Snap Judgment: Six days and 40 years

In 1967 Israel was fighting not a war of choice, but of necessity, fighting for its very survival.

calevbendavid88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Across the street from my apartment in Jerusalem is a battlefield. Or more accurately it was 40 years ago, when it was the border area between Israel and the Jordanian-held eastern half of Jerusalem's Talpiot ridge. In those days it was agricultural land belonging to nearby Kibbutz Ramat Rahel; today it holds an apartment complex put up in the past decade where apple orchards once stood. But the area's violent past hasn't been completely obscured by this new construction; built right into the street wall of the complex is a small memorial plaque which notes that on this very spot, on June 5, 1967, a young man named Yossi Lieberman was killed in the battle for Jerusalem. Every year on the anniversary of that date, I notice that fresh flowers are laid on this spot, presumably by members of his family. Surely for them, this is a date never to be forgotten. Nor for the rest of us - especially this year, the 40th anniversary of the war. If for some it is a day to mourn, for others it is a day to celebrate. The majority of Israelis in the political center will primarily mark the outcome of the battle in which Yossi died - the unification of Jerusalem under full Israeli sovereignty. That's the main theme of the official celebrations scheduled to be held on May 16, Jerusalem Day, the date on the Jewish calendar (Kaf Het Be'iyar) when east Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount, was taken by the IDF from the Jordanian army on the war's second day. Those firmly on the Right will also hail this as the anniversary of the liberation of the biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, which they believe should also remain under complete Jewish sovereignty. Conversely, those on the Left will regretfully view it as the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The latter view is of course shared by the Palestinians and their supporters in the wider world, and this will provide the conventional wisdom for much of the international media, which has never been (to say the least) particularly sympathetic, or even understanding, of any argument - political, historical or military - in favor of Israel maintaining control of any of the area it conquered in the Six Day War. Clearly then, what will be an occasion of celebration in Israel will most likely be another cause for condemnation in much of the foreign media in the days leading up to, and during, the war's 40th anniversary. THIS IS a challenge that the government's hasbara apparatus, and those that work as both individuals and within non-governmental organizations to support and improve Israel's image in the arena of global public opinion, must rise to meet. They should do so primarily by reminding the world that in 1967 Israel was fighting, not a war of choice, but of necessity, fighting for its very survival against the armies of neighboring states at a time when the "occupation" so often cited as the key reason for Arab hostility was not yet a historical reality. They must also point out that Israel still faces existential threats from a possibly nuclear Iran and its radical Islamic allies in Hamas and Hizbullah, as well as a continuing ideological campaign in certain circles of Western public opinion that views any Jewish state in this region as illegitimate. And on a more positive note, they must point out that in uniting Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, it also opened up the holy places of the world's three major faiths to a degree of freedom of access and worship they had never known in all the centuries of Muslim rule. THOSE ARGUMENTS, despite having the truth on their side, are not going to convince everybody. We certainly cannot expect the Palestinians, or those who make no bones that their political sympathies lie exclusively with their cause, to accept them as cause for celebration. For them, the 1967 war will be simply about the start of the "Israeli occupation," full stop, period, end of argument. But perhaps even for them, there is a counterargument to be given, another way of looking at the outcome of the war that is rarely given enough thought. In 1947 the United Nations decreed that the historic land of Israel/Palestine should be divided into two nations, Jewish and Palestinian. The Arab side chose not to accept that division, and went to war the following year to prevent that from happening. One consequence of the 1948 war was the Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip and Jordanian annexation of the West Bank, and that's how it stayed until '67. Palestinian statehood would have been put on hold indefinitely, and perhaps permanently, if the Six Day War had not broken out. Afterward, that situation was dramatically changed. As Michael Oren notes in his definitive history Six Days of War: "The Arab focus had shifted from liberating Palestine to liberating those areas recently conquered - from 'erasing Israel'... to 'erasing traces of the aggression.'" This resulted in the empowering of the recently founded Palestine Liberation Organization, and the prospect of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza suddenly become a far more realistic prospect than it had ever been when Jordan and Egypt controlled those areas. It may be, then, that the Six Day War will one day be looked upon not only as the victory in which the neighboring Arab states truly began to understand that Israel is here to stay, but ironically also as the event that gave real impetus to the creation of a Palestine state living alongside it - a position accepted by the current Israeli government. That won't happen anytime soon, though, if the best the Arabs and Palestinians can offer is a peace plan like the recent Saudi initiative, that demands as a precondition Israel's complete return to the 1967 borders. And it's not just my hesitation at suddenly having to face a borderline right across from the street where I live. It's that 40 years later, young men like Yossi Lieberman would not have died in vain in fighting for a more secure Israel than the one in which he grew up, only to die so young in. The writer is the director of the Jerusalem office of The Israel Project.