Think About It: The Six Day War – 46 years later

For those of us who were adults during the Six Day War it comes as somewhat of a shock to realize that around 75 percent of the current population of Israel was not yet born when it took place.

June 9, 2013 21:24
Independence Day parade 1967, Jerusalem, King George Street

1967 Independence Day parade, Jerusalem370 . (photo credit: Stuart Geller)

For those of us who were adults during the Six Day War it comes as somewhat of a shock to realize that around 75 percent of the current population of Israel was not yet born when it took place.

This means that over 75% of the population have no experience of living in Israel within the 1967 borders, and can hardly perceive of such a reality as anything but a nightmare.

The truth is that also among those who experienced the pre-1967 reality many remember it as a nightmare, at least in security terms. When Abba Eban, who was Israel’s foreign minister during the Six Day War, appeared at the United Nations following the war, he described Israel’s 1949- 1967 boundaries as “Auschwitz borders.”

What exactly did he mean? In 1969 he gave an explanation in an interview to the German Der Spiegel: “The June [1967] map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz. We shudder when we think of what would have awaited us in the circumstances of June, 1967, if we had been defeated; with Syrians on the mountain and we in the valley, with the Jordanian army in sight of the sea, with the Egyptians who hold our throat in their hands in Gaza. This is a situation which will never be repeated....”

So at least from a security point of view Israel is undoubtedly better off today than it was before the war, even though modern implements of warfare (especially missiles) have greatly changed the significant of borders.

But beyond the elusive question of borders, what else did the war change with regards to the reality we live in? To start off one must point out that certain things would have changed even without the Six Day War. For example, the predominance of the Zionist Labor Movement, which lasted from 1935 to 1977, and which advocated various shades of social democracy, would have come to an end sooner or later, though the Six Day War and its aftermath enhanced the process.

Why? First of all because the regime’s cockiness following the Six Day War resulted in the Yom Kippur War, and despite the fact that this war finally resulted in a military victory, the shock of the surprise and lack of preparedness started to crack the regime’s perceived omnipotence.

The war also changed the whole context of the debate between the political Left and Right. Whereas until 1967 the debate dealt primarily with socio-economic issues, the change in the territory under Israeli control brought up the issue of the permanent borders of the state (i.e. “territorial compromise” – yes or no?), the nature of the desired permanent solution between Israel and its neighbors, if and when such a solution would become possible, not to mention the essence of Zionism, and balancing the Jewish and democratic components of the state.

These post-1967 issues are still prominent, and have given rise to various phenomena such as messianic Judaism on the one hand, and Israeli human rights organizations on the other, which are opposite reactions the new reality that Israel has got itself into, and which would have been much less relevant in the pre-1967 reality.

Among the reasons why the Left would have weakened even without the Six Day War was the alienation of various groups in the population (such as most Israelis of Sephardi origin); the longing of growing sections of the population for greater economic freedom and less centralization; and the process of degeneration and corruption that every regime that has remained too long in power undergoes (though Labor degeneration and corruption before 1977 was peanuts compared to what we are witnessing today). None of these had anything to do with the Six Day War.

Other things would have also changed even if the Six Day War had not taken place: Israel’s population would still have grown two-and-a-half-fold. In 1967 there were under 2.8 million Israelis. Today there are around 8 million. More generally, the technological revolution would have occurred. It is not only PCs and smartphones that did not exist in Israel in 1967. Except for educational television there were no TV broadcasts in Israel in 1967.

But to return to the consequences of the Six Day War, let us remember that if today many complain about the absence of progress in the peace process, before 1967 there was no peace process, only open threats and acts against Israel’s existence.

True, it took 10 years before peace with Egypt became possible, and 25 years before a dialogue (faulty as it may be) began between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, all this was totally unimaginable before Israel conquered the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps a permanent peace solution is impossible, and Israel will have to continue to live by its sword as long as it manages to survive, however, we are certainly in a totally different place, despite the pessimism and double-talk of both Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu.

One of the more negative aspects of the new reality is that whereas before 1967 Israel was perceived in the world as little David confronting Goliath, today Israel is perceived as the giant bully, even though the reality is much more complex, and Israel’s current status in the world is not affected only by an objective perception of realities, but in some cases also by oldfashioned anti-Semitism as well.

Finally, before the outbreak of the Six Day War Israel was in a state of a deep economic depression, which gave rise to jokes such as “the last person to leave Lod Airport [today’s Ben-Gurion Airport] is requested to turn off the lights.”

The consequences of the war pushed Israel into a completely different economic reality, which despite ups and downs, and growing socio-economic inequalities and injustices, changed its economic status from a fairly successful developing economy to an industrial economy which is a world leader in certain spheres.

What is the conclusion from all the facts that have been presented above (and they are but a drop in the ocean)? It is that it is very difficult to say whether the Six Day War brought more good than evil, or vice versa. The Six Day War was an occurrence that was forced upon Israel, which did not plan it and did not desire it. Going back to what existed before this war is impossible, and the real question is where we go from where we are today – a reality that was only partially shaped by the Six Day War.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.

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