A historian’s nightmare

Since I fear the long-term outcome of the Six Day War victory, and the poison pill of occupation, I do not celebrate Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day521 (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT / FLASH 90)
Jerusalem Day521
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT / FLASH 90)
For a number of years I have refused to celebrate Jerusalem Day, which falls on Iyar 28, or May 8 this year. Yes, although I lived in New York at the time, I am old enough to remember the fears that gripped us in the weeks preceding the Six Day War, the thrill of the news that enemy air forces had been destroyed on the ground, the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the declaration that the Temple Mount was in “our” hands.
Nevertheless, as the consequences of the 1967 war became clearer, I began to view Jerusalem Day as the opening act of a national tragedy. For many years, I was reluctant to publish the piece below; it seemed far too extreme. The composition of the new coalition government, whose representatives in key places are committed to generous funding of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, has changed my mind.
I fear what will come to pass sometime in the future: Israel – a pariah state – about which no one really cares what happens to its Jewish citizens, since they have lost all moral claim to life; an Israel where, if military resources are depleted, there will be no air bridge of resupply, as there was in 1973; a country in which its best youth evade army service, because they refuse to oppress another people for no reason, except to serve communities of settlers who employ every trick possible – legal, political and military – to take other peoples’ land; countless resources wasted on settlements, while the center of the country decays; all this capped by a systematic attempt to suppress dissent, with anyone who dares criticize current government policy labeled a selfhating Jew and a traitor.
When that awful day comes, Israel of the Zionist dream will be fruit ripe for plucking by its enemies. Exactly how will the defeat come? That I do not know. I am a historian, not a prophet.
What gives me nightmares is the way history might be rewritten then. We are accustomed to see Jordanian King Hussein’s decision to attack Israel in 1967 as his greatest strategic error.
If only he had not been tempted, if only the Egyptian president Gamal Nasser had not gambled, and Hussein had not been pushed by domestic and international considerations, then Jordan would still be controlling the West Bank and East Jerusalem. How differently things might have been, if only Hussein had restrained himself then! History, however, is in constant dialogue with the present. It is written from the perspective of the present, asking new questions about the past. How will history judge Hussein at that awful moment in the future, if and when the Zionist dream collapses on the consequences of its own folly? What will historians write then? My principal nightmare goes as follows: Arab countries realized that they had little chance to defeat Israel of 1967 militarily.
That country was strong in spirit and had a clear shared moral purpose. Therefore, a more sophisticated and sinister strategy was required. Start a war, but lose it, lose territory as well, so that Israel will swallow the poison pill of the appetite for conquest, for domination and for expansion.
Rot Israel from within. These tactics did not seem to work at first, but eventually they proved effective. No nation can maintain the spirit that allows it to flourish when it is at the expense of another people. Hussein of 1967, in retrospect, will be declared a strategic genius, the Saladin of the 20th century. He found the key for which others searched in vain.
All this, of course, is rewritten history, with nothing to do with the motives of the actors of the time, but tragically and ironically, perfectly in accord with the consequences I fear and the way they might look at some time in the future. Holidays are meant to commemorate events, so they are inextricably involved with perceptions and memories of the past.
Jerusalem Day is meant to commemorate a victory. Since I fear the longer-term outcome of that victory and the way it may be reinterpreted at some time in the future, I do not celebrate it. 
Albert I. Baumgarten is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University