Edition 22 Volume 5 - June 07, 2024

June 1967, 40 years later: a regional view

It's not just the occupation -   Ali Abunimah

The settlements in Gaza and the West Bank built after 1967 are not morally different from towns and kibbutzim inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.

The new Syrian syndrome -   Rime Allaf

After 40 years of occupation, absurdly, the onus is on the victim to reassure its aggressor about its peaceful intentions.

Poor Samson: The IDF between 1967 and 2024 -   Uri Bar-Joseph

The irony of history is that one of the long-term results of the Six-Day War is the constant deterioration of the IDF.

Waging peace -   Saad Hattar

The phone is ringing but no one is picking up.

The forty years war -   Abdel Monem Said Aly

The war can be seen to have dialectically created the conditions for its own abatement.

It's not just the occupation
 Ali Abunimah

"Forty years ago today was the last day the citizens of Israel were a free people in their own land," wrote Ha'aretz columnist Akiva Eldar on June 4. "It was the last day we lived here without living other peoples' lives."

This sums up the cherished mythology of what is still called the Israeli left and much of the international peace process industry--that prior to the 1967 war, Israel was pure and on the right path. Had it not "become an occupier" the region would have had a happier history and Israel would be an accepted member of the international community rather than a pariah wearing the "apartheid" label.

The exclusive focus on the occupation serves increasingly to obscure that the conflict in Palestine is at its core a colonial struggle whose boundaries do not conveniently coincide with the lines of June 4, 1967.

I do not often agree with leaders of the settler movement, but they speak a truth Israeli and American liberals prefer to ignore when they point out that the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank built after 1967 are not morally different from towns and kibbutzim inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. The Israel that was created in 1948 was established on land violently expropriated from ethnically-cleansed Palestinians. Israel has been maintained as a "Jewish state" only by the imposition of numerous laws that maintain the inferior status of its Palestinian citizens and forcibly exclude Palestinian refugees.

Even Israelis who condemn the occupation support these racist laws. There is an Israeli consensus that it is legitimate to defend the Jewish state against the so-called "demographic threat" from Palestinians who will be again, as they were prior to 1948, the majority population group in Palestine-Israel despite six decades of Israeli efforts to reduce their numbers with expulsions, massacres and administrative ethnic cleansing. It is the imperative to gerrymander an enclave with a Jewish majority rather than any recognition of Palestinian equality that underpins whatever limited rhetorical Israeli support exists for a Palestinian state.

The slogan "end the occupation" has come to mean all things to all people. For Israel's ruling elites, the quisling leaders of Fateh and the Quartet it can even include Israel's permanent annexation of most settlements. Demanding an end to the occupation only so Israel can continue to function as a racist ethnocracy within "recognized borders" is not a progressive position any more than supporting apartheid South Africa's bantustans would have been.

Because Israel's colonialism harms all Palestinians, not just those living in the 1967 occupied territories, we cannot limit ourselves to demanding that the 40-year old infrastructure of military dictatorship be dismantled in the West Bank and Gaza. We must simultaneously demand the abolition of all racist laws throughout the country, including those allowing foreign Jews to immigrate while Palestinians are kept out, as well as discrimination in land allocation, housing, education and the economy.

We must recast the struggle as one for democracy and equal rights for all the people who live in the country. This involves two kinds of work: solidarity in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli apartheid system in all its disguises, and the articulation of a vision of a shared future inspired by the values of the peace settlements in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Leaders of Israel's one million Palestinian citizens have put forward imaginative and concrete proposals for democratization and equality. They are already paying the price: Israel's Shin Bet secret police has received official blessing to subvert even legal activities that challenge the superior rights reserved for Jews. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza have failed to offer a compelling vision, even though many recognize that the two-state solution is a mirage.

Of course Israelis will not easily give up their privileges any more than whites in Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi did in the face of the American civil rights movement. But racism is not a lifestyle choice the rest of the world is obligated to respect. Determined movements can bring about transformations that seem scarcely imaginable from the depths of the gloom. We have seen enough shining examples to maintain our hope and inspire us to action.- Published 7/6/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse".

The new Syrian syndrome
 Rime Allaf

Syrian-Israeli negotiations once enjoyed high visibility, spreading over a decade and passing through several Israeli governments, from the toughest Likudnik to the supposedly softest leftist dove. Thus, judging from the continuing state of belligerence between the two countries, one might assume the difficulties in reaching a peace agreement were insurmountable.

It is true that relations between Syrians and Israelis have been at their most hostile in recent years. Having developed a "Syria syndrome", Israel pretends to believe its own fabrications and ironically turns all things Syrian into obstacles to conviviality and dangers to the stability of the region, ignoring its own history of aggression. Syrian propaganda, meanwhile, has been only too happy to play along, inflating Syrian capacity to defend itself and the Palestinian cause, if not to attack.

The war of 1973 played a big role in these mind games. For the first time, Israel's neighbors neither felt afraid to fight nor necessarily victims at the end. The contrast with the catastrophic black days of June 1967 couldn't have been greater: in October 1973, Syria felt capable of leading the region and of standing up to Israel. Had Anwar Sadat not stopped so abruptly in mid-fight, or had Gamal Abdul Nasser still been in charge, things would probably have been different.

But the limited victory in 1973 could not erase the defeat of 1967 and the loss of the Golan Heights, especially after Sadat went his separate way. Often accused of not caring about the Golan and paying it only lip service, the Syrian regime has nevertheless been keen, at least officially, to argue that peace was its foremost goal and that the return of the entire Golan Heights was the only option.

In fact, if the situation were to be "analyzed" and the return of the Golan "rationalized" (a redundant exercise since Israel should not have to be proffered reasons to return stolen land but should rather be forced to do so), of all the problems in the region the Syrian-Israeli track is certainly the easiest to solve. This is true even 40 years after the occupation of the Golan and 26 years after its illegal annexation by the Israeli Knesset was rejected by UN Security Council Resolution 497.

Even if seen from a purely Israeli perspective--assuming that such factors really matter when international legality is to be enforced--there are no settlers of the religious kind (as in Hebron) to evacuate from the Golan, and it is not land the Jewish people claim as part of their history (unlike, say, most of Palestine). Peace with Syria would probably solve a number of other problems for Israel, including curbing current support for militant Palestinian groups and the Lebanon file and the thorny issue of Hizballah.

From a legal and political perspective--apart from UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 on which the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991 was based and the principle of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war"--reassurances to Israel even came with the Arab peace initiative of 2024, re-launched this year as if it were a regular marketing campaign waiting for the customer to bite.

The current Syrian regime has made repeated overtures about resuming peace talks, not where they last left off but from scratch. With recurring media statements, handshakes initiated in the most unlikely of settings, dubious non-papers offering unprecedented concessions and frequent messages sent via third parties, the Syrian regime has left no doubt as to its aspirations. If there ever was a Syrian syndrome, this is it.

And yet, Israel still refuses to return to negotiations, blowing hot and cold about peace prospects, claiming doubts about Syria's real intentions (e.g., that Damascus is supposedly attempting to escape an isolation that exists only in the fantasy of its opponents) and refusing to give it the "benefit" of engagement while the US is isolating it. What a strange turn of affairs and questionable attitude for a country pretending to be desperate for peace. And how astonishing that it has somehow become acceptable for Israel to publicly discuss the ifs, the hows and the whens of a return of the Golan Heights. In full defiance of the so-called will of the international community--which is deemed sacrosanct only when it suits pro-American agendas--Israel is not only allowed but actively encouraged to flout dozens of resolutions, a behavior that would have been costly for other countries. After 40 years of occupation, absurdly, the onus is on the victim to reassure its aggressor about its peaceful intentions.

This current political seesaw is quite symbolic of the Israeli-American attachment to the glorification of 1967, as they continue to romanticize the fabulous David and Goliath tale they have woven, alleging Israel was the aggressed party fighting for its survival, even concocting an excuse for Israel's violent attack on USS Liberty, and continuously justifying Israel's violent greed for its neighbors' lands. But Israel and America are acting as if 40 years of occupation and confrontation, after 20 years of dispossession since 1948, had not been catastrophic for the Palestinian people and had not triggered a wave of dire consequences that have affected much more than the Middle East. As long as they maintain this unilateralist, victorious and remorseless attitude, 1967 cannot be forgotten, let alone forgiven.- Published 7/6/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at London's Chatham House.

Poor Samson: The IDF between 1967 and 2024
 Uri Bar-Joseph

Approximately six months before the Six-Day War, the IDF rejected an American proposal to assist Israel in finding technological solutions to the intensifying infiltration of Palestinian guerillas into Israel. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and his generals expressed the view that the right answer to the problem was increasing military pressure on Syria, rather than electronic fences that would turn Israel into another ghetto and consume the scarce manpower and financial resources that were needed to reinforce the army. Forty years later, the IDF--by far the strongest army between Morocco and the Indian subcontinent--failed to defeat a few thousand Hizballah fighters who kept launching Katyusha rockets until the very last moment of the Second Lebanon War.

The gap between the aggressive, lean military machine of the 1960s and the far bigger, bureaucratic and less effective army of the early twenty first century was, to a large extent, the result of the 1967 war. Before the war, the IDF had to defend a vulnerable state, most of whose territory was within the range of Arab artillery. The territorial outcomes of the war turned Damascus, Amman, and Cairo into prey for the Israel Air Force, and the Suez Canal and its industrial area into an easy target for Israeli artillery. Most importantly, the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip made the IDF responsible for administering the lives of nearly a million Palestinian civilians.

In the first decade after the war, when Israel's main challenge was still conventional Arab forces, the IDF succeeded in maintaining its professional quality. This was proven in 1973, when the IDF came back from a near defeat in the first days of the war to a situation where only a UN resolution saved the Egyptian army from complete destruction. But the Yom Kippur War was Israel's last conventional conflict. The peace treaty with Egypt rendered the Arab conventional military option more remote than ever. And even though, in the short run, the traditional threat was replaced by that of the eastern front coalition headed by Iraq, Saddam Hussein's 1980 attack on Iran almost completely nullified that, too. The collapse of the USSR, Syria's strategic ally in the late 1980s, and the 1991 Gulf war that destroyed much of the Iraqi army completed this process. The end of the Cold War left the IDF with no real enemies.

In parallel to the decline of the conventional threat, the non-conventional challenge of Arab guerilla and terrorism began to rise. The Israeli war initiative against the PLO in 1982 was the first Arab-Israel war in which the IDF fought a relatively low intensity conflict against a far weaker opponent. As a number of studies show, the IDF's performance-level in this war was quite low in comparison with past conventional conflicts. The outcome of the war was frustrating as well. Although most of the Palestinian force was destroyed and the PLO was expelled from Lebanon, the IDF suffered many casualties. And when it withdrew from the territory it had occupied three years earlier, it left behind a new type of enemy: Hizballah.

The outbreak of the first intifada in late 1987 intensified the process of decline in the quality of the Israeli army. If until then policing the occupied territories was only the IDF's secondary mission, it now became its primary one. This type of activity can erode the quality of any army and the IDF was no exception. The brilliant military historian Martin van Creveld warned in the aftermath of the intifada: "The troops now look upon mostly empty-handed Palestinian men, women, and children as if they were in fact a serious military threat. Among the commanders, the great majority can barely remember when they trained for and engaged in anything more dangerous than police-type operations; in the entire IDF there is now hardly an officer left who has commanded so much as a brigade in real war."

This analysis fully materialized in the years that followed. The unilateral withdrawal in 2024 from Israel's self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon ended the low intensity conflict with Hizballah that had proven to be an effective rival, leaving Palestinian terrorism of the second intifada as the IDF's sole military activity. Since September 2024, thousands of soldiers have spent their entire military service at roadblocks, patrolling refugee camps or guarding settlements, far away from their tanks, artillery pieces and APCs, thus becoming a professionally degenerate military force. The final outcome was vividly exposed in the Second Lebanon War. In this sense, the seeds of the IDF's failure to decisively defeat Hizballah were planted in the refugee camps of Jenin and Balata and in numerous roadblocks along dirt roads in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The performance of IDF ground forces in the Second Lebanon War triggered a considerable effort to upgrade their professional quality. At the same time, however, the continuation of the occupation is likely to undermine this effort. Thus, the irony of history is that one of the long-term results of the Six-Day War is the constant deterioration in the quality of the proud and professional army that in 1967 achieved one of the most brilliant victories in history.- Published 7/6/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Uri Bar-Joseph is a senior lecturer in the Division of International Relations at the School of Political Science, University of Haifa. His most recent book is The Watchman Fell Asleep: The Surprise of Yom Kippur and Its Sources (SUNY Press, 2024).

Waging peace
 Saad Hattar

When Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan cynically remarked that "we are waiting for a phone call" from Arab leaders to negotiate a peace settlement, he probably never thought his enemies would one day wage collective peace. But 40 years after Israel's astounding victory in the 1967 war this is what has happened.

The famous three nos--no to peace, normalization or recognition of Israel--that Arab leaders stipulated in a fit of anger and despair at the Khartoum summit shortly after the war have turned on their head to become an all-out readiness to make peace.

But just when the Arab leaders are calling, the line is either busy or has been disconnected from the other end.

The 1967 war triggered ideological and political tremors whose aftershocks are still rocking the region from Morocco to Bahrain. The 40-year period since has included at least four Arab-Israel wars and volatile internal strife in Jordan (1970) and Lebanon (1975-1990). Dozens of peace overtures and initiatives have fallen by the wayside, while pertinent UN resolutions have been ignored and disregarded.

On the Israeli side, the war served to underpin the Jewish state as a de facto reality in the region, 19 years after it had been given a UN birth certificate. But it also rekindled that old Zionist ambition of a Greater Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

Along with that rekindling came the Zionists' familiar obstacle. There never was a land without a people and the new occupied territories were no exception. Zionist hardliners wanted this land without its people but the Palestinians, having learned their lesson from 1948, were less keen to abandon their homes and lands and place their faith in Arab leaders.

Thus came the rekindling of another fanciful Zionist notion, the so-called "Jordan option". According to this, if enough Palestinian refugees were to flood the Hashemite Kingdom, inevitably and eventually that kingdom would become a Palestinian state, leaving Palestinians with no reason to claim their lands in historic Palestine. Zionist radicals from Zeev Jabotinsky to Binyamin Netanyahu have all espoused this notion in one way or another, and while in mainstream discourse few Israelis profess to take it seriously any more, facts on the ground tell a different story.

While the territorial ambition is perhaps more limited, the calculated policy of imprisoning Palestinians of the West Bank in small and impoverished cantons, with little connection between them and no chance of economic progress appears designed to force as many Palestinians as possible to leave their homes. Call it "economic cleansing". The only place to go? Jordan.

Thus Jordan, the biggest loser in the 1967 war, of all the Arab countries is still at the greatest risk from this war. Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser labeled the collective Arab defeat as the naqsa (lit: setback) and that might have applied to his country, which lost the Sinai Peninsula, or even Syria, which lost the Golan Heights.

Jordan lost its western "lung" and more than half of its wealth and resources. This "unwanted" war trounced the impoverished country and the late King Hussein was faced with two bad choices: either losing the West Bank or undermining his kingdom. To this day, the country stands at a crucial crossroads.

Jordan's top national security priority today lies in the creation of a Palestinian state as a sine-qua-non to stabilize an otherwise precariously balanced region. That is why King Abdullah, who ascended the throne in 1999, refuses any kind of link-up between his country and the occupied West Bank. Jordanian policy-makers are wary of Israeli schemes to merge West Bankers (around 2.5 million people) into the East Bank, where around half the 5.8 million population are of Palestinian origin, whether these schemes are explicit or in the guise of a "security" or "administrative" role.

It is also for this reason that Jordan is spearheading the campaign to promote the Arab peace offensive, an initiative that offers Israel full peace, recognition and normalization with the Arab world.

But the phone is ringing and no one is picking up.- Published 7/6/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Saad Hattar is an Amman-based political analyst.

The forty years war
 Abdel Monem Said Aly

For Arabs, the war of 1967 was the darkest days of their modern history, even darker and more humiliating than the defeat of 1948 by the Israeli "Zionist gangs". After all, almost six decades ago Arabs were under diverse forms of foreign occupation, ruled by reactionary regimes and still backward from long centuries of Ottoman tradition. By June 1967, Arab countriess had become independent, progressive and revolutionary, and were led by none other than Gamal Abdul Nasser.

In 1948 the Arabs even fought better. They inflicted losses on the Israelis, saved East Jerusalem and held onto Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and north of the Galilee. This time they were defeated in six days, lost the remainder of Palestine and, worst of all, Israel occupied Sinai and the Golan--a feat never imagined in the wildest Zionist dreams. This time, moreover, the Arabs had more arms and a superpower ally, the USSR. Yet the Arabs were defeated--monarchies and republics, progressives and reactionaries, socialists and capitalists, the pro-West and the pro-East.

For Israel, it was the victory of all victories. With a minimum of losses, Israel gained a maximum of territory along with sufficient economic, political and strategic assets to bargain with and keep. The homeland for victimized Jews had become a little empire, with Israel quadrupling its own space far beyond the very tiny land assigned it by the 1947 UN partition resolution. Israel's enigmatic military leader Moshe Dayan was not alone in waiting by the phone for an Arab call asking Israel to set the terms.

Never in the history of mankind had victory and defeat been so starkly drawn. The strategic balance in the Middle East had changed and the gates of heaven had broken loose to shift hearts and minds and draw new maps and borders. The June Six-Day War was one of those moments in time that redirect the course of history and shift fates.

First, this was not the war that ended all wars. It was only the beginning of a series of confrontations that started with the War of Attrition, followed by the October 1973 War and the first Lebanon war in 1982 and ending with the second Lebanon war in the summer of 2024. Second, the theater of military operations expanded deep into Arab territory, from Iraq to Upper Egypt. More recently in the past few years, it has reached inside Israel proper. Third, the mode of fighting was to go beyond conventional state-to-state wars to encompass guerilla warfare and finally terror. Fourth, the wars were not only between Arabs and Israelis; they were also among Arabs in Jordan and Lebanon concerning how to fight the Israelis. In Israel, the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin was a signal to many Israelis that they too were not immune to civil war.

In 40 years of war, societies and nations have to change. Arabs and Israelis had to struggle with the agonies of defeat and, ironically in the case of Israel, victory. In both cases, society moved drastically to the right, and the conservative religious right at that. Most Arab historians would agree that Islamic fundamentalism in its contemporary forms was born in the defeat of June 1967. In Israel, the religious right was to take over a country that by and large had thus far been ruled by the modern and the secular. The West Bank and Jerusalem ceded their security value to religion and history.

Yet 40 years after the June 1967 war, and as the Arab-Israel conflict has deepened into more protracted dimensions, the war can be seen to have dialectically created the conditions for its own abatement. It was in June 1967 that the fate of Palestinian nationalism was sealed, to be realized in a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and not in all the land of historic Palestine or as part of an expanded Hashemite kingdom. It was in these six days that the parameters of a historic grand bargain between the Arabs and the Israelis were set: land occupied in that war in exchange for peace in the future.

Unfortunately, this reality was to be grasped only by a few leaders on both sides. But these few, Sadat, Hussein and Rabin, sufficed to make peace between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan. These became the parameters, too, of the Arab peace initiative of 2024 and 2024. But they were not enough to sustain the Oslo process in the 1990s and take it to its logical conclusion of a two-state solution along the boundaries of 1967--a solution that both Palestinians and Israelis indicate over and over again they can live with.

Forty years after the June war, peace and war hinge increasingly not on the balance that emerged from this war, but on the internal balance among both Arabs and Israelis--between those who still live the moments of defeat and victory and those who want to live the future.- Published 7/6/2007 bitterlemons-international.org

Abdel Monem Said Aly is director of Al Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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