Former Jewish Light editor reported from Jerusalem during Six-Day War



To commemorate its 60th year of continuous publication, The St. Louis Jewish Light will present a series of retrospectives, looking at the newspaper’s coverage of some of the defining moments over the last 60 years. This article, the first part of the ongoing retrospective series, looks back on the 1967 Six-Day War, how it was covered in the Jewish Light, and its relevance to today’s issues.


This piece is being written on June 7, 2007: 40 years to the day of Yom Yerushalayim, the liberation, by the Israel Defense Forces, of the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, the crowning moment of the Six-Day War.

Israel’s stunning military triumph in that war was by no means certain in the grim weeks leading up to June 5, 1967, when the Israeli Air Force launched a surprise mission against the combined air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, gaining mastery of the skies before the ground campaign even started.

The Six-Day War was one of the most significant events not only in the 59-year history of the Jewish State, but also in the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people. Before and during the Six-Day War, Israel’s very existence hung in the balance.

By coincidence, the then-editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Geoffrey Fisher, was in Jerusalem when war erupted.

Fisher was the “bridge” editor of the Light, serving first as the editor of the St. Louis Light from 1961-l963, when the paper was directly published as a “house organ” by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and later as the first editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, when it was re-organized as a separate entity with an autonomous board of trustees, from 1963-l969.

Fisher was in Jerusalem at the Annual Conference of the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA), which was holding its first ever annual meeting in the Jewish State.

The all-caps headline in the June 7, 1967 edition of the St. Louis Jewish Light read, “‘HALT WAR’–UN.”

One of the two major overseas stories, headlined “No Choice But Fight To Death,” was written by Geoffrey Fisher himself, filed from Jersualem.

His writing recalls the dramatic prose of such wartime journalistic legends as Edward R. Morrow, when the latter reported on World War II.

Fisher wrote:

They come from the factories, the farms, the kibbutzim –they come hard and bronzed from the long hours spent in the sun that shines here 11 months out of the year — they come out of the hills of Jerusalem and they come from the Mediterranean coast above and below Tel Aviv — and they come from every village and town, these brave sons of Israel.

They stream into training centers by foot, by mule cart and by hitch hiking to once again answser the call of their embattled little nation.

They come singing their Hebrew songs and they come with a spring in their step and a flash in their eyes. Because they know what they come for and they know where they go and why they go.

For these young men are descendants of a people who for thousands of years — and in this very Holy Land — have fought and died and survived in an eternal struggle of man to be free.

I watched one such quickly assembled unit going through some preliminary training tactics on Mt. Herzl. They wore makeshift uniforms, some bearded and some too young to shave. But no one had to explain why they were there. They knew why. How could they need any greater motivation than that which loomed right before them just a few yards away?

For on Mt. Herzl, where they were being put through their drills by a lean, tanned corporal, stands the Memorial Tent to the Nazi Holocaust, a huge, squared, concrete and marble structure brimming with exhibits and momentos of that horror against mankind…

Lest one think that Fisher’s language was florid or “over the top,” consider the cold, hard realities which Israel faced in May 1967, just one month before the outbreak of hostilities:

President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic, demagogic dictator of Egypt, shocked the world by announcing that he was ordering a blockade against Israeli shipping at the Straits of Tiran, cutting the Jewish State off from the vital Red Sea outlet and leaving it landlocked. Nasser knew that the closure of the Staits of Tiran was an act of war in international law, but pushed ahead with his plan anyway.

In addition, Nasser suddenly ordered the removal from the Sinai Peninsula of the United Nations Emergency Force, which had been stationed to assure Israel that Egypt would not again threaten its security by massing troops at its border.

Despite the fact that the UNEF troops had been guaranteed by the Great Powers, along with assurances that the Straits of Tiran would be kept open, world leaders, including U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and French President Charles de Gaulle did nothing to stop the push toward war. Incredibly, U Thant, the ineffectual and compliant Secretary General of the United Nations immediately complied with Nasser’s request and removed the UNEF forces without even consulting the Security Council.

Nasser notched up the pressure even more by forging military alliances with Syria and Jordan, and then massing Egyptian troops in the Sinai, pressing up against the thin borders of the tiny Jewish State. Nasser told screaming mobs of supporters in downtown Cairo rallies, “Our goal is the destruction of Israel.”

Ahmed Shukeiri, chairman of the nascent Palestine Liberation Organization, pledged his rag-tag Palestine Liberation Army to the cause, and was even more blunt in annoucing his goal. “We will push the Jews into the sea” was his constant refrain during the run-up to the war.

Be patient, Israel was cautioned, as the noose tightened around its neck. Let diplomacy run its course, Israel was told. LBJ offered to send Vice President Hubert Humphrey to Cairo to “reason” with Nasser.

French President Charles de Gaulle, once Europe’s most pro-Israel leader, warned Israel against taking unilateral action, promising Foreign Minister Abba Eban, “I will save you!”

As May 1967 wound down, leaders of Israel realized that just as was the case during the Holocaust, they could not depend on the outside world to protect Jewish lives. On June 5, 1967, Israel’s Swift Sword struck at the combined Arab air forces, while they sat like sitting ducks on the tarmacs of military air fields. Having obtained mastery of the skies in the first hours, the brave young Israel Defense Forces, led by such military geniuses as Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Uzi Narkiss and Abraham Yoffe, in just six days vanquished the Egyptian Army, taking control of the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. In fierce fighting, the IDF captured from Syria the Golan Heights, a strategically vital area from which the Syrians had fired down at Israeli settlers in northern Israel for the previous 19 years.

Israel had pleaded with the moderate King Hussein of Jordan to stay out of the conflict, but under pressure from Nasser, Hussein launched shells into Israel, leading to Israeli action which resulted not only in the capture of the West Bank, containing Hebron and the Biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, but also, on June 7, 1967, the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Gen. Moshe Dayan, the famous Israeli military hero of both the Sinai Campaign and one of those of the Six-Day War, said, upon approaching the Western Wall of the Second Temple area, “We have returned to our Eternal City, never again to leave.” Photographers captured the moment when the brave young Israeli soliders who were the first to reach the Western Wall looked up at what remained of the Second Temple; the looks on their faces were priceless, combining awe, pride and humility.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces watched as the flag of Israel with its Shield of David flew once more above the Eternal City of Jerusalem, which was made the capital of Israel by King David himself.

As was fitting for such a profound moment in Jewish history, Goren sounded the shofar.

June 1967, Six Days That Shook the World.

And the St. Louis Jewish Light was there!