Everyone who was in Israel in June 1967 recalls the black humor of those chilling days before the war broke out. “The last one out of the airport turns out the lights” – so went the national joke. The massive threat to our existence was so imminent, so apocalyptic, that all of Israel and the entire world Jewish community were holding its breath.
Before the war, if beleaguered Israelis could have known that General Haim Bar Lev’s prediction: “We will defeat them quickly and elegantly” was right on the money, the national mood would have been more upbeat. If all those anxious Israelis filling sand bags to protect their communities and families could have looked into a crystal ball, they would have been amazed by the stunning victory that was just days away, and perhaps more thoughtful about the spoils of war that would come with it.
If any Israeli could have possibly known then that we would conquer the Sinai, Golan Heights and West Bank, he or she would have felt immense relief and a sense of national salvation. But beyond that, nothing too extraordinary; in that pre-war mindset, no one was fantasizing about a Greater Israel. Indeed, if any Israeli on June 4th 1967 could have envisioned that Prime Minister Levi Eshkol would state his willingness to trade gained territories for a political settlement with our Arab neighbors, he/she would have responded to such a plan of action with a resounding Yes. After all, universal recognition of the State of Israel is central to the Zionist dream.
But in the whirlwind events that unfolded we were all left bedazzled by that Six Day War euphoria which, to this day, blinds our worldview.
Fifty years later, we are still trying to figure out how to end that war. We’re holding all the cards, yet we lack the resolve to lay them on the table. Instead, we fell in love with our bargaining chips, i.e. Judea and Samaria. Lost in Biblical nostalgia, we forgot about the Zionism that Hertzl envisioned and replaced it with an agenda that doesn’t work in these post-colonial times. The settlements in the disputed territories will remain a political burden in the next war that is sure to come, and the status quo will enable terrorism to increase many times over, as it has since ’67. But let’s face it, we’ve gotten used to it by now. And by “we” I’m referring to those Jewish Israelis who still believe that things will only change for the better when our confrontational neighbors, the Palestinians, “wise up.”
That won’t happen unless we first throw the ball into to their court and stay in the game when the fanatics on both sides try to mess things up. Citing past failures on the diplomatic front, the current government seemingly has no intentions of dealing with the Palestinians. We beat them on the battlefield, yet we can’t seem to face them at the negotiating table, where wars end. Whatever it is that’s holding us back has more to do with politics and religion than the national interest. It’s time that we Israelis, and our elected leaders, wise up. After fifty years, it is high time we won the Six Day War.