One day, two declarations
On September 22, 1967, two very different documents were published in two very different newspapers. One supported the idea of the Greater Land of Israel; the other demanded immediate withdrawal from the newly occupied territories. The profound disagreements spawned by the Six-Day War still remain today.
The whole thing was over within half an hour. Three friends met for a cup of coffee at Harley, a well-known Tel Aviv cafe. It was clear to all three of them that "something had to be done." One suggested making that "something" real, turning it into a written declaration, and while the second spoke, the third transcribed. After about 30 minutes the formulation was complete.
At about the same time, 200 meters down the road from Cafe Harley, at Beit Hasofer (Writers' House), some of Israel's top intellectuals were completing the petition they had worked on for many long weeks, turning each word over once more, checking every letter, as befits a document supposed to express the spirit of the Jewish people, not just in the here and now but also for the past and for the future. A few days later, on September 22, 1967, they published their declaration in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, under the heading "For the Greater Land of Israel." On that very same day the fellows from Cafe Harley published their declaration in Haaretz, headed "Leave the Occupied Territories Immediately." One day, two declarations.
Today, from the perspective of someone leafing through 40-year-old newspapers, it appears that it was that September that the first bitter aftertaste emerged after the intoxicating victory of the Six-Day War. During the first days of the month, the Khartoum Conference, convened by the heads of the Arab countries, ended with its three famous "nos": no peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel. Later that month, a wave of terror attacks swept through the country: an explosion at a hotel in Jerusalem, an explosive charge placed on the railroad tracks near Tul Karm, sabotage at a cannery in Givat Haim. On September 22, the day the two declarations were published, the front page of Haaretz was dominated by a large report about the death of four soldiers, who had been hit by Egyptian artillery fire on the Suez Canal.
Four months after the six days of happiness in June, Israel began to realize that despite the victory (and, in fact, as only few people thought during those days, precisely because of it) there was no peace, there was terror, there was a war of attrition. Israel Harel, then a young man of 24, mainly remembers the intoxication of those days, not the bitterness. When he returned from the war's battles, Harel wrote an article in favor of remaining in the territories occupied during the war. Although he was a graduate of the Bnei Akiva national religious youth movement and later became one of the leaders of the Jewish settlers in the territories, Harel's reasons for maintaining the occupation were security-related and not tied to history.
A few days later, he received a letter from Eliezer Livneh, a well-known writer and journalist and a former Knesset member for Mapai (the precursor of today's Labor Party). "Livneh wrote to me that a group was being organized in the spirit of what I had written, and he invited me to join," Harel relates. When Harel came to the first meeting at Beit Hasofer he was "stunned" by the magnitude of the event. At the center of the group was poet Natan Alterman, an admired figure, a true guru, whose influence extended well beyond the circle of literature lovers. The poems contained in his "Seventh Column," his column in the daily Davar, in which he reacted to the events of the 1940s and 50s were considered the purest expression, indeed the ideological compass, of the Jewish community in Israel at the time.
"Alterman set the tone for everything that happened," relates Harel. "Even in the religious camp I never saw anything like it, not even in relations between students and the head of their yeshiva."
Alterman, relates Professor Dan Miron, who wrote a comprehensive article about the September 22 declaration 20 years ago, was not only the moving spirit. He also sat by the telephone and obtained the support of the most important intellectuals of those days: S.Y. Agnon, who had already been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the latter's historic adversary, writer Haim Hazaz; and poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, a rightist whose greatness even the Mapai literary establishment had already learned to acknowledge. Everyone signed the declaration. There is no exaggeration in the statement that nearly all the great names of that generation, at a time when the public still admired its intellectuals and writers more than is the case today, signed the declaration in favor of the Greater Land of Israel. Never, before or after this declaration, had such a respected gallery of intellectuals gathered around one single document.
In contrast to Harel's article, the declaration issued by Alterman and his colleagues did not place the security issue at the top of its agenda. "The victory of the Israel Defense Forces in the Six-Day War has ushered the nation and the state into a new and fateful era," the document stated. "The Land of Israel is now in the hands of the Jewish people. Just as we are not permitted to relinquish the State of Israel, so we are commanded to maintain what we have received from its hands: the Land of Israel. We are hereby loyally committed to the wholeness of our land, with respect both to the people's past and to its future, and no government in Israel is entitled to relinquish this wholeness."
"This is a document of a mythical nature," says Prof. Miron. "They named the war's fortuitous results 'the Greater Land of Israel,' they turned 'the Land of Israel' into an ahistorical concept." Harel, who wears a skullcap, was given the task of obtaining the signatures of a number of prominent individuals in the national-religious camp. Thus he signed up Prof. Yehuda Elitzur, the father of Uri Elitzur, who later became Harel's partner in the settler leadership, and others.
"Alterman wanted this to be a pan- national, pan-Israeli effort," Harel says, "but they were not well acquainted with the people in this camp. So they relied on me." Everyone Harel approached agreed to sign, and considered the fact of having been approached an honor. The only one who refused to sign was Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, who later became the spiritual leader of the settlement movement. "He said that this was not the Greater Land of Israel," Harel explains, and argued that according to the Bible, the Greater Land of Israel extends from the Euphrates to the Nile.
The task of gathering signatures in support of the declaration, even outside the religious camp, was very easy. "It was enough for people to see who had already signed - Alterman, Agnon. They immediately added their own signatures," relates Harel. The signatories included confirmed right-wingers, such as Yisrael Eldad, but the vast majority of those who signed the declaration came from the heart of the Labor movement: poet Haim Gouri and writer Moshe Shamir; the two sons of Yitzhak Tabenkin, the historic leader of Ahdut Ha'avoda; Yitzhak "Antek" Zuckerman and his wife, Zivia, among the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and others who were unknown at that time and whose names have meanwhile been forgotten. There were 57 signatures altogether.
Harel regrets that he did not approach the young writers Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua to ask for their signatures. "I believe that back then, when the iron was still hot and everyone was still thrilled, they would have signed and history would have looked different," Harel says. But when he suggested their names, Alterman gave him a dirty look, and he understood that the poet did not want their signatures on his declaration. "They were part of the generation that had rebelled against him," Harel explains.
Dan Miron believes the declaration is one of the most important documents ever written in Israel, but not for the same reasons as Harel. The moment the formulators of the document wrote that no government in Israel had the right to relinquish the commitment to the wholeness of the Land of Israel, "they in effect negated the State of Israel as a civil and democratic state," Miron says.
According to Miron, the authors of the document perceived the period that preceded the Six-Day War as a preface to "the new era" in which the Land of Israel and the people of Israel would cease to be concrete terms and would become abstract concepts. The religious signatories to the declaration, argues Miron, provided it with the theological basis its writers lacked. Overall, the declaration is "a reflection of the theological and undemocratic element that has always gurgled beneath the surface of Zionism."
Not swept away
Dan Miron wrote his assessment of the declaration 20 years ago, that is to say, 20 years after the war's end. In the days of September 1967, very few people saw things that way. Among those whose views differed was the trio from Cafe Harley.
Haim Hanegbi, at the time a journalist for Uri Avnery's Ha'olam Hazeh, is the only one of the three who is still alive. At the table with him were Shimon Tzabar, a writer, painter and well-known figure in the Tel Aviv bohemian scene, and David Ernfeld, a millionaire who was a supporter and financial backer of Matzpen, the anti-Zionist organization that was established in 1962 by people who had split from the Communist Party.
"We sat and talked about how the state was losing its mind, everyone was talking about the Greater Land of Israel and something had to be done against it," Hanegbi recalls today. "Ernfeld, a practical man, said: 'Let's publish a paid announcement.'" Hanegbi took a piece of paper and together with Tzabar formulated the statement. They knew exactly what they wanted to say. "Our main message was that it was necessary to pull out of the territories right away, without any conditions and without politics."
Compared to the lofty formulations of the declaration in favor of the Greater Land of Israel, the language of the Cafe Harley document was very simple. "Foreign rule brings resistance in its wake, resistance brings oppression in its wake, oppression brings terror and counter-terror in its wake. Holding onto the territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims."
"Our paid announcement does not contain any argument, it is an assertion. And in this lies its strength," Hanegbi says. The work of collecting signatures for the document was very short. Hanegbi recalls that he approached painter Uri Lifshitz, who signed it without reading it. Other people, including Eli Aminov and Moshe Machover, members of Matzpen, also signed. Machover, who moved to London a year after the war, relates that Tzabar also approached Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, but he did not want to sign. Other notable people whom Tzabar tried to enlist also refused to sign. This did not really make any difference to the initiators. "We knew that we were unable to enlist masses of people," Hanegbi says. Altogether 12 people signed, none of whom were really known to the general public. To this day, Hanegbi does not know anything about two of the signatories, aside from their names.
A few days later Hanegbi went to Haaretz with a bundle of cash Ernfeld had given him and paid for the announcement. "I knew it would be much easier with cash," he says. The announcement was published at the bottom of page 8, under a one-column report headed "Four settlements in the Etzion bloc," referring to the area just to the south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. "It has become known that with the intervention of the directorate of the National Religious Party and its faction in the Knesset, the settlement institutions have decided on the resettlement of Gush Etzion," the very short and unsigned report stated. Less than a week later, Gush Etzion members established the first Jewish settlements in the territories.
The signatories of the declaration that was born at Cafe Harley were not the only ones who were not enthralled by the dream of a Greater Land of Israel. David Ben-Gurion himself, who was the object of Alterman's admiration and his personal friend, said that it was necessary to withdraw from all the territories, except Jerusalem. "Alterman was shocked by this position," Miron says. The writers of the younger generation, such as Yehuda Amichai, Natan Zach, Yehoshua and Oz, were also not keen to join the celebration, and it was not by chance that Alterman did not approach them. According to Harel, the initiators of the declaration did not view it as a political act. "They thought they were expressing the heart of the Israeli consensus," he says. Miron, however, thinks that the formulators of the declaration, with Alterman at their head, were not naive and knew what they were doing.
Oz, whom Harel dreamt of bringing in to the Land of Israel declaration, wrote an article in the now-defunct Davar about the dangers of the occupation. Not to mention the Communist Party, which called for an immediate withdrawal.
The voice that arose from the declaration published in Haaretz was very sharp, without a hint of hesitancy. "There was no need for prophetic talent. All that was needed was to look at the reality with open eyes," Machover says on the phone from London. "Only dead fish are swept up in the current. Live fish swim against the current."
In his opinion, the reason that the Matzpen people were the first to talk with such certitude about the dangers of the occupation was because they had come out against Zionism even before the Six-Day War - therefore, the war caught them "ideologically prepared." To them, it looked like a continuation of what there had been beforehand. It cannot be said that they did not see what was coming. On September 28, 1967, less than a week after the declaration was published, a front-page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth informed readers that, "Most of the major Fatah bases in the West Bank have been destroyed."
Machover left the country right after the war. "I said to myself that I would come back when the occupation was over, and I've stayed," he says. The declaration, he relates, hangs on the wall over his desk and he looks at it every day. "How I feel? Read the Book of Jeremiah. 'Oh that my head were waters and mine eyes a fountain of tears.' That's how I feel."
Hanegbi, who has remained here, recalls the wild attacks on Matzpen after the ad's publication. Yet, overall, he feels the declaration did its job. "We were a focus of moral pressure," says Hanegbi, "because our opposition to the occupation was not contingent on anything: not on negotiations, not on a peace treaty. In that we were unvanquished."
Nationalist replacement parts
In retrospect, Harel believes that the declaration in favor of the Greater Land of Israel missed the mark. It was aimed above all at the people of the Labor movement, but they did not fulfill the mission bestowed on them. "The motor of the Labor movement was socialism," Harel says, "and when it broke down, they tried to put nationalist replacement parts into this motor, but they failed. Bnei Akiva didn't need this declaration."
However, even Harel admits that today only extremist fringes in the national-religious camp, like the Yesha Rabbis Committee (Yesha is the settlers' acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and also means "salvation" in Hebrew), would sign a formulation claiming that no government in Israel "is entitled" to relinquish the integrity of the land, the very formulation the Who's Who of Israeli intelligentsia signed 40 years ago.
It is difficult to conclude without mentioning the games time plays on us. Alongside the announcement that was published in Yedioth Ahronoth by the movement for the Greater Land of Israel that day in September 1967 was a touching report about an Arab inhabitant of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, who was going around the capital during the days after the war, holding a piece of paper with Hebrew writing on it, which testified that his father had saved the Jewish inhabitants of Silwan during the 1929 riots. The journalist arranged a meeting between the Palestinian and the son of the rabbi of Silwan's Jews, who had signed that document. "I feel an obligation to honor the signature of my father of blessed memory," said Yosef Maimoni, the son of Rabbi Shlomo Maimoni. "Heaven forbid that we be ungrateful. We will do everything for you."
A little more than a year ago, that same Palestinian, Muhammad Guzlan, was evicted from his home in Silwan. The Jewish National Fund insisted that the house in which the Guzlan family has lived for the past 80 years is in fact its property, and has transferred the house to the right-wing Elad association.