The Best Decade of Our Lives

For two thirds of my life, I have been trying to return to the Israel that was stolen from me in June 1967. I do not plan to give up, and not because of nostalgia. We have less than a decade left to cut the Gordian knot between the territories and ourselves.

The Six Day War, whose 38th anniversary was yesterday, divides my life exactly as it divides the life of the state: A third before the war and two-thirds after it. It would be correct to say that during nearly all of the latter period I have tried to save myself, ourselves, from the terrible mistake we made; instead of sticking to a war of defense and then returning home, like after all the reprisal operations, we remained in the territories. All I am trying to do is to enable my grandchildren to live in this land as I lived during the quietest and most beautiful decade of its life - 1957-1967.

It is true that there was the Lavon Affair - a botched sabotage operation in Egypt in 1954 - and incidents in the north and even on Mount Scopus, and lots of problems concerning the definition of "Who is Jew," and riots in Wadi Salib and a recession. But during this entire period, only 20 people were killed by hostile operations. The "austerity" regime was replaced by rapid economic growth. Higher education, culture and science flourished like never before. Military service was two and a half years and was even shortened to two years and two months. Children traveled on buses and parents did not fear for their lives.

Israel of the 1960s was a country that was flourishing and sure of itself, absorbing aliyah, connected with East and West and a big sister for newly independent African countries. The world saluted Israel's amazing successes in the fields of agriculture, the military and the absorption of new immigrants, and it seemed like nothing could stop it. Studies published in the 1960s predicted that within 25 years, Israel would be among the world's developed countries. These studies did not take into consideration the war and the blindness that took hold of us in its aftermath.

I shared this blindness. I was a private and became a private first class at the end of the war. While in the Golan and Sinai, I heard about the conquest of Jerusalem and was ecstatically happiness. I experienced six years of illusions before realizing the senselessness of Moshe Dayan's declaration, "Better Sharm el-Sheikh than peace;" the mistake of not returning the West Bank to King Hussein in exchange for peace, because of the Allon Plan's demand to annex about 20 percent of it; and the crazy nonsense of Abba Eban's "Auschwitz borders."

There was the bitter mistake of Golda Meir, Yisrael Galili and their colleagues, who rejected Gunnar Jarring's proposal for an accord with Egypt along the lines of the Camp David agreement, in February 1971. They rejected this proposal despite the fact that Sadat had agreed to it. There was also the terrible mistake of building settlements in Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, as if we were still living in the 1920s and 1930s and these settlements would protect Tel Aviv.

It was only when we hysterically had to evacuate children's houses in the Golan Heights kibbutzim that I realized how outdated it was to think that the settlements constitute a defensive shield. It was only then that I began to realize how much the occupied territories endangered us rather than protecting us.

Those six days, on the eve of my 19th birthday, were the most heroic days of my life. Those were days when existential fears gave way to victory albums, veneration of generals and the belief that we were invincible. Thus, we waited for a telephone call from Hussein, as if we had no obligation to even dial.

Those days, which made us a subject of such admiration for Jews in the Diaspora and many others in the world, turned out to be the greatest curse of our personal and collective lives. It was battle shock of victors who had no idea what to do with the territorial assets that fell into their hands. Between Alterman and Agnon calling to remain in the Greater Land of Israel, and Lavon and Leibowitz calling for a unilateral exit, the victors did what people do when they are in shock: They continued as they had done previously.

The military government, which had only been canceled in December 1966, was renewed in the territories six months later. And the building of kibbutzim and moshavim in the occupied territories was the direct continuation of the (erroneous) assessment from the pre-state period - that the future border would be determined by the settlements we build.

For two thirds of my life, I have been trying to return to the Israel that was stolen from me in June 1967. I do not plan to give up, and not because of nostalgia. We have less than a decade left to cut the Gordian knot between the territories and ourselves.

Many have already emerged from the period of collective blindness and understand what a terrible moral, Jewish, economic and international price we are paying because of this knot. The only question is whether the minority that remains in the darkness will sit at the helm or move to the stern of the ship and let those whose eyes are open navigate.