the Syrians damaged Tiberias and had almost completely destroyed several border settlements. Something had to be done to stop the shelling.

Much of the day passed without further significant news. Israel will, however, face a new future and certainly many new problems. I finally got to bed at about 11 p.m.

Friday, June 9

The shelling continued and so did the blackout, but now Israel was able to concentrate fully on Syria. All day and all night, convoys passed on the road below us, which was closed to all but military traffic.

At about 3 p.m. it was announced that Israel captured Kunitra, a city about 40 kilometers into Syria. Several other smaller cities were overtaken, but still the Syrian gun positions on the heights were impregnable, even though they were surrounded. The Syrians, realizing their eventual defeat, concentrated on the settlements closest to them. They did not leave a single building standing.

Syria, then, to everyone’s surprise, announced that it had accepted a U.N. Security Council’s ceasefire, and they said Israel would go along with it.

The kibbutz’s Shabbat preparations also were affected. Kibbutz members were to have dinner at home instead of in the dining hall; working groups and volunteers would eat there, though. Shabbat prayers also were divided. Nevertheless, the prayers were wonderful and spirited. Somehow it added a little bit to the service, as many daveners carried rifles and were dressed ready for combat.

As night fell, again we saw fires across the entire countryside. One particular fire, at Kibbutz Almagor, engulfed about 11 fields. The flames were said to be 30 feet high. Many of these fields were just about ready to be harvested. What a shame.

Once again I went to sleep to the sounds of bombs and shells, but our feeling was that soon it would be over. As soon as those Syrian gun positions would be taken, Israel would respect the ceasefire now in place. It was common knowledge in the kibbutz that Israel had disregarded the ceasefire in order to knock out those positions.

As elated as I was, as the tension of the war eased, I was sad that night, because I was so far from the people I love. I wondered what Elayne, my wife-to-be was thinking, and if my parents still were worried about me.

Shabbat, June 10 

Never a dull day goes by in Israel, but this day was more than just interesting. The shul davening was beautiful and lunch was the best I have ever had on a kibbutz — it included roast beef and chulent. (Roast beef is rarely seen in this country.)

Jets continued overhead, and after lunch I climbed the water tower. The tower is about 100 feet high, and it is the central lookout point for low-flying planes in this area. The two soldiers stationed up there had binoculars, and were connected by phone to the central military command. They had exact information about every plane in the area.

I borrowed a set of their very powerful binoculars and was able to see the fighting in Syria. While the tanks and planes were barely visible, it was interesting to see a group of planes circle an area, and then watch as a pillar of black smoke rose from it. From the tower, it was plain to see that the Syrian gun positions were no longer firing, and that parts of Syria were in flames.

At last, there was some relative peace and quiet. After lunch, almost everybody retired for a much-needed Shabbat afternoon nap.

The roads still were filled with convoys, but by this time they were flying captured Jordanian and Egyptian flags. Every sort of vehicle, hundreds of them, newly captured, were passing by, filled with troops. It was an amazing sight to behold, the Israeli Army in all its glory. Victorious in Jordan, victorious in the Sinai, victorious in Jerusalem, they were on their way to capture the Syrian Heights. It made me feel so proud. That evening our small group celebrated again, singing to commemorate the end of the war.

Sunday, June 11 

Last night, for the first time since I came to Israel, sleep was peaceful and quiet. It was a fantastic victory. Within three hours almost the entire combined Arab air forces were demolished, and within days their armies utterly defeated.

Israel now controlled all of the Sinai and the entire West Bank and was 50 miles deep into Syria. Truly this was a miracle in our time.

We wondered, with Israel now the recognized military power in the Middle East, how would all these new territories be integrated into Israel?

As I laid down to sleep that night, a new passion had overcome me. It was time to leave the kibbutz and join my cousins, who also had volunteered, on a new adventure. There was a whole new Israel now, more than three times its original size, and we wanted to get out there and see it all.

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