Toward a new Palestinian state of mind

While the Six Day War may have transformed Palestinians’ geopolitical landscape, when it comes to their collective mindset there is still room for a major breakthrough.

July 12, 2017 21:29
A Palestinian waves a flag near a destroyed section of the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Eg

A Palestinian waves a flag near a destroyed section of the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Six Day War may have transformed Palestinians’ geopolitical landscape, but when it comes to their collective mindset, there is still room for a major breakthrough.

In collaboration with The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem U just finished creating and distributing a mini-documentary titled Countdown to the Six Day War Project, consisting of 12 short films, each three to five minutes long. The series chronologically reenacts the geopolitical context leading up to the war, captures major events in each day of battle, and analyzes the consequences of a war that took place 50 years ago and forever changed the face of Israel and the Middle East.

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It is a film about the transformation of place, politics and people.

The Six Day War transformed the political landscape in the region. On the eve of the war, Israel found itself small and vulnerable – less than 20719 in size and existing within what Abba Eban referred to as “Auschwitz borders.” Then, in only six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies bent on its destruction, tripled its size and attained military superiority on all fronts. It gained control over east Jerusalem, and reclaimed Judaism’s holiest sites, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

The war transformed the collective psyche of Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. It restored Jewish pride and boosted Jewish power which had been absent for multiple generations before Israel’s foundation. In the aftermath of the war, thousands of Jews immigrated to Israel from around the world. Soviet Jews garnered the courage to demand their freedom and received unyielding support from their brethren in the free world.

Arab countries too – particularly Israel’s immediate neighbors – underwent a major transformation over the past 50 years, albeit bitter in nature. After a catastrophic defeat, the Arab street lost faith in its military and political leaders. Over time, Arab regimes started relating to Israel as a force to be reckoned with. This ultimately opened up productive channels of communication and set the tone for the peace agreements that Israel signed with Egypt in 1979, and with Jordan in 1994. While most Arab countries have yet to officially recognize the Jewish state, the undercurrents of informal regional alliances with Israel can no longer be ignored.

The war also introduced dramatic changes for the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Previously governed by Egypt and Jordan, after the war they found themselves under Israeli control. While some aspects of their standard of living have dramatically improved over the past 50 years, the war shattered any hopes they had for achieving independence and freedom. They face the daily hardships associated with Israel’s military occupation – barriers, checkpoints and curfews – which were much needed to stop Palestinian terrorism in the early 2000s.

But while the Six Day War may have transformed Palestinians’ geopolitical landscape, when it comes to their collective mindset there is still room for a major breakthrough. They continue to see themselves as the sole victims of the Arab-Israeli wars. They stubbornly hold on to a disempowering narrative – focusing not on future possibilities, but on past miseries – attributing most of their misfortunes to Israel’s occupation.

The problem with this mindset is that it fails – perhaps even refuses – to acknowledge present complexities and historical events. It omits the fact that time and again, for the past 20 years, Israel offered to hand over the vast majority of territories in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for the sake of a Palestinian state. It denies that Jews have a valid claim to the area of the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria – an area that has deep historical and religious significance to many Jews around the world.

The Palestinian narrative falsely accuses Israel of ethnically cleansing Palestine in 1948 – ignoring the fact that Arab leaders rejected the 1947 partition plan and then launched an all-or-nothing war against Israel – resulting in thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.

Today, Palestinian leaders continue to tread the path of continuous rejection – rejecting not only Israel’s calls for peace, but also the very existence of the Jewish state. This stagnant state of mind is detrimental for the Israeli people. But it’s utterly devastating for the Palestinian people.

To those Palestinian leaders genuinely committed to enabling positive and sustainable change, consider this a call to action:

Take ownership
Own up to your mistakes and understand that you have the power to shape your future. Indeed, Israel has not always treated you fairly or honestly, but don’t use that as an excuse for staying in the rut. It’s disingenuous.

Tell the truth
Acknowledge the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and tell the truth about your own history (yes – many of your ancestors have been here for years. No – you are not descendants of the Canaanites). Revise your narrative of 1948 – rely on historical research, not on folklore and hearsay. This will do you a lot of good. As Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free (but first it will piss you off).”

Change your focus
Cut it out with petty UN resolutions and global boycott campaigns against the State of Israel. These ultimately harm your people more than they harm the people of Israel. Start meeting the right people (Israeli officials) at the right places (negotiating tables).

Accept reality
Modify your all-or-nothing Palestinian charter to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish People and eliminate clauses that call for replacing all of Israel with a Palestinian state. Eliminate Hamas’ fundamentalist covenant.

Focus on the positive
Teach your children the values of peace and coexistence. Teach them to build and live rather than destroy and die. Make them realize that they can be agents of positive change.

For some, the ‘67 war was an instant blessing; for others, a never-ending curse. What’s clear though, is that it is possible for transformation to happen overnight, or at least over the course of six days. To transform themselves, Palestinian leaders should realize that there is no need for another war, and that they truly do have a say in determining their future. If they make the right choices and restore their people’s (and Israel’s) trust, they might even start leading the way, with a beacon of hope, in a region that so desperately needs it.

The author is director of Israel education at Jerusalem U. Over the past decade he has spoken to thousands of students and adults across the religious and political spectrum at synagogues, college campuses, high schools and national leadership conferences around the world. He grew up in Israel and South Africa, served as a combat soldier in the Sayeret Givati infantry unit, and received his BA from Harvard and his MA from Tel Aviv University.

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