By Claude Salhani –
Of the many conflicts fought between Israel and its Arab neighbours since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the 1967 six-day war carries particular importance as it changed the very psyche of the Middle East. The war — 50 years ago this June — altered the outlook the two sides had on the conflict, giving Israelis over-inflated egos and a false sense of security.
The war changed the map of the Middle East, giving the young Jewish state far more land than granted by the United Nations’ partition vote. The June war saw the gentrification of Jerusalem and demonstrated to the Palestinians that no one was going to win this fight for them and that they would need to become pro-active.
Thus, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was recreated. The PLO had existed for some time but its chairman, Ahmad Shukeiri, proved to be ineffective and was replaced with Yasser Arafat.
In those gruelling six days of intense fighting, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank of the Jordan River and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. It was a humiliating time for the Arabs, losing more than 20,000 men, 450-plus aircraft and hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces, as well as huge areas of land. The Arab leaders lost face, too.
It was also a loss for Israel, which lost its sense of humanity.
This is what Gideon Levy, a commentator for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, had to say in an April 16th column: The occupation of Palestinian land “began with the ultranationalist-religious orgy that swept over everyone but for a handful of prophets, and continues today, through the familiar mechanisms of brainwashing.”
Levy calls the 1967 war “Israel’s nakba” and the Palestinians’ second nakba. The nakba — “catastrophe” — is how Palestinians refer to the loss of Palestine in 1948.
“Israel,” said Levy, “has turned it into an evil, violent, ultranationalist, religious, racist state.”
He cautioned Israelis not to blame all their ills on the occupation. What the war of 1967 and its aftermath did was to “accelerate, institutionalise and legitimise the decline. It gave birth to the ongoing contempt for the world, the bragging and bullying,” he wrote.
Levy said the 1967 war was the “greatest Jewish disaster since the Holocaust.”
Those are harsh words but they needed to be said. More specifically, they needed to be said by an Israeli. Levy said 2017 “has to be the year of soul-searching in Israel, a year of unparalleled sadness.”
While such views are rare in Israel, it remains encouraging nevertheless to find such a conscience waking up. Of course, not everyone in Israel is of the same liberal mind. The government certainly does not share Levy’s position.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is of a very different opinion. His government will be having year-long celebrations and has set aside $2.75 million, which has been allocated to celebrate 50 years of what the government labels as “liberation” (of Samaria and Judea) and what Levy describes as “occupation.”
“Fifty years of suppression of another people, 50 years of rot and internal destruction,” Levy wrote. “Fifty years of bloodshed, abuse, disinheritance and sadism? Only societies that have no conscience celebrate such anniversaries. Israel won a war and lost nearly everything.”
He lamented the status of Jerusalem, a city claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis as their capital. “It is enough to look at Jerusalem, which went from being a charming university city with government institutions to a monster ruled by the Border Police,” said Levy.
Is this the onset of a new trend developing in Israeli society? Is the country waking up to the realities of what the occupation has been doing to generations of Palestinians? Well, miracles have been known to happen in that part of the world.