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Analysis

Fathom | How the Six-Day War is still transforming Israel

This article is by Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Family Professor in Jewish Studies and Professor of Government at Smith College.

For most Israelis, the military victory of 1967 rescued the country from an existential threat. But for some, it fostered a determination to revive and revise a Zionist goal that promised personal and collective redemption on a land made sacred by ancestors. Making that goal holy through the establishment of Jewish settlements possessed an imaginative and moral power for many. But the dispossessed Palestinian population that vision created continues to shape Israeli society. Politics remains largely about reconciling these two realities.

 Of all the anniversaries marked in 2017 – a hundred years after the Balfour Declaration, 70 after the UN Partition Resolution – none is remembered with as much ambivalence as the half-century since the 1967 War, and none is embedded as deeply in Israel’s politics and culture. How? Let me count the ways.

First, this is the war to which all subsequent wars and other political developments in the Middle East refer. Second, the war made Israel the focus of worldwide attention opening opportunities for economic and political developments never imagined by the country’s founders. It drew to its shores Jews from Europe, America, and the Soviet Union who found spiritual inspiration in Israel even as it increased the numbers of political leaders who suddenly viewed the country as the site where their own economies could be energised and their defenses strengthened. Israel acquired its status today as a start-up nation from trends launched in the 1967 War. Third, the war not only brought Israel back from the abyss, it also confirmed – through UN Resolution 242 – the country’s security needs as the irrevocable standard for resolving all aspects of the Middle East conflict.

At the troubled start of 1967, it was impossible to see a war triggered by Egypt, instigated by a Soviet lie – the ‘fake news’ that Israeli troops were mobilising in the north to attack Syria. It began relatively small but metastasised into a war between Israel and several Arab states spreading suffering and disorder throughout the region. In May 1967, Arabs were poised for victory and redemption. By the end of the first week in June, they were immersed in a massive defeat, their myths dismantled by reality, the gap between hope and betrayal narrowing with every official statement. All of this was symbolised by the unimaginable collapse of Arab nationalism, once deemed the only idea powerful enough to liberate the region from the baleful spoils of colonialism – and by the weakening of its most admired exponent Gamal Abd al-Nasser, president of what was then called the United Arab Republic. A region once characterised as Arab was swallowed up by its own rhetoric and is today scrambling to keep up with its three non-Arab neighbours.

Read the full article in Fathom.


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