The 50 years since the Six Day war has brought forth an outpouring of memories and analyses of that event and what various individuals trace to it.
Leaving aside the impossibility of summarizing and reaching a conclusion about all that is being remembered about that war, what preceded and what has followed it, the occasion prompts a consideration of momentous events in the long history of the Jews.
Before 1967, occurrences no less important in shaping what came after were
- The French Revolution and the Emancipation traced to Napoleon,
- The wave of pogroms identified with Czar Alexander II that spurred the movement of Grandpa along with a few million Jews to America, other western countries, and what became Israel from about 1880
- WWI and the end of the Ottoman Empire
- The Balfour Declaration
- Holocaust and the subsequent movement of what may have been most of the European Jews remaining alive to the British Mandate of Palestine and elsewhere
- Israel's War of Independence and the subsequent movement to Israel of the vast majority of Middle Eastern Jews
- The 1967 war and subsequent movement of Israeli Jews to East Jerusalem and other places that had been closed to them since 1948
Religious Jews would have their own list of great events. Rabbinic Judaism would not have developed as it did without an elite in what is now Iraq that produced the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud, and the greatness of subsequent interpreters that would include Rashi (Shomo Yitzchaki, 11th century France) and Rambam (Moses ben Maimom/Maimonides, 12th century Spain, North Africa, and Galilee).
Great events did not end with 1967.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the movement of about one million Russian speakers to Israel, brought not only a significant number of talented and well training individuals in a number of professional and artistic fields, but also provided Israel with enough people to relieve the tightness of the IDF's constraints and freeing many Israelis from long years of reserve duty.
Arguments about 1967 pit those who say that Israel became great with a quick victory over all its principal enemies, against those who said that it became weak with control over territories and Arabs from the Suez Canal to the Jordan River, plus the Golan Heights.
Change continues. It is symbolic, and may become significant that on the very day of the 50th anniversary of the fighting in 1967 a number of important Arab countries broke diplomatic relations with one of their brothers. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, and Yemen (since followed by others) signaled their severe unhappiness with Qatar in a way that made clear the break between Iran, its allies and Sunni regimes as well as the wider and bloodier warfare that has marked much of the Muslim Middle East for the better part of a decade.
This unraveling of Muslim unity also reflects competing conceptions of key events. It could be traced to 9-11 and the onset of major antipathy between the US, other western governments, and various Muslim regimes and movements; the earlier spur to Muslim extremism provided by Ronald Reagan's recruitment of Muslims to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan; the Iranian revolution that replaced the Shah with Shiite clerics,; George W. Bush's removal of Saddam Hussein; and Barack Obama's naive Cairo speech that may have spurred a brief Arab Spring that became the continuing Arab Winter.
Among the latest events is the ascendance of Donald Trump, and a variety of confusing actions, statements, and tweets. Commoners, in the Middle East and elsewhere, are left to weigh what he is reported to have told Palestinians and others, and its impact on the movement of Arab governments against Qatar, and the President's concern with peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Not only do recent and not-so-recent events demonstrate that we are living in a complex world with numerous important players each with their own interests and intentions, but the mix and dynamism defies any certainty of where we are and what's likely to happen. Detailed predictions ranging beyond the next 5 minutes are somewhere between risky and foolhardy.
Governments should continue to employ strategic planners to ponder the possibilities, even though such work is likely to be more theoretical than practical.
Among the issues that may affect many beyond those immediately involved are the impacts from the British election and how that may have been shaped by terror attacks in Manchester and London.
What is even more directly linked to life in this little country is the longevity of governments led by Benyamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. Both may think of themselves as irreplaceable, but both--along with key aides--are in the sights of autonomous organs concerned with law enforcement.
What seems to have been an ISIS attack in Tehran may be a passing blip, or something bigger. Iran is far from a homogeneous, united country, and may be ripe for serious internal trouble, with the help of Muslim outsiders.
We can argue if the cartoonist for Ha'aretz was cynical, chuckling, or thinking that it could not have happened to nicer people. He has one of the attackers saying that he thought it would be more difficult, and another saying that when they finish in Tehran they'll be going to London.
Worthies of the world may once again curse Israelis for being less than politically correct. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the deadly scuffle among those declaring their intention to liquidate us.
Israelis may actually have become more secure than most others, given the spread of Muslim refugees to Europe and North America and what's associated with them, along with the greater familiarity and routine security precautions that Israel practices. Some may cringe and scream about ethnic profiling and other limits to civil liberties that many Israelis accept as appropriate to their circumstances, but the country's practices are less crude and more effective in producing security than what American police direct against young Black males.
Comments welcome, including from those who dare predict beyond the range that seems reasonable.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem