To celebrate or not to celebrate: That is the question.
The euphoria that swept Israel and the Jewish world in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, gave way soon enough to debate and dissension over the dramatic new realities on the ground, that has only intensified over the years.
By any measure, the Six Day War was an existential engagement. There was no doubt that the Arabs were preparing for aggression. The “Palestinian cause” was in not in the ”icebox,” as Egypt’s president, Gamel Abdel Nasser, tried to paint it to the West. He only did that in order to keep up U.S. aid to an economy wracked by lack of production, prolonged military action in Yemen, funding of Palestinian guerrillas, and general Arab instability and lack of accord on both military and financial matters. Syria was firing shells and mortars upon farmers in the north and the demilitarized zones while enjoying aid from communist Russia. Jordan, the most West-friendly of the Arab states, was one of the largest sponsors of Palestinian guerrillas.
When the Israeli government realized that Israel would be attacked imminently if it did nothing, it launched a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian Air Force (we need look no further than the 1973 Yom Kippur War for an example of what being on the reactionary side of a strike does to death tolls). Our country was saved from impending doom. The war was going to happen; Israel just made sure it wasn’t going to be the end of the Jewish state.
But victory brought complexity. Vast amounts of land were suddenly under Israeli control: East Jerusalem (annexed immediately); the Golan Heights (annexed in 1981); Gaza (turned over to the PA in 2005); Sinai (returned to Egypt in 1978); and the West Bank (Yehuda v’Shomron). And it brought further developments, both good and bad, including peace talks, both successful (with Egypt in 1978 and Jordan in 1994), and unsuccessful (any attempt to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel has thus far failed).
Scores of settlements were established in the West Bank. There too, we have witnessed both good and bad. We have seen cooperation, but we have also seen racism rear its nasty head, from both sides. We have seen compromise, but we have also seen religion and God’s name used to spill blood–again, from both sides.
The Right Wing, in general, champions these settlements. They claim that this is our land. They claim that peace based on a mere territorial swap will not be real peace. From biblical, historical, legal, and security standpoints, the Right can make a strong claim for retaining the West Bank and its settlements, in one capacity or another.
The Left (and most of the international community), on the other hand, claims, in general, that the settlements are a roadblock to peace and that they undermine Israel’s democratic nature. They claim that the legal status of the settlements in the West Bank is shaky at best, and that military control over 2.7 million Palestinians is flat-out illegal and immoral at worst. They point to extremists who call the West Bank home, and dream of expelling all of the Arabs to Jordan, and of implementing other Messianic aspirations (the Right Wing, for the most part, decries said extremists and their activities).
So where does this leave us regarding Yom Yerushalayim, the day designated to recall and rejoice at the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War? On the one hand, the war helped spearhead the settlement movement, guaranteed our security and long-term existence as a country, and gave us new hope. On the other hand, the war helped spearhead the settlement movement, gave way to extremist ideology, and is now at the core of many legal, moral, and security issues.
So, what do I do? I celebrate. And I believe that everyone, wherever he or she may fall on the political spectrum, has reason to celebrate.
Yes, there are difficulties today with the settlements. Though security concerns demand the grim reality of military rule, the left, in my opinion, has a legitimate claim to ill will towards the settlements and their long-term influence on Israel, on multiple levels.
Yes, racism and racist acts abound even on Yom Yerushalayim itself, including anti-Muslim chants, and brawls that break out every year near Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter. But we must not let racists hijack our holiday. We can celebrate our existence, and survival in the face of extinction and death. We can celebrate winning a war that was, by all means, existential in its nature, which preserved the only Jewish country and its citizens. We can celebrate the conviction that “we are on the map to stay“ (to paraphrase Tal Brody). We can, and should, all celebrate living in our homeland and our right to do so in safety and security.