Connections: The Six Day War

Fifty years ago: a joyful excursion into a part of the world that was new to us and bound to be exciting

In June it will be 50 years since Israel and its Arab neighbors, Syria, Egypt, and Jordon, fought what is known as the Six Day War, a conflict in which Israel secured a military victory, though, to put it mildly, hardly a lasting one.

My husband and I were a young married couple, pleased as could be to live in a small house near Gardiner’s Bay with our three small children, a place that was calm and surrounded by environmental beauty. We were stay-at-homes, happily so. He was even reluctant to go to New York City, though he had had a good year there getting a master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism.

But then dear friends made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. They were planning to bring their commodious sailboat back to the States from Antigua, where it had spent the winter, and we were invited to tag along. My parents were alive and well and could take care of the kids, and we couldn’t say no, even though the youngest was not yet a year old. 

Fifty years ago: a joyful excursion into a part of the world that was new to us and bound to be exciting. The Wonny La Rue would pick us up on Great Inagua, an island at the southern end of the Bahamas that I, certainly, had never heard of. Even going there would be an adventure and a treat. Life was turning out the way it was supposed to.

Great Inagua, which is just north of Cuba and Haiti, is home to thousands upon thousands of flamingos that roost on its huge salt lake. Internet sites estimate the number of what Inaguans insist on calling “fillymingos” as between 60,000 and 80,000. The human residents of the island number only about 1,000. It is said that when huge flocks of flamingos fly up at one time the clouds turn pink. The Morton Salt Company also has a home on the island, its facility producing about a million pounds of salt a year. We were thrilled to see the flamingos and did not take in Morton Salt.

Inagua is a flat, dry, seemingly lackluster place. Waiting for the Wonny La Rue, we stayed in a house whose keeper was a woman called Nurse. Our room was separated from the hall by a wall that didn’t reach the ceiling. We saw no shops; a neighbor sold chickens, and another household goods.

Any sense of quiet was broken, however, by the intrusion of tragic reality. Papa Doc, the long-lived Haitian dictator, had absolute power at the time. It seemed that money-hungry mariners had promised to take a group of desperate Haitians to Nassau, only to drop them only 135 nautical miles away on Great Inagua, where there was nothing for them. (Does this sound familiar?) They were in the island’s primitive prison when we arrived, and we witnessed their being corralled aboard a Haitian government boat for whatever their fate was going to be. Not a very cheery start to an idyllic vacation.

And then Nurse told us war had broken out in the Middle East. She had heard it on the radio and was inclined to quote biblical verses to the effect that the end of the world was ordained. I ignored what she said the Good Book had to say, but felt absolutely awful that we had left our children at home at a time of war. 

By the time we got home, Israel had taken control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Fifty years ago, and the rest is unfortunate history.