Saturday, June 05, 2021

June 5, 1967 My Zero Hour

 My memory recedes with the passing of the years. I have few memories before June 5, 1967. I have very vague memories of the day of the move to Ma`adi in 1964; another memory of huddling up in my parents’ room listening in total silence to Oum Kalthoum sing Inta Omry for the first time, as my father had a microphone in front of small transistor radio connected to a reels recorder. I remember sitting with my grandmother on a sofa hand feeding chicks and then remember being at the family cemetery where she was buried in 1966. Other than these tidbits, I remember nothing, but then I have vivid memories starting from the 1967 war.

I remember the euphoria of impending victory over Israel and the patriotic songs on the morning of the 5th of June.  I remember the civil defense volunteers and the shouts of “taffi ennour” to turn off the lights. I remember having all the windows covered with blue paper and tape. I remember the sonic booms, the sound of distant explosions and the sounds of the anti aircraft guns.

We lived on the very edge of Cairo, immediately behind our house, literally adjacent was a military camp with anti aircraft guns. I was later told that those were so old, dating to WWII. On the 3rd or 4th day of the war an Israeli plane flew so low over our house, I was on a second floor balcony, I still remember how close it was. 

I can’t remember exactly when it became clear that we, Egypt, lost the war, but I remember sitting in the dark watching president Nasser’s speech and my late brother shouting back at the TV, no you can’t resign now. I remember loud terrifying sounds of sonic booms and the heavy thud of bombing immediately after the end of the speech. 

June 5, 1967 was the beginning of forming who I was. I remember the various events that ensued from the suicide of of the minister of defense, to the downing of an Egyptian civilian jet coming back from Libya by the Israelis, the plane had on it the mother of one of the kids in the area. 

The War of Attrition that followed the original war, lasted for over two years, lots of sonic booms over Cairo, fear of Israelis exploding bridges over the Nile. An elementary school had some 248 children killed in the delta, got me convinced that Israel could target us. Whenever we heard the air raid sirens or sonic booms, it was sheer terror. I was more frightened of being targeted at the school than at home, adjacent to the military camp. Only few years ago, I read that Israel apologized for the bombing of the elementary school as a mistake, no one told me then.

These events, a very long time ago, still have a profound effect on who I’m today. Yet, I was extremely lucky, I was far away from any actual bombing, I didn’t see any rubble,no blood. I think of the people of Gaza, the children, people young and old, who seem to live through real and immediate hell and I can only imagine the lifelong effect.

This morning, I was reading an account of the Palestine Riots of 1921, some 200 people died, those were perhaps some of the earliest deaths post the Balfour Declaration. A full 100 years later and sadly, it doesn’t not seem like the wars and the killings will stop anytime soon.

Ayman S. Ashour

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