The Seventh Day of the Six Day War

Forty four years later, it is worth revisiting just how dominant 1967’s influence on modern Israel is.

rabinovich and paratroopers six day war (photo credit: Courtesy)
rabinovich and paratroopers six day war
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the better part of the last forty four years Israel has been living in the seventh day of the Six Day War. For all our economic success, military prowess, cultural diversity, political development and state-of-the-art technology, Israel is still stuck in some twisted version of Ground Hog Day, the date being June 11, 1967.
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Some think it’s a dream worth living in, “or else,” while others think it’s a nightmare we have to extricate ourselves from “or else.” Some thought of it as a political-military miracle or attributed theological significance to it: Providential intervention marking the commencement of redemption. Others think of it as the prolonged curse of occupation, nurtured by hubris and political recklessness, threatening the very foundations of the Zionist enterprise, spiritually and perhaps physically. Yet no one refutes the cliché that 1967 was a “Watershed year,” after which nothing was the same.
Liberation; conquest; UN Security Council Resolution 242; the Rogers plan; The future of the territories; settlements; autonomy; a Palestinian state; an eternally united Jerusalem; Divided Jerusalem; Occupation or administration?; the Jordanian option; the Allon plan; territorial or functional compromise?; Disengagement; A US plan, and of course our omnipresent, cult-like friend: The Peace Process.
These terms, whether consensual or contentious, are a direct result of 1967 and have been part of our life and discourse ever since that war. Even for those Israelis born after 1967, the year has ceased to be a point in history and has become a contemporary issue.
Forty four years later, it is worth revisiting just how dominant 1967’s influence on modern Israel is. What Israel thought at the time to be a military victory that could have been converted through diplomacy into peace agreements turned into “Protracted Temporariness,” in the words of the late Political Scientist Dan Hurwitz. The Arabs refusal to recognize Israel and their subsequent rejection of negotiations in Khartum, September 1967, turned any thought of a quick peace process into empty rhetoric.
What began with limited building of several small settlements in sites of biblical Jewish centers transformed Israel - first by default and later by design – into what Gershom Gorenberg calls “The Accidental Empire.”
It was one of the greatest and most astonishing military victories in history, attained from the June 4, 1967 lines - those same “indefensible” lines everyone keeps on about. A strategically defensive and just war (on the operational and tactical levels Israel was the one which attacked) that turned into a double-edged sword and resulted in what the world regards as “occupation.” On the eve of the war there was despair, fear and existential anxiety. When it was all over, the Israeli pendulum swung to the other extreme. Israel is invincible, the Arabs are militarily, technologically and culturally inferior. Their defeat was the inevitable product of decadent, corrupt and decomposing regimes. Thus began a six year march of folly and hubris which ended so tragically in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
1967 tripled Israel’s size (until the early 1980’s when Sinai was returned to Egypt) and at the same time brought Israelis and Palestinians into one geo-political unit after 19 years of demographic separation. This is a fact often and conveniently dismissed: The 1967 war was not about the Palestinians. If it were, Egypt and Jordan, controlling the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively, could have established a Palestinian state at any point in time from the 1949 armistice to the break of the 1967 war.
The war was simply revenge for 1948.
Ostensibly, the Arab countries professed animosity toward Israel and emitted endless vitriol and belligerent rhetoric concerning the “liberation of Palestine.” The PLO was talking ever since the early 1960s about using “Arab bayonets” on the road to free Palestine. Yet the Six Day War was never about the Palestinian future or a Palestinian State.
However to an uncomfortably large extent, the seventh day is.
Six days of glory, revelation, delirium, relief and then, on the seventh day, Israel found itself responsible for approximately 2 million Palestinians (a total of 3.6 million by the time of the Gaza disengagement in 2005, not including 1.2 Palestinians inside pre-1967 Israel).
When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in Congress last week that we cannot be “occupiers” in our ancestral land he was right. He was morally right, historically right and theologically right. But he was politically wrong. Stretching that logic means that if Jews are not occupiers in the Land of Israel - stemming from Biblical covenants and ancestral presence - then Americans and Canadians are occupiers par excellence of most of the US and Canada.
The seventh day of the Six Day War is about political realities, constraints, priorities and leadership. Had Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion waited until full control of the ancestral homeland was gained so that we could own the sites so holy to Jews - the cradles of Jewish civilization - he would not have proclaimed a state in 1948 and we would not have a State of Israel. The seventh day is not about ancestral ownership and divine promises. They are part of our heritage and making, but they do not and should not serve as a political handbook.
1967 created a demographic fusion, an ethno-national entanglement that dangerously mixes security, nationalistic and religious elements into a deadly cocktail. 1967 was a triumph, let there be no doubt. It was also a war that set Israel on divergent paths: Enormous success or terrible calamity. This is really not about the Palestinians, their rights, plights, 1948 Nakba or 1967 Naksa (“The defeat”). This is about the choices we need to make. To stay locked in the seventh day or move on. It’s not easy or simple. It requires a cautious, gradual, sophisticated and smart policy.
A policy, alas, that the seventh day has never offered.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.