Israel's Longest War

The Six-Day War distorted the justice system so that it became, in part, a tool that judicially sanitizes the occupation

Haaretz Editorial
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Nablus, 1990.
Nablus, 1990.Credit: Alex Levac
Haaretz Editorial

On Monday, Israel will mark the 50th anniversary of the onset of the Six-Day War. This was a just war, a war of “no choice.” Like the 1948 War of Independence, it was necessitated by violent attacks and an existential threat to the state.

But unlike both the previous wars and those that came after it, the glorious military victory in 1967 turned the shortest war in Israel’s history into the longest one. This war changed the character of the state, gave birth to a sub-state in the occupied territories, bolstered messianic religious ideology, distorted the justice system so that it became, in part, a tool that judicially sanitizes the occupation, and cracked the foundations of the Zionist dream.

The battlefield victory gave birth to a new “empire” in the Middle East. But unlike the other colonialist powers, which see the beginning of their occupations as embarrassing chapters in their history, Israel marks the change in its status as if it were a second Independence Day.

For religious Zionism and its messianic offshoots, the war served as proof of the beginning of the redemption and the fulfillment of a divine promise to Israel; physical control over the holy places also bolstered the identification between religion and state. And for secular Zionists, the occupation and control of the territories seemed to be a national security guarantee of the state’s continued existence.

But this paradigm was shattered in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and afterward in the Lebanon War of 1982 and the two intifadas. The false narrative of the pre-state Jewish settlement movement, whereby “a people without a land came to a land without a people,” also suffered a shattering blow. The territories were and still are packed with people – Palestinians who nurtured their own national aspirations and have won recognition of their existence as a nation, and they are en route to official status as a state.

Despite this, it seems as if the 50 years of occupation have only strengthened Israelis’ disregard for these Palestinian aspirations and put peace-seekers on both sides into solitary confinement. Instead of the Six-Day War finding its proper place in a museum of past wars, it continues to shape our present reality, create new threats, sow evil and cruelty and, above all, be perceived as an eternal victory disconnected from history.

Fifty years is a long enough time to honestly and courageously consider the tragic results of this glorious victory – not just to learn the lessons, but also to begin the countdown to rectifying the enormous harm wrought by the war. For occupation no longer has any place in the modern world, messianism has only brought disaster, and control over another nation will ultimately bring about our disintegration.