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From Day One: Israel Preoccupied With Occupation

Some cabinet ministers were prophetic, while others, like Moshe Dayan, were in the grip of euphoria

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (c), Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (r) and Jerusalem Commander Uzi Narkis walk through the Lion's Gate into the Old City, June 7, 1967.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (c), Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (r) and Jerusalem Commander Uzi Narkis walk through the Lion's Gate into the Old City, June 7, 1967.Credit: Ilan Bruner, GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Reading the minutes of 1967 from the perspective of 50 years later makes one feel like a very old fly, one who’d been on the wall of the government conference room back then and only managed to creep out and tell what it learned now.

The main protagonists are long since dead. Youngsters today never heard of some of them (Haim Gvati) or think their names sound hysterical (Zerach Warhaftig). Even the vernacular has changed profoundly since then, and certain functions in government, like Minister of the Post Office, don’t exist anymore.

But one fundamental thing hasn’t changed at all in the decades since the minutes, now being brought to the public thanks to an immense digitization effort of the State Archives, were written: the main thing that was preoccupying Israel’s cabinet ministers after Haaretz reported the “brilliant campaign by the IDF,” in which the “IDF soldiers fought like lions,” following which the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights were in Israeli hands.

Reams were written then, and are still being written now, about the central problem created then, 50 years ago: the occupation.

Will we find ourselves in a binational state, as Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapira warned at the time (“We’re finished with the Zionist enterprise and will be in a ghetto here?”) or, for generations to come, will we still “choke in the West Bank,” as Education Minister Zalman Aran predicted?

The prophetic abilities of some of the participants in the discussions back then were impressive, looking back, especially given the euphoria gripping others at the very same meetings, for instance Moshe Dayan, hero of the war, who suggested hoping that the Arabs would stay put quietly and even enter into an agreement with Israel stating that it isn’t us who conquered them.

There is good reason the state waited so long to reveal these documents in full, though segments had been published in books and articles over the years. If the ministers had thought then their words could be published at the time, they wouldn’t have been so frank, suggesting that bulldozers be sent to frighten the Arabs in East Jerusalem, or that they should be expelled to far-off Brazil. That would have been the death-knell for a public relations effort that the foreign minister, Abba Eban, described as an unprecedented success in the history of humanity.

The reading material that the State Archives are releasing is fascinating, jolting and troubling. It teaches not only a lesson in history but in human nature as well.

In which context, it would be interesting to see the classified minutes of the present government exposed in another 50 years, and see what Netanyahu, Erdan, Regev, Lieberman and Bennett thought in real time about the issues born 50 years ago, during six days in June 1967, which continue to preoccupy them 50 years later.

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