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How the Occupation Helped the Palestinians

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In this June 6, 1967 file photo, Israel Defense Forces troops are seen at Government House in Jerusalem after they had taken over the Jordanian held part of the city following heavy fighting.
IDF soldiers at Jerusalem's Government House on June 6, 1967, after taking over the Jordanian held part of the city following heavy fighting.Credit: IDF/AP

Revelations about the Six-Day War prove the extent to which occupation of the territories was an unplanned outcome of the early Zionist ideas that shaped the consciousness of those involved – even in the third decade of the state's existence. In other words, one cannot understand 1967 divorced from the context of the conflict as it was viewed through Zionist eyes from the beginning. And when we widen the lens examining Zionism from its inception to this day, we discover that on this continuum, the war also yielded positive results. Among other things, precisely because it led to the occupation – which must be ended.

Israel embarked on that war with a feeling, which accompanied the Zionist project in all its stages, that we aren’t only living here, but are “making history” under an existential threat. In 1967 the secular component of this sentiment, the myth of “the few against the many,” joined the religious component, which included stories of persecution and redemption. The results were hysteria, on the one hand (the idea of a nuclear bombing in Sinai), and belligerence, on the other, which involved the concept of “seizing history” at an opportune moment (i.e., occupying the Golan Heights and Jerusalem).

The attitude toward the Palestinians, too, as indicated by the minutes of discussions during that era, did not stem from blindness to reality, but rather from life in the shadow of the myth of 1948. Some hoped they would flee, others considered expelling them, but most government ministers and Israel Defense Forces generals were convinced that the Palestinians would not become involved in an uprising.

So the Six-Day War did not create a new, cruel and occupying Zionism, but rather fulfilled the negative potential that was to be expected as long as the two sides retained their basic views about the conflict. And if the war evolved from views that were shaped in the decades preceding it, it is possible that even the 50 years that have passed since then are too short a time to rid ourselves of the sense of security that followed it.

Therefore, even if it’s strange to say this today, when in the future the occupation will demand a price that will be impossible to pay, and the country will be divided – history will prove that the war also etched into the Israeli consciousness the destructive power of fearful Zionism.

The focus on the occupation causes us to forget positive developments that have already taken place in the wake of the war. The most recent issue of the journal Iyunim Bitkumat Israel (Studies in Israeli and Modern Jewish Society), which deals with the decade from 1967 to 1977, illustrates that: It was the first war in which the IDF proved its independent power (as opposed to the victory in 1956, which was planned with France and England, and the 1948 War of Independence, in which the IDF had just become an army). As a result, Israel became a strategic asset, which led to the alliance with the United States and made the Jewish state part of the West.

This achievement led, for the first time, to immigration from Western countries: From 1967 to 1973, 260,000 immigrants arrived from the West and the Soviet Union.

Had it not been for the war, it is doubtful whether Likud would have come to power, since the occupation of the territories placed the radical ideology of the party's leader, Menachem Begin, in the center of the political map. And regardless of political opinions, the resulting mahapakh, or electoral upset, strengthened democracy. The economic development resulting from the war also led to Israel’s golden age as a welfare state (until the mahapakh).

And most important: Ironically, the Palestinians also owe the development of their political independence to the war, since until then they sheltered in the shade of the leadership of the Arab world. Only since then, although as part of an exceedingly slow process, has Israel switched from denying their nationalism to recognizing it.

It is therefore possible that in future we will regard the summations of the war in an entirely different light.

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