This column is being written on June 7, the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. June 7 was a day I will never forget. I was never so scared from early morning, when I heard on the radio that Egypt had destroyed the Israel Air Force, until the evening when I heard the truth.
In my 101 years, I have never been so scared again. Around 2 p.m. in the United Nations Delegate’s Lounge in New York, my fears were somewhat but not completely alleviated, when a senior official from the Israeli delegation said to me, “Take it easy boy, in the morning session of the Security Council, the Russians were obstructing a call for a cease-fire. Now they are requesting that the council reconvene immediately. So they must have some news.”
Of course he knew what the news was, but like all Israelis, he was forbidden to talk. The government’s silence on the victory of the Israel Air Force had lured King Hussein of Jordan into joining the attack on Israel in accordance with his pact with Egypt. A paratroop brigade, en route to the Egyptian front, turned around to stop the Jordanian tanks heading for Jerusalem. The brigade captured east Jerusalem while other Israeli units kicked the Jordanian forces out of the West Bank. All of Israel was thrilled by the announcement of Motta Gur, commander of the paratroop brigade, “Har Habayit Beyadeinu,” or “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
Someone flew a blue-and-white Israeli flag over the Dome of the Rock, but defense minister Moshe Dayan almost immediately ordered to take it down.
“We don’t want a war with the whole Muslim world,” he said.
What to do about the “territories,” as the West Bank was called at the time? “Give it all back to Jordan immediately except east Jerusalem,” advised David Ben-Gurion from his retirement home in Sde Boker. No Israeli paid much attention. I flew to Israel to put out a special issue of Hadassah Magazine. It featured an interview with Motta Gur by Elie Wiesel.
The Labor government forbade Israelis from buying land in the territories.
Jewish land speculators bought large tracts through Arab intermediaries close to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In a few years, Menachem Begin had overthrown the Labor government and the speculators were able to cash in. Large billboards appeared on the roads coming out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, offering a breath of fresh air to urban residents.
They could buy a cottage with a garden with subsidies and tax discounts from Begin’s government. Thus began the occupation with all its evils. The army ruled the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s democracy ended at the Green Line, a.k.a. the 1967 borders. The soldiers’ instructions were that they were there to protect the Jewish settlers. The West Bank had two legal systems, one for Jews and one for Palestinians, and two road systems, one for Jews and one for Palestinians.
The West Bank is divided with 40 percent in areas A and B in which a majority of the Palestinians live with some degree of self-government. Area C, 60% of the West Bank, is completely under the thumb of the Israeli Army. An old British Mandatory map labeled most of it as agricultural. The civil administration, which is a branch of the army, ignores this map for the Jewish settlements. But it uses it to refuse building permits for Palestinians.
Over the years, Palestinians have built homes without permits. There are now some 40 “unrecognized villages” which are not connected to the Israeli water systems or the electric power grid. Every once in awhile, usually for the benefit of an expanding Jewish settlement, the civil administration decides to destroy an unrecognized village, which has been built on “agricultural land.”
There are 314 homes in the village of Susya in the Hebron Hills which recently lost an appeal to the High Court of Justice to stop the civil administration’s eviction order. The army says that its bulldozers may arrive any day. This is just one example of army rule which will continue while the government continues to build Jewish settlements.
In the first quarter of 2015, according to government statistics, the number of Israeli housing units finished in the West Bank increased by 219%. The US State Department was always opposed Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Some 15 or 20 years ago, the government promised the State Department that it would present to the American ambassador Daniel Kurtzer a map showing the extent of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Such a map was never presented. In the talks under the aegis of Secretary of State John Kerry last year, Israel never presented a map.
The government talked about swapping Israeli land for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but it never presented a map of what it was talking about.
Meanwhile, Susya lives in fear of immediate destruction. I believe that those who want peace, do better by talking about ending the occupation. Ending the occupation would not only bring peace to two peoples, it would solve the demographic problem which Ariel Sharon recognized 10 years ago when he ordered the unilateral evacuation of 8,000 Jews who had settled in the Gaza Strip. He refused to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority, with the result that Hamas took over. The demographic problem reared its ugly head once again at the annual policy conference in Herzliya last week.
Both President Rivlin and Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition, warned against the danger of a single state. The Jews are now a slight majority with 6.5 million Jews to 6.1 million Arabs in the land “from the river to the sea” which was Palestine under the British. Herzog said that by the end of the decade, the Jews would be 48% and that this would be the end of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state. What is Herzog’s solution? Mine is the same as the little signs held up by the Women in Black group in the main cities of Israel for many years which said simply, “End the Occupation.”
“End the Occupation” should also be the slogan of the growing anti-BDS movement on American campuses which is led by J Street U. Sheldon Adelson has raised $50 million to fight BDS, but he wants to maintain the status quo in the West Bank. His money will have little effect on college students, but it will be used to lobby for anti- BDS resolutions in state legislatures. I like the resolution that recently passed in the state of Tennessee which said that the BDS movement is “damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights for all the peoples in the Middle East.”
The people of Tennessee and the other 49 US states and the rest of the world should know that it is not the BDS but the occupation which is “damaging the cause of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights” in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the security services of Palestine and Israel maintain their close cooperation so that the Israelis, most of whom believe that “the whole world is against us,” continue to live in peace in a fool’s paradise.The writer, who is 101 years old and lives in Florida, made aliya from the US in the 1920s, attending high school in Haifa. A lifelong journalist, he wrote for The Palestine Post, now The Jerusalem Post, from 1934 to 1967 (His brother, Ted Lurie, was editor- in-chief from 1955 until his death in 1974.) Back in the US, he was the founding editor of