Friday, June 15

Where is Israel heading Forty Years after the Six Day War?

The reasons for the initiation of the Six Day War of June 1967 are well known. However it would be helpful to recap what led to the Six Day War in order to gain some perspective. Israel’s Arab neighbours wished to destroy Israel. They were never able to come to terms with Israel’s existence since 1948.

Israel is not blameless in the creation of the 1948 Palestinian refugee problem. Both sides rewrite history to suit their own ends but the truth of what happened exists somewhere between both the Israeli and Palestinian version of history of that period.

Professor Ilan Pappe (who was Professor of History at Haifa University now at Exeter University in England) does have some views on this which are not Israeli mainstream, but could give some insight into what happened in 1948. What happened then is the basis of all the problems between Israel and the Palestinians until this day. I quote from his lecture:

“For Israelis, 1948 is a year in which two things happened which contradict each other: On the one hand, it was the climax of Jewish aspirations to have a state or to fulfill a long dream of returning to a homeland after what they regarded as 2000 years of exile. In other words, it was considered a miraculous event that only positive adjectives could be attached to, and that you could only talk about and remember as a very elated kind of event. On the other hand, it was the worst chapter in Jewish history. Jews did in 1948 in Palestine what Jews had not done anywhere for 2000 years prior. The most evil and most glorious moment converged into one. What Israeli collective memory did was to erase one side of the story in order to co-exist or to live with only the glorious chapter. It was a mechanism for solving an impossible tension between two collective memories.

Because so many of the people who live in Israel lived through 1948, this is not a distant memory. It is not the genocide of the Native Americans in the United States. People know exactly what they did, and they know what others did. Yet they still succeed in erasing it totally from their own memory while struggling rigorously against anyone trying to present the other, unpleasant, story of 1948, in and outside Israel. If you look at Israeli textbooks, curricula, media, and political discourse you see how this chapter in Jewish history - the chapter of expulsion, colonization, massacres, rape, and the burning of villages - is absent. It is not there. It is replaced by a chapter of heroism, glorious campaigns and amazing stories of moral courage and superiority unheard of in any other histories of people's liberation in the 20th century. So whenever I speak of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, we must remember that not just the very terms of "ethnic cleansing" and "expulsion" are totally alien to the community and society from which I come and from where I grew up; the very history of that chapter is either distorted in the recollection of people, or totally absent.”

The period between 1956 and 1967 prior to the Six Day War was utilized by Israel’s enemies to prepare for war against Israel under President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. There was no doubt that the Soviets and the Americans were using the Middle East crisis for their own interests and that they played a part in the deterioration of the situation.

“From early 1965 to the Six-Day War in June 1967, the PLO through Fatah pursued a consistent policy of border attacks, particularly along the Jordanian and Lebanese borders. Criticism of these activities by the Arab governments and by local public opinion persuaded Fatah leaders to adopt a new approach known as "the entanglement theory." This involved using sabotage to force Israel to adopt an offensive position, which in turn would force the Arabs to step up their military preparedness. This cycle of action-retaliation-reaction would lead to a gradual escalation of tension on the borders, and eventually to the Six Day War in 1967.

In 1965, 35 terrorist raids were conducted against Israel. In 1966, the number increased to 41. In just the first four months of 1967, 37 attacks were launched.

The number of dangerous incidents on the Syrian border increased following Israel’s activation of the National Water Carrier from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev in 1964. Syria and the other Arab countries opposed the National Water Carrier project and tried to destroy it by diverting the tributaries of the Jordan River located in their territories; Israel bombed the diversion works in response. This tension came against the backdrop of the on-going border clashes along the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, as Syria resisted Israel's attempts to increase use of the demilitarized zone for Israeli agriculture. (The demilitarized zone was created under the terms of the Israel-Syria armistice signed on July 20, 1949.) Syria launched attacks on Israeli farmers cultivating land in the demilitarized zone and on Israeli fishing boats and other craft in the Sea of Galilee, shelling from the commanding Golan Heights that rise dramatically to the east of the border areas.

Military Provocation by Arab Countries and Soviet Disinformation

While Israel consistently expressed a desire to negotiate a peace with its neighbors, there was no matching sentiment on the Arab side. In an address to the UN General Assembly on October 10, 1960, Foreign Minister Golda Meir challenged Arab leaders to meet with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to negotiate a peace settlement. Nasser (Egypt) answered on October 15, saying that Israel was trying to deceive world opinion, and reiterating that his country would never recognize the Jewish State. Nasser's rhetoric became increasingly bellicose; on March 8, 1965 he said:

· We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand. We shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.

A few months later, Nasser expressed the Arabs' goal to be:

· ... The full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.

Other Arab leaders from Syria, Jordan, and Iraq joined in the rhetoric and preparations for war, increasing pressure on Egypt's President Gamal Nasser, perceived as the leader of the Arab world. Syria's attacks along the DMZ (demilitarized zone) grew more frequent in 1965 and 1966. Syria's attacks on Israeli kibbutzim from the Golan Heights provoked a retaliatory strike on April 7, 1967, during which Israeli planes shot down six Syrian MiGs. Israel followed up by re-introducing military forces to the DMZ.

At the same time, and unknown to the Israelis, the Soviet Union mounted a disinformation campaign pushing Egypt to join Syria against Israel. At that time, the Soviets were providing military and economic aid to both Syria and Egypt. On May 13, 1967 a Soviet parliamentary delegation visited Cairo and informed the Egyptian leaders that Israel had concentrated eleven to thirteen brigades along the Syrian border in preparation for an assault within a few days, with the intention of overthrowing the revolutionary Syrian Government. This was a complete fabrication designed by the Soviets to destabilize the Middle East. Similar false information may have been given to Egypt by the Soviets as early as May 2.

The build up and aggressive intent were denied by Israel. UN Secretary General U Thant reported that UNTSO observers on the Syrian border:

· ... Have verified the absence of troop concentrations and absence of noteworthy military movements on both sides of the [Syrian] line.

Nasser probably correctly interpreted the Soviet information as an indication to him that the time was ripe for an attack on Israel and that he had their backing. With the United States deeply distracted by the War in Vietnam, the Soviets had reason to think there would be no US intervention. Nassar then abandoned his former cautious policy and took the lead for new aggression against Israel. Syria and Iraq eagerly joined Egypt's preparations, increasing the momentum toward war.

On May 15, Israel's 19th Independence Day, Egyptian troops began moving into the Sinai and massing near the Israeli border. By May 18, Syrian troops were prepared for battle along the Golan Heights.

On May 16, Nassar requested the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force, stationed in the Sinai since 1956. Egyptian forces moved up to the UNEF lines and began to harrass the UN positions. Without bringing the matter to the attention of the General Assembly, as his predecessor had promised, Secretary-General U Thant complied with the demand. This was a violation of conditions under which Israel had returned the Sinai to Egypt, after the Sinai Campaign. The UN force was supposed to safeguard Israel from Egypt again closing the Straits of Tiran or launching terrorist attacks from that quarter.

Blockade of the Straits of Tiran

In 1956, the United States gave Israel assurances that it recognized the Jewish State's right of access to the Straits of Tiran. In 1957, at the UN, 17 maritime powers declared that Israel had a right to transit the Strait. Moreover, any blockade violated the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, which was adopted by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea on April 27, 1958. Nonetheless, on the night of May 22-23, 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping and all ships bound for Eilat. This blockade cut off Israel's only supply route with Asia and stopped the flow of oil from its main supplier, Iran.

Nasser was fully aware of the pressure he was exerting to force Israel's hand. The day after the blockade was set up, he said defiantly:

· The Jews threaten to make war. I reply: Welcome! We are ready for war.

Final Blows Lead to War

There is evidence that Egypt was warned by the US and the Soviet Union in late May 1967 that war should be avoided, but by then the momentum to war was unstoppable.

King Hussein of Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt on May 30, 1967, under which Jordan joined the Egyptian-Syrian military alliance of 1966 and placed its army on both sides of the Jordan river under Egyptian command. He had little choice since Jordan housed 700,000 Palestinian Arabs whose rioting in November 1966 almost brought down Hussein's government. On June 4, Iraq joined the military alliance with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. President Abdur Rahman Aref of Iraq added these words to the mountain of provocation:

· The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear -- to wipe Israel off the map.

Armed forces in the Arab countries were mobilized. Israel was confronted by an Arab force of some 465,000 troops, over 2,880 tanks and 810 aircraft. The armies of Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq were contributing troops and arms to the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian fronts.

Israeli forces had been on high alert during the three weeks of tension which began on May 15, 1967 when it became known that Egypt had concentrated large-scale forces in the Sinai Peninsula, an alert status Israel could not maintain indefinitely. The country could not accept interdiction of its sea lane through the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel had no choice but preemptive action. To do this successfully, Israel had to achieve surprise, not wait for an Arab invasion, a potential catastrophic situation. On June 4, the Cabinet authorized the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense to decide on appropriate steps to defend the State of Israel.” (From Palestine Facts).

From this description of the reasons for the Six Day War, one can see that Israel’s existence was in mortal danger. The sweeping victory of Israel over Egypt had left in its wake many serious problems that defied solution for the following forty years.

In the aftermath of the Six Day War, Heads of state from eight Arab countries attended a summit conference in Khartoum, Sudan held from August 29 to September 1, 1967. The meeting formulated the Arab consensus that formed the basis of the policies of most Arab states participating in the conflict with Israel until the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The resolution adopted September 1, 1967 called for the continued struggle against Israel, the creation of a fund to assist the economics of Egypt and Jordan, the lifting of an Arab oil boycott against the West and a new agreement to end the war in Yemen.

The best remembered action at Khartoum, however, was the adoption of the dictum of "Three NOs" with respect to Israel:

1. NO peace with Israel

2. NO recognition of Israel

3. NO negotiations with Israel

With this resolution, the Arab states slammed the door on any progress towards peace with Israel and ultimately led to the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

The adoption of this Khartoum Resolution, also played a part in the attitude of Israel towards encouraging settlement in the territories occupied in the Six Day War. This resolution was clear in its attitude towards Israel. The Israeli government used it as an excuse to encourage Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. They felt that these territories were now part of Israel as there was no desire to negotiate its return on the part of the Arab nations. Israel gave up the idea of using the occupied territories as a bargaining chip for a true peace with its Arab neighbours. Had Israel not encouraged settlements, rather invested money in improving the economic situation of the Palestinians, and not relied on foreign investment from Arab countries, which would not have been allowed into the occupied territories for reasons mentioned later, the situation would have been less complex to solve.

The mood of Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War was one of total euphoria. They had conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The Palestinian population was occupied and this in itself included many refugee camps that were established in 1948. These refugee camps over the years became a hot bed of Palestinian nationalism which was ignored by Israel. The poverty and overcrowding in these camps was horrifying and Israel had ignored their needs. The shortsightedness of Israel reaped the bitter fruits of the intifada years when the Palestinians decided that the situation became unbearable for them.

Israel had embarked on a policy of encouraging settlements in the occupied territories. Many religious right wing Israelis saw it as their right to settle the territories and the settler movement showed no consideration for the indigenous Palestinian population in the occupied territories. They plundered their lands, destroying Palestinian farm land in their wake. Olive trees were uprooted to make way for Jewish settlements in the territories. The Jewish settler attachment to the land was based on their belief in Torah from their self-righteous point of view. It did not take them long to build luxurious homes with loans from the government at special interest rates which made the idea of occupation a luxurious practicality.

The Israeli ceased to do manual labour. His arrogance knew no bounds! Now there was readily available cheap Palestinian labour. These people were exploited and had no security. Whenever one asked the Israeli employer why they paid the Palestinian laborer such a poor salary, the answer was: “Their standard of living is far lower than the Israeli standard and therefore their needs are far less.” Amazing rationalization one would say! The Israeli saw himself as the invincible overlord of the Palestinians.

The situation became intolerable for the Palestinians. The successive Israeli governments adopted very short sighted policies towards the Palestinians. A country that occupies another people because of winning a war becomes responsible for the welfare of that people. The average attitude of Israel towards the occupied Palestinians was (and still is) that the responsibility for Palestinian welfare lies in the hands of the neighbouring Arab states and thus Israel washed its hands of their responsibility towards the people that they occupied. How this could have been achieved is a wild guess. Israel was and still is in a state of war with the Arab states. This means that she would never allow money from the Arab states to come into the occupied territories for the Palestinians as it was risky. No country at war with another country would allow enemy funds to reach an occupied population that could be hostile in the future.

The amount of investment in Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian lands was phenomenal. Improvement of the social conditions of the occupied Palestinian population was small in comparison.

The incursion into Palestinian lands and the strangling of the Palestinian farmer’s ability to cultivate his lands because of expropriation of land for Jewish settlement had exacerbated the Palestinian economic situation and made it very difficult for the Palestinians to earn a livelihood. Accounts (from Wikipedia) that the presence of settlements in the West Bank has an adverse impact on the local population include:

· Road blocks, which the Israeli human rights center Btselem and other sources argue exist to "protect the settlers", are scattered inside the West Bank between Palestinian cities and villages and have had a significant impact on freedom of movement. These road blocks are said to also protect Israelis within Israel. According to Btselem, the (siege) "imprisons entire populations within their communities or in a small geographic area and limits their access to other parts of the West Bank."[61][62][63][64]

· In Hebron, where a few hundred settlers live among 150,000 Palestinians, B'Tselem argues that there have been "grave violations" of Palestinian human rights because of the "presence of the settlers within the city." The organization cites regular incidents of "almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city", curfews and restrictions of movement that are "among the harshest in the Occupied Territories", and violence and by Israeli border policemen and the IDF against Palestinians who live in the city's H2sector.[65][66][67]

· Human Rights Watch reports on physical violence of settlers against Palestinians, including "frequently stoning and shooting at Palestinian cars. In many cases, settlers abuse Palestinians in front of Israeli soldiers or police with little interference from the authorities."[68] Btselem also documents settler actions against Palestinians that include "blocking roadways, so as to impede Palestinian life and commerce. The settlers also shoot solar panels on roofs of buildings, torch automobiles, shatter windowpanes and windshields, destroy crops, and uproot trees, abuse merchants and owners of stalls in the market. Some of these actions are intended to force Palestinians to leave their homes and farmland, and thereby enable the settlers to gain control of them."[69]

· According to B'Tselem, more than fifty percent of the land of the West Bank has been expropriated from Palestinian owners "mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements." While the seized lands mainly benefit the settlements, the Palestinian public is prohibited from using them in any way.[70]

· Settlers are particularly active during the Palestinian olive harvest season.[71] Olive farmers and families are targeted by settlers while on their fields, and are assaulted or shot-at. Numerous organizations have documented serious abuses by settlers during this season, and many international and Israeli organizations organize campaigns to protect Palestinians on the fields during the harvest.[72][73][74][75][76]

· Israel has established a series of modern roads throughout the West Bank which bypass Palestinian areas, some of which are closed to vehicles with Palestinian license-plates in varying degrees, and which can fluctuate based on Israeli security concerns: some roads (mostly leading into Israel) are closed to all Palestinian traffic; many roads are closed to private traffic but allow public and commercial transportation; some roads are fully open to all Palestinian traffic and are shared completely with Israeli motorists. At the same time, Palestinian areas and roads are closed to vehicles with Israeli markings. Israel argues that such a system is needed for security because of many incidents in which Israelis who entered such areas were endangered or killed, and that it generally reduces tension between the two populations. Btselem has described this system as nevertheless 'discriminatory': "Rather than use the main roads between the cities, most of the population is forced to use long and winding alternate routes. The regime has forced most Palestinians to leave their cars at home and travel by public transportation, in part because private cars are not allowed to cross some of the checkpoints." Btselem lists the effects of this separate roads regime, including: Wasted (additional) time to reach destinations, tardiness or inability to reach destinations, exhaustion, increased cost of travel, and increased wear and tear on vehicles resulting from travel on worn down or dirt roads.[77]

· The recent construction of a barrier is routed inside the green line to encompass a variety of settlements. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicates that 10% of the West Bank will fall on the Israeli side of the barrier.[78][79]

· Since the beginning of Al-Aqsa intifada, 41 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians in the Palestinian territories. 233 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians in the territories in the same period. (Note: according to Btselem, many of the Israeli civilians who were killed in the territories were not residents of the territories at the time, and as such would not be considered 'settlers'). The total number of Palestinians killed in the territories is over 3300 (though this number does not differentiate between Palestinian combatants and Palestinian civilians), while the total number of Israelis is 458. The number of Israelis killed inside of Israel is 540, and the number of Palestinians killed in Israel is 58.[80

The situation became ripe for increasing violence against Israelis. Palestinians view Israelis as soldiers who abuse them and settlers who are encroaching on their lands.

Another factor that contributed to the strengthening of Hamas was Israel’s initial support for that organization as a bulwark against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Since the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005, the situation there has become a living hell for the innocent Palestinian population. The National Unity Government established by the Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah has ceased to function and civil war between the two sides has broken out. The opposition results in the firing of Qassam rockets into Sderot and the western Negev. This tactic defies all logic.

The greatest danger to the Palestinians in Gaza is the danger of civil war between Fatah and Hamas. The hate between the two sides is irreconcilable and there are armed battles between the two sides resulting in death and destruction. Palestinians caught in the crossfire, including women and children, are not immune from the intrafraternal violence. Today Hamas has conquered Gaza. 80 lives were lost in the operation and many policemen loyal to Fatah ran away to Egypt

The West Bank now is still quiet and it is under the control of Fatah. The occupied territories are now divided into two entities:

· Hamastan – The Gaza Strip

· Fatahstan – The West Bank

If the West Bank is overtaken by a power struggle initiated by Hamas then the future of peace will be doomed for many years. The violence and civil war in Gaza could threaten the West Bank and this would allow Islamist extremists to increase their influence in an attempt to destroy Fatah.

How the possibility of a two-state solution will arise from the ashes of the civil war in Gaza is anybody’s guess for the future. The destruction and the hate between Fatah and Hamas have created a situation that is dangerous for both Palestinians and Israelis.

The situation in the occupied territories is slipping into Islamist extremism and total anarchy. Hamas has no desire to govern the Palestinians responsibly. They seem to have an extraordinary amount of funds for warfare and none for the welfare of the Palestinian people. This is a prescription for a great human tragedy with the loss of many innocent lives.

3 comments:

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a.k.a. Blandly Urbane said...

Wonderful piece. It brought to mind a essay in NR recently read, written by David Pryce-Jones.

If you haven't read it, I would be glad to share it with you. It is subscription, but if you would like me to do a copy and past and e-mail to you I would be more than happy to do so.

blandlyurbane@gmail.com
BU