Text size

They did not conquer, liberate or "unite" any pieces of land. You won't find their pictures in any victory album and their story is not memorialized in any heroic poem. Their only association with the war is the fact that all three were born in 1967. And that's also the only thing in common between these three women: Nino Abesadze, born in Tblisi, Georgia; Hagar Coneal, born on Kibbutz Manara; and Huzama Zidani, born in Nazareth. Abesadze now lives in Kochav Yair, Coneal lives in Merom Golan and Zidani lives in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Whether it's called the Six-Day War, as it is by Israeli Jews, or Naksa (the "setback"), as it is referred to by some Israeli Arabs, those six days in June 1967 not only changed the face of history, they also had a formative impact on these women's lives.

`It made me a Palestinian'

Huzama Zidani is thinking of moving to Canada. But the first thing she wants to talk about is the traffic light at the exit from Beit Hanina, the neighborhood she has lived in for the past seven years. To her, this traffic signal with its unaccountably short green light, that causes long traffic jams at the exit from the Palestinian neighborhood, is an apt symbol of the balance of powers between Jews and Arabs here. Maybe it's the arbitrariness with which the traffic light dictates the pace of life, but it "heightens the feeling of the occupation, of the inability to have coexistence between strong and weak, between an occupier and a people without rights or the freedom to determine its fate," as she puts it. Only after she has finished discussing the traffic light does Zidani permit the conversation to turn to her own life, from the beginning in Nazareth to a possible future in Vancouver.

An educational counselor who is currently completing her master's degree at Hebrew University, Huzama Zidani was nine years old when her parents moved from Nazareth to Acre, her mother's birthplace. About 200 years ago, one of her ancestors was the Muslim ruler of Acre. It was there, in a little grocery store in this mixed city, that she first had her consciousness raised about the Jewish-Arab conflict.

"In the grocery store, I suddenly noticed that they weren't speaking Arabic," she says, recalling that first feeling of alienation. She turned this feeling into a game that she played with her sister: When they walked around town, they would speak a kind of gibberish they had invented "to imitate the people around us who spoke a language we didn't understand."

She says the next level of this alienation came when she started attending high school in Haifa and, later, at the University of Haifa. "It seems that the more the encounter with Jews grows, the more we withdraw into ourselves," she says, describing what she sees as a collective phenomenon. "I think I changed when I got married and moved to Jerusalem."

Seven years ago she married Awani Zidani, who is also from Nazareth and has a degree in economics and business administration from Hebrew University. He gave up on the idea of coexistence when, after a terror attack during the first intidada, his Jewish neighbors stormed up to his apartment in Neveh Yaakov looking to commit a reprisal attack against the Arab neighbors. Zidani wasn't home at the time, but the experience was enough to make him forget about coexistence and move to Beit Hanina.

"In the beginning, I still used to have arguments with my husband. I was softer and more flexible and accepted everything," says Huzama Zidani. "But the Jerusalem reality - the checkpoints, the soldiers everywhere, the proximity to the West Bank - intensifies the feeling of the occupation. You could say that 1967 made me a Palestinian and moving to Jerusalem completed the process."

The sense of foreignness has continued to dog her like an inescapable shadow. It follows her to the education seminars that she attends, where she is often the only Arab; it follows her on her rare visits to the university's sports center, where she and her husband find they avoid going despite the membership they purchased; it haunts her when she goes to the mall or strolls down city streets.

But to the old woman from whom they rented their apartment in Beit Hanina, they are "half-Jews." Not just them - all of the "Arabs of the north" - the Arabs of `48 and of `67 - will never be completely Palestinian even if they have adopted that identity. "There's a kind of aversion to us," Zidani says without resentment. "We come here with our degrees and the Hebrew words that have slipped into our Arabic without our noticing, so wherever I am, I feel this dualism."

Zidani experiences it every day in her work as a counselor at the high school in Beit Safafa. Part of this village became Israeli after 1948 and the other part was added to it in 1967. Now the village's only high school has two types of classes that follow different curricula and are populated with different students. There are the "1948 classes," that study for a Jordanian matriculation certificate, and there are the "1967 classes," that study for the Israeli matriculation exams. The Arab teachers refer to the latter as the "Israeli classes," without pausing to consider the meaning of this definition.

Zidani says that a vast abyss separates the two types of classes: The children behave differently, hang out in different places and buy their clothes in different places. One group goes to the mall in Jerusalem, the other to Bethlehem. And rather than fading over the years, the differences only deepen. "At the school, they're always accusing us - the Arabs who came from the north - of giving more attention to the Israeli classes," says Zidani. "So I try to begin each new project with the Jordanian class, just so they won't say that."

She says that hardly anyone transfers from one class to another, even though the Israeli matriculation requirements are easier than the Jordanian ones. As someone who knows what it feels like to have dual identities, she says that this fixation is a part of identity, and that deviating from it would amount to an acceptance of the Israeli reality.

Because of all this complexity, which demands that so much emotional energy be expended over even the most mundane matters, the Zidani family is seriously considering moving to Canada. Awani is eager to go; Huzama says she's willing to go for a few years, but not for good. She doesn't want to see her three children - ages five, three and 10 months - growing up so far from their relatives and from this place.

At the end of our conversation, she says that, despite everything, maybe 1967 was a good year in her life. "Without `67, there wouldn't be something to constantly remind us of the conquest of `48," she says. "Maybe coexistence would have been more realistic without the occupation, but our national development would have been slower without it. Without `67, we would have remained just `Israeli Arabs from the north' for a longer time. So all in all, maybe a good thing happened to us."

The Golan shaped my life

Hagar Coneal says that the connection between her and the stretch of land she has lived in since she was a baby is like a marriage. In June 1967, Tzipka and Yehuda Harel sat on the cliff at Kibbutz Manara and gazed out at the battles raging in the Golan. On July 6, their daughter Hagar was born. A few days later, Yehuda Harel went to the Golan and settled there with a small group at an abandoned Syrian camp. A few months later, he brought his wife, his two small children and the baby Hagar. (In the 1990s, Harel served as a Knesset member for the Third Way party.)

It's just a half-hour trip from Kibbutz Manara to the Golan Heights - a half-hour trip that forever changed Hagar's life. She spent her childhood in smoke-filled rooms in her home, where maps and development plans for the Golan were spread out on the table and people came and went at all hours, discussing and arguing over plans to develop the area.

"My whole experience of home revolves around that decision," she says. "For me, the Golan isn't just a place to live, it's a whole way of life. It's not just the founding of Kibbutz Merom Golan, where the whole family still lives. It's a giant undertaking that continues to this day. As children, we were full partners in it. We breathed it in and it became part of us."

The kibbutznik from Manara grew up to be a committed warrior. "I don't have any sense of superiority toward the kibbutzniks, but we have a different kind of values, a different level of energies. It's not even a nationalist ideology, but a sense of belonging. Without it, I don't know who I'd be. The Golan definitely shaped my life. Without it, I might well have been a different person."

Now her children - Elad, 12, Stav, eight and her daughter Zviya, a soldier who joined the family two years ago, are imbibing this experience, which hasn't changed over the years.

Coneal, a social worker for the Katzrin Regional Council, who is completing a master's degree in women's studies at Tel Aviv University, says she had a wonderful childhood - despite all the shellings and nearly four years of having to frequently run to the shelter during the War of sAttrition.

"According to all the theories I'm studying right now in psychology, my parents did us a terrible wrong," she says wryly. "But because of the deep commitment, because of the joy of creating something, I don't remember any traumas or anxieties."

One vivid childhood memory she has if of the nights the kibbutz children spent in the shelter, practicing how to get out the emergency exits and learning how to jump from their bunk beds so they'd be ready for the moment when a terrorist appeared. Little Hagar was afraid to jump. She still remembers the voices of the other kids urging her to jump and the moment when she finally did.

Adult life brought training of a different sort. The residents of the Golan have variously been considered by the political consensus to be dedicated and admirable colonists, or settlers who are an obstacle to peace. "I used to take it hard," she says. "But later I realized that it's really your problem. In order to overcome your emotional connection to the Golan, you sometimes have to degrade us, so that conceding the Golan will be easier. That's how you resolve this dissonance for yourselves."

Asked if she feels like a settler, Coneal complains that our language and terminology have gotten mixed up. "For me, `lehitnahel' [to settle] means to settle into someone's life," she explains. "That's not what happened in the Golan. I can actually understand very well the elderly Arab who feels bound to his land and to the old tree in his yard - when I see my father under the tree in the garden of his house in Merom Golan."

Her work brings her into daily contact with the population of the Golan and thus makes her more aware of the anxiety and uncertainty over the Golan's future that surfaces periodically. Whenever a big wave of uncertainty arises, emotional problems increase in frequency and severity. Coneal says that this is partly alleviated by the solidarity of the people living in the Golan - even though the range of political views here is much broader than in the territories.

Now that the issue of Syria and the Golan Heights is coming up again, she says that people are mostly repressing their anxieties about this. At her parents' house, new maps and plans are spread out on the table. Her mother is behind a project to build a new communal residential area next to the kibbutz - for people who want to live in the Golan, but don't want kibbutz life. Her father is studying a plan to recast the Golan Heights under the slogan, the "New Israel," since "it's not the Old Israel anymore," as he says.

Coneal says that were she to lose the Golan, she would still be okay, but something in her would be lost forever and she finds the prospect of that emptiness very frightening. But at the same time, she says that all the uncertainty actually has the effect of strengthening her connection to the place. "It's like marriage - the less you take it for granted, the stronger the love and commitment," she says, and that's exactly how she feels.

`Like Father said'

Nino Abesadze, an immigrant from Georgia, says that while she did not fight here or take part in the past, "I'm already a partner in the future and I want it to be different."

The mythology of the Six-Day War was imparted to her by her father, a Georgian movie director. It was her father, who had no connection to Judaism other than his great love for his Jewish wife, who used to tell his daughter about "a country of heroes" and about "what this great nation did in just six days." He was infuriated by an anchorman on a Russian television station in Tblisi who used to talk about "the Israeli aggressors and occupiers."

Seven years after immigrating from Georgia, Nino Abesadze, a journalist and television personality, sounds more like that anchorman than like her father. "I'm as leftist as you can be," she announces, well aware of how unusual this makes her among the Russian immigrant community. She is also certain that if her father were alive today (he died when she was 15), he would share her views. Like her, he loathed nationalism. She says that her father was utterly lacking in the imperial instinct so characteristic of the Russians, and she witnessed the dark side of nationalism in Georgia, which became the scene of a civil war after the break-up of the Soviet empire.

Abesadze inherited her affinity for politics from her great-grandfather, who fled from Poland in the early 1930s seeking to fulfill his communist ideology, and was sent to represent the party in the Caucasus. The newspapers he founded then still exist today.

From her father, she inherited her hatred for the communists, whose representatives on the Supreme Committee in Moscow were emasculating his films. She was always sure that she wouldn't go into the media - until one day when she was at the television building in Tblisi and a Jewish man (whom, she says, bore a striking resemblance to Haim Yavin) desperately needed a reporter who was fluent in Russian and asked her to do a report on a singer. That's how her television career began - a career that, during the bad times, came to include broadcasting the news while being observed by an armed gang in the Tblisi studio.

She'll never forget her first visit to Israel. Her mother and three sisters had immigrated in 1991 and were living in poverty, like many other single-parent families. On the night before she was to return to Tblisi, a young investigator from the Housing Ministry came to her mother's home to make certain that there was no man living in the house. He counted the toothbrushes and looked through the closets, but before taking his leave, he couldn't help expressing his skepticism to her mother: "If you don't have a man, then I don't understand how you live." It would be hard to say that a great romance was sparked then between Nino Abesadze and her future home.

The next morning, as she was preparing to return to Tblisi, she received a frantic phone call from the television station's international department. The station wanted her to interview the first Israeli ambassador to Georgia, Baruch Ben-Neriya. She figured this meeting would be a golden opportunity to take an Israeli official to task for what she had just witnessed in her mother's home; instead, it turned out to be the beginning of the great love story that brought her to Israel with her daughter from her first marriage, three months after the Rabin assassination. A year later, she and Ben-Neriya had a daughter of their own.

"To me, the Six-Day War is still a huge heroic story, just as my father spoke about it," she says, after seven years in Israel.

"In the interview with the ambassador - who became my husband - I even used the phrase `the Eighth Wonder' to describe this war. But all the rest has changed very much. The difference between me and most of the olim [immigrants] is that I feel much less at home in Russian company than I do in the company of my husband's kibbutznik friends who have very clear opinions, and with a husband who can't stand it that we're still in the territories. With me, this all fell on fertile ground. In Georgia, I'd seen what an extreme nationalist government is and I came here with solid ideas about everything nationalist and extremist, and about the settlements.

"I still see the wonder, but I mostly see the problems. Maybe because I wasn't living here in those years, but I'll never understand how we got from the victory of 1967 to the Rabin assassination."

Over the years, Abesadze, who hosts a Russian-language television talk show and co-hosts a morning show with Merav Michaeli, has built up a lot of anger at the left and the intellectuals in Israel - for not having harnessed the large immigrant community in order to change the face of the country.

"I'm glad that I came to Israel, though I would have liked to have come to a different Israel," she sums up. "I didn't fight here and I didn't take part in the past, but I'm already a partner in the future and I want it to be different."

This whole conversation about that war reminds Abesadze of a joke they used to tell in Georgia. One day, some people come up to a Georgian man and proudly inform him that Georgia has declared war on China. "Very good," he replies. "But what if we win?"