Six Day War – and British Jews

“The hour of danger…Israel is on the brink” – Jewish Chronicle headline 19 May 1967.

UK VOLUNTEERS BOARD PLANE 1967

British volunteers board the plane at London airport – more come from the UK than from any other country.

british volunteers farewell kiss 1967

Farewell at London airport – a final kiss for one volunteer

 

The crisis strikes

In May ’67 the community watches anxiously as the crisis develops in the Middle East –  Nasser masses troops in the Sinai, ousts the UN peacekeepers and closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The Jewish Chronicle reports Arab leaders in Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad  call for the destruction of Israel.

kING fAISAL lONDON 1967

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia is on a state visit to the UK. He tells a British TV audience that the priority of every Arab nation is to exterminate Israel.

How would you respond?

It is the week beginning 21 May ’67. The community begins to galvanise and take action.

May 05, 1967 - Israel's Foreign Minister Meets Mr. Wilson: Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who is on his way to Washington,

On 24 May, as Abba Eban arrives in London to meet with PM Harold Wilson, all the major UK Jewish organisations endorse a statement from the Board of Deputies. This calls on the Government to take action to restore the Straits of Tiran as an international waterway.

A rally of solidarity will take place this Sunday, 28 May 1967, at Hyde Park, 4pm.

An Emergency fund to aid Israel is launched by the JPA (the Joint Palestine Appeal – the forerunner of the UJIA).

The Chief Rabbi, the Haham (leader of Sephardi Jews) and Progressive leaders call for special Psalms and prayers to be recited at Shabbat services. The Jewish Chronicle tells its readers: “this Sabbath our synagogues should be filled with worshippers united in prayer”.

Topol, star of Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty’s theatre, tells the JC:   I’m an Israeli first and a performer second. I’m ready to go to Israel if called.

A 24 year old houseman at the North Staffs Royal infirmary, Cecil Reid, responds to the crisis: “I feel Israel’s future is at stake. If people like me aren’t prepared to go and help there might be no Israel”.

Stanley Lovatt, today Israel’s Honorary consul in Scotland, presides at a meeting of Young JNF in Glasgow. He says: “It isn’t enough to watch this out on TV, we must all pull together and do our best in support of Israel”.

UK volunteers on arrival in Israel 1967

Paper work – British volunteers arriving in Israel are processed at the airport.

Cecil Reid, then aged 24,  recalls his story as a British volunteer in Israel.
I was a recently qualified doctor working as a houseman at the North Staffs Royal Infirmary in Stoke-on-Trent. I watched the TV news and saw the crowds in the Arab world calling for Israel’s destruction. I felt Israel’s future was at stake and if people like me weren’t prepared to go and help there might be no Israel.
I arranged for someone to take up my post at the hospital and reported to Rex House in London to register as a volunteer.
Within 48 hours, I received the call to get to London airport for a night flight to Tel Aviv. We must have been one of the first groups of volunteers to fly out. I recall the actor Topol being on the plane.
I didn’t know what to expect flying into a war zone. I envisaged being sent to a field hospital at the front.
It was the third day of the war when we arrived, and after a short while I was assigned a post at the Kaplan hospital in Rechovot. While there were some war casualties in the hospital my job was doing routine surgical work in place of medical staff who had been called up.
My parents understood why I went to Israel in the middle of a war. But naturally enough they weren’t so happy and were concerned about my safety. In those days it was difficult to keep in touch. But they could hardly have known I was to meet my wife as a result of this trip.
Ruth Amsel was also a volunteer from the UK, a qualified nurse from the Royal Free Hospital in London, who was  assigned to Kaplan hospital and performed duties there as a staff nurse in Casualty.
So Ruth and I look back at the time of the Six Day War as a hugely important one for the Jewish people and Israel, but also for us personally.
(Cecil has lost touch with some of the volunteers he worked with. So if anyone reading this remembers Dr Cecil Reid or Ruth Amsel at  Kaplan hospital in Rechovot please get in touch with us and we’ll forward your message to Cecil).
Six Day War: 50 Years On is a project of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council and is supported by the Jewish Chronicle.
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