Middle Israel: Was the Six Day War worth it?

All of us appear to agree that by June 11, 1967, we too were stranded with a Trojan horse.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Exhausted after enduring a decade-long siege, the people of Troy surveyed the immense wooden horse that the Greeks had left outside their city's thick walls in what the Trojans, as planned, mistook for their invaders' long-awaited flight. All Trojans at hand favored pulling the structure into their newly liberated city - all, that is, except one, Laocoon the priest, who said: "I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts." Yet Laocoon had hardly finished uttering his warning when two serpents emerged from the sea, killed him along with his two sons - and vanished. Now the Trojans could no longer doubt their course of action. "Bring the carven image in," they cried, as they dragged into their city, with their own hands, the beast whose bowels contained the key to their imminent slaughter. That night, the one in which Troy's men celebrated "believing the war ended" before going to sleep in their houses "in peace as they had not for 10 years," was also their last. Forty years after our own walled community saw its own enemy flee the battlefield, where it too had congregated uninvited and laid siege unprovoked, all of us appear to agree that by June 11, 1967, we too were stranded with a Trojan horse. GRANTED, until today there is no indication that any Arab had planned to stuff down our throats the spoils of conquest we would prove unable, or unwilling, to either vomit up or digest. If anything, even the extent to which Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser et al. master-planned the events that led to June 5 - the pan-Arab mobilization, the expulsion of the UN peacekeeping force and the closure of the Straits of Tiran - remains unclear. The bottom line of all this is that by June 11, Israel was suddenly responsible for a Palestinian population roughly half the size of its Jewish population, and had pretty much no idea what to do about that. Having proceeded overnight from the lowest ebb of anxiety to the highest peaks of euphoria, most Israelis were so dazzled by their victory that they could not detect the danger the Palestinians posed. Even the select few who argued early on that Israel should not possess the territories were motivated by morality, utility and feasibility rather than by concern over the locals' enmity. Most expected the superpowers to swiftly impose a withdrawal, the way they did in 1956. Some, most memorably philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, warned that the kind of worship that was unfolding at the Western Wall constituted idolatry; novelist Amos Oz decried Moshe Dayan's call for a Jewish "living space," which reminded him of Nazi lingo; David Ben-Gurion said the West Bank and Gaza should be traded for peace; and veteran Jewish National Fund forester Yosef Weitz wrote, after his first encounter with the West Bank's residents: "Their eyes are sparking, surely not out of love or servility toward us, and this troubles me, and obstructs any feeling of happiness, let alone joy." Otherwise, the thought that the inhabitants of Gaza, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin might in the future be a thorn in the Jewish state's side hardly crossed any mind. FOR US, the kids who were suddenly roaming the very east Jerusalem that only several days earlier had bombarded us, the occupied Arabs were a curiosity. For the adults alongside us, they were often as invisible as the natives described in "Marrakech," George Orwell's essay from 1939. "People with brown skins are next door to invisible," he reported wryly after visiting Morocco. "Anyone can be sorry for the donkey with its galled back, but it is generally owing to some accident if one even notices the old woman under her load of sticks." Then, as he described African troops marching in French uniforms, Orwell asked: "How much longer can we go on kidding these people? How long before they turn their guns in the other direction?" Asking that question here in summer '67 would not have been unorthodox or imprudent; it would have been insane. Yes, the omnipotent Jewish state still faced threats, but they were somewhere between Cairo and Moscow. Well, as it turned out the threat was, and remains, right here, between Jabalya and Dehaishe. True, it took the Palestinians 20 years to rebel, but that rebellion, now itself 20 years old, has made most Israelis, including thoroughbred Likudniks like Tzipi Livni and Dan Meridor, concede that the Trojan horse originally assumed to be lifeless is actually alive and well, even kicking, and in fact impossible to domesticate. It follows, then, that the Six Day War was itself a blessing in disguise, right? A Pyrrhic victory without which ours would have remained the cozy country the liberal world once adored, right? And that without June '67 we would not be facing the boycotts, condemnations and nasty rallies that are now part of our daily diet, right? Wrong. YES, THE Six Day War's spoils have had some harsh results. They created daily friction between Israelis and Palestinians that only provoked more hatred and bloodshed. They unleashed a messianic movement that fractured Israeli society, and they gave Israel-bashers the hypocritical slogan of "Stop the occupation," by which they pretend to decry Israel's size rather than its existence. Yet the Six Day War also empowered the Israeli people, fueled American Jewry, inspired Soviet Jewry humiliated the East Bloc and, most importantly, made pro-Israeli skeptics and anti-Israeli warmongers realize we are here to stay, because we are prepared to fight for our lives. In fact, considering that the war was largely a Soviet concoction, it is mind-boggling to think that four decades later the Jewish state lives on, while the Soviet Union is gone. Not only are we still here, since reopening the Straits of Tiran we have more than doubled in number. Soviet Jewry is long freed, and ours is the world's largest Jewish community - a status this land last enjoyed in the times of Jeremiah. Moreover, ours has become one of the world's most vibrant economies. And, most tellingly, our main enemy in '67 - Egypt - is now at peace with us, as is Jordan. None of these would have happened but for the Six Day War. True, we misjudged that Trojan Horse back in '67. But our enemies, from Cairo to Moscow, misjudged us sevenfold.