How Israel lost the 1967 war
In the immediate aftermath of the war, triumphalism swept Israel and the Arab world was plunged into despair.
The war created a tight bond between Israel and the US so that every part of the US political establishment across party lines perceived an identity of shared interests.
Though militarily the strongest power in the region, Israel projected itself as under existential threat from its neighbors, thereby securing massive US defense supplies and even US permission to develop nuclear weapons.
The defeat shifted the balance of power among Arab states from the nationalistic, socialist and secular republics that had dominated the region after the Second World War, in favour of traditional monarchies anchored in Islam and allied with the West. It also had a catalytic effect on the shaping of Palestinian identity and interests.
After the 1973 war, Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel, which adopted a two-point policy in the Occupied Territories: It expropriated large portions of Arab land and established illegal settlements, and it made living conditions for the Palestinians so onerous and humiliating that many were forced to leave.
The Israeli historian, Ilan Pape, has described Israeli occupation as “harsh and brutal.” The territories were defined as “under custody” and military law applied, which meant expulsions, systematic harassment and collective punishments.
But the most significant consequence in Israel of the 1967 war was the influence that religious figures and organisations came to enjoy. Jewish religious leaders asserted that the 1967 victory marked the long-awaited redemption of the “chosen people,” who had a divine claim to the land. This belief motivated the assassination in 1995 of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, promoter of the Oslo peace accords, and ended all serious attempts at peace-making by the Israeli leadership, a failing that continues to this day.
Frustrated by their repression, the Palestinians rose against the Israeli occupiers in 1987, which led to widespread violence by Israeli security forces; 400 Palestinians were killed in the first year and tens of thousands were injured, mainly women and children. Now, for the first time, sections of the western world began to see Israel in a less favorable light.
The result was a military victory, but it began the process of creating a coarse, cruel and racist state.
The second intifada in 2000 was deliberately provoked by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon, when he defiantly strode through Al-Haram Al-Sharif under the protection of hundreds of Israeli riot police. Unarmed Palestinian youth protested and 13 were shot dead. This led to suicide bombings and massive retaliation, which included the killing of scores of Palestinians.
Israel has now sought sanctuary behind its illegal separation wall, built on the pretense of security. Eight metres high and planned to be 750 km long, this wall has adversely affected the lives of 200,000 Palestinians who have been displaced or are unable to reach their farmlands. When completed, it will have an impact on half the population of the West Bank, most of whom will become unemployed and homeless.
Again, a new law before the Israeli Knesset is seeking to allow Israel to retroactively legitimise the expropriation of private Palestinian land on which illegal settlements have been built.
Israel sees no reason for any new approach to address Palestinian aspirations. This is a short-sighted view: As Middle East expert Shibley Telhami has pointed out, the issue of Palestine is an integral part of the “collective Arab consciousness” in much the same way that Israel is part of a Jewish collective identity. Prof. David Shulman has noted that Israel’s occupation and the settlements project “have profoundly eroded the moral fiber of Israel.”
Fifty years later, while the defeat of 1967 has changed little for the Arabs, Israel’s national ethos is coarsened and imbued with cruelty and racist animosity — reminiscent of the hate and violence the Jews escaped from when they came from Europe to their “promised land.”
• Talmiz Ahmad, a former diplomat, holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies at Symbiosis International University, Pune.
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