On May 15, 1967, Israelis in Jerusalem celebrated their country's 19th Independence Day. They joined at a parade, a song festival and in the city streets, barbecuing and dancing. What these revelers did not know was that an imminent march toward war was already underway. A war that would completely transform their city, their country, and the Middle East.
Jerusalem was a dangerous border town. The city had endured a long siege and many casualties during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, and when that war ended, was divided between east and west. Walls, barbed wire fences and Jordanian snipers blocked Israelis from any access to the Old City.
Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser expelled UN peacekeepers from the border with Israel, massing soldiers, tanks and planes in the Sinai. He blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cut off Israeli shipping and vowed to "drive Israel into the sea." Nasser and Jordan's King Hussein signed a defense pact, placing Nasser in military control of east Jerusalem.
While the Arab world engaged in deadly rhetoric as Nasser preached to massive crowds, Israel quietly and methodically prepared, mobilizing a citizen army to defend their existence.
When the war ended, what had been a two millennia national yearning for Jews became a 20th century reality: a united city under Jewish control; the defining symbol of the rebirth of the Jewish people.
Those who had celebrated Independence Day in divided Jerusalem walked to the Old City and stood at the Western Wall less than one month later. The walls and barbed wire were removed, but not without cost in human blood.