Ethan Schwartz, Digital Campaigner & Press Officer, Yachad
The Six Day War has a powerful place in the collective memory of the Jewish community; a miraculous victory that ensured Israel’s survival, aided by hundreds of young Jews from the UK and around the world who answered Israel’s call for help. But in commemorating the war, 50 years on, we should not lose sight of what has happened since. From the first days after victory, the debate over what to do about the land and people now under Israeli control, and, by extension, what sort of society Israel should be, raged – and the key questions in many ways remain unanswered. Yet in the five decades since, a purportedly temporary occupation of the West Bank has become a permanent system which infringes on the basic rights of millions of Palestinians every day, and which threatens Israel’s future.
I sometimes hear Jewish community audiences say something like, “What occupation? The Palestinians have it better than almost anyone else in the region.” Although glaringly inaccurate as a blanket statement, it is true that compared to, for example, Syria or much of Iraq, life in the West Bank or East Jerusalem may not seem so bad. But it is not the grand injustices that typify the problem here, it is the small, the prosaic. It is, for many Palestinians, having to drive an hour out of your way because the access roads only serve Israeli settlements. It is only being able to tend to your crops two mornings a week, because the security fence bisects your land. It is the potholes that never get fixed, building plans that never get approved, the knowledge that your entire life is dependent on the whim of an outside power. This should concern us as a matter of basic human dignity, but it should also concern us because it is bad for Israel, with generation after generation of Palestinians being raised under an occupation which their Israeli peers have to enforce.
The list of former senior Israeli security officials who have publicly called for Israel to leave the West Bank and make peace with the Palestinians is long and ever-growing. They include the hundreds of former officers who have joined organisations like the Council for Peace & Security and Commanders for Israel’s Security, the six former Shin Bet heads featured in the 2012 film The Gatekeepers, every recent former head of the Mossad, and most of the recent former Chiefs of Staff of the IDF. They do this not out of liberal naiveté, but from the same sort of strategic assessment that led to the pre-emptive strike that took out the Egyptian air force on the first morning of fighting in June 1967.
These officials, who took part in many of the key decisions that have preserved Israel’s security over the course of the last fifty years, understand that in order to secure Israel’s long-term future, it cannot control the lives and fates of another people. In 1967, our community rallied round to support Israel at a time of dire need. The current threat may be less severe, but it is no less serious. Now, it is our duty to speak out, to defend the Israel of 2017 against the occupation which began in 1967.
Fifty years on from the Six Day War, Israel is a strong country, with robust democratic institutions and an incredibly sophisticated defence system. The only way for it to stay that way is to reach a negotiated political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only then will the questions raised in 1967 be answered.
This is the second in a series of blog posts by a variety of community organisations and professionals sharing their perspectives on the Six Day War.