War of 1967 - 001

1967 defeat left huge imprint on Syrian psyche

“Prepare for lunch in Tel Aviv” boomed Syrian Television in the early hours of the 1967 War.

“I believed them,” recalled pioneer Syrian comedian Duraid Lahham, who was working at Syrian TV back in 1967.

Speaking on the war’s 50th anniversary to Gulf News, he added: “I was 33 years old, restless and ambitious. I rushed back home and told my wife that we were soon going to have lunch in Tel Aviv. Hours later we realised just how deceived we really had been.”

When the war ended less than one week later, Lahham sank into acute depression — as all young men of his generation — emerging with a cutting political satire that was staged in Damascus called ‘Masrah Al Shawk’ mocking the collective Arab defeat of 1967. Two-thirds of the Syrian Army’s strength was annihilated by Israeli forces and the Golan Heights was seized.

An entire generation of artists, poets, novelists and politicians were galvanised by the “naksa” of 1967 — or ‘setback’, as Jamal Abdul Nasser famously coined it during his resignation speech on June 9, 1967.=

Nasser famously stepped down, taking the full blame for the defeat of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies, and appointing his deputy Zakariya Muhieddine as president instead.

“The entire city of Damascus broke out in hysteric frenzy,” recalled Muhieddine Salhani, who was a 23-year-old driver at the Qasr Al Diyafeh Presidential Palace in Damascus at the time.

“We all took to the streets, without any orders or coordination. It was 7pm in Damascus. We were beyond grief — grown men, crying like little children.”

In the following years, hundreds of plays, poems, and shows were made about the naksa — the most famous of which, no doubt, was ‘Haflat Samar Min Ajl 5 Huzeiran’ (Party of Joy for June 5), written by prominent playwright Saadallah Wannous. In one scene, actors dressed in government uniforms appear on a podium and break into an animated monologue about the 1967 War. Their empty speeches are interrupted by other actors who are seated among the audience and shout back: “No that is not what happened; I was there. You are lying.”

The rest of the audience, unaware that this was part of coordinated stage acting, would be provoked into joining the debate.

Every night the show would cause uproar as regular people booed at and hissed “the Arab command”.

Another iconic work inspired by the war was Nizar Qabbani’s poem, ‘Margins on the Notebook of Al Naksa’.

In it, he wrote: “It is not surprising that we lost the war because we entered it with nothing but oratory skills — bravados that never killed a fly.”

The war of 1967 was not just about military failure. It was the story of hopes dashed and dreams destroyed, recalls Dr Nicolas Chahine, a celebrated Damascene surgeon who was interning at the American University Hospital in Beirut at the time.

“My colleagues and I drove to Damascus, wanting to join the armed forces to carry out our patriotic duties. I confronted my father, who was also a doctor, saying: ‘Your generation lost Palestine. My generation will bring it back!’ Angrily he took me to our house in the summer town of Bloudan near the capital, where we saw with our own eyes our defeat at a distance, with explosions on Mount Hermon.

“Meanwhile, our radio stations were still trumpeting stories about our victories. My father then took me to a state-run hospital saying: ‘You want to help? You are a doctor. This is where you belong!” That is where I saw our sad reality — indescribable chaos and filth.”

Gulf News (1 June 2017)