The History and the Legacy of the Six-Day War
The Six-Day War may have transformed the Palestinians’ geopolitical landscape, but when it comes to their collective mindset, there is still room for a major breakthrough.
Jerusalem U recently unveiled the “Countdown to the Six Day War Project,” which consists of 12 short films that re-enact the geopolitical context leading up to the war, capture major events in each day of battle, and analyze the consequences of a war that forever changed the face of Israel and the Middle East.
On the eve of the war, Israel found itself small and vulnerable — less than 8,000 square miles in size, and existing within what Abba Eban referred to as “Auschwitz borders.” Then, in only six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies bent on its destruction, tripled its size and attained military superiority on all fronts.
Israel gained control over eastern Jerusalem, and reclaimed Judaism’s holiest sites — the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The war also transformed the collective psyche of Israeli and Diaspora Jewry; it restored Jewish pride and boosted Jewish power that had been absent for multiple generations before Israel’s foundation. And in the aftermath of the war, thousands of Jews immigrated to Israel from around the world.
Arab countries, too — particularly Israel’s immediate neighbors — underwent a major transformation as a result of the war. The Arab street lost faith in its military and political leaders, but over time, Arab regimes started seeing Israel as a force to be reckoned with. This ultimately opened up productive channels of communication and set the tone for the peace agreements that Israel signed with Egypt in 1979, and with Jordan in 1994. While most Arab countries have yet to officially recognize the Jewish state, the undercurrents of informal regional alliances between many Arab states and Israel can no longer be ignored.
The war also introduced dramatic changes for the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Previously governed by Egypt and Jordan, after the war they found themselves under Israeli control. While some aspects of their standard of living have dramatically improved over the past 50 years, the war shattered any hopes that they had of establishing a state in all of Israel. They also now face the daily hardships associated with Israel’s military control — barriers, checkpoints and curfews — thought it should be noted that these measures were only implemented in order to stop Palestinian terrorism.
But while the Six-Day War may have transformed the Palestinians’ geopolitical landscape, it did not change their mindset. They continue to see themselves as the sole victims of the Arab-Israeli wars. And they stubbornly hold on to a disempowering narrative — focusing not on future possibilities, but on past miseries — and attributing almost all of their misfortunes to Israel.
The problem with this mindset is that it fails — perhaps even refuses — to acknowledge present complexities and historical events. It omits the fact that time and again, for the last 20 years, Israel has offered (and in some cases already transferred) the vast majority of territories in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for the sake of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian narrative also falsely accuses Israel of ethnically cleansing Palestine in 1948 — ignoring the fact that Arab leaders rejected the 1947 partition plan, and then launched an all-or-nothing war against Israel, resulting in thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Today, Palestinian leaders continue to tread the path of continuous rejection of Israel — rejecting not only Israel’s calls for peace, but also the very existence of the Jewish state. This stagnant state of mind is detrimental for the Israeli people. But it’s utterly devastating for the Palestinians.
To those Palestinian leaders genuinely committed to enabling positive and sustainable change, consider this a call to action.
Own up to your mistakes and understand that you have the power to shape your future. Indeed, Israel has not always treated you fairly or honestly, but don’t use that as an excuse for staying in the current rut. It’s disingenuous.
Acknowledge the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, and tell the truth about your own history. (Yes — many of your ancestors have been here for years, but they were not there before the Jewish people). Revise your narrative of 1948 — rely on historical research, not on folklore, lies and hearsay.
End your obsession with petty UN resolutions and global boycott campaigns against the State of Israel. These efforts ultimately harm your people more than they harm the people of Israel. Start meeting Israel at the negotiating table.
Recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and eliminate clauses in your founding documents that call for replacing all of Israel with a Palestinian state. Eliminate Hamas’ fundamentalist covenant. Focus on the positive. Teach your children the values of peace and coexistence. Teach them to build and live, rather than destroy and die. Make them realize that they can be agents of positive change.
For some, the 1967 war was an instant blessing; for others, it has been a never-ending curse. What’s clear though, is that it is possible for transformation to happen overnight, or at least over the course of six days.
To transform themselves, Palestinian leaders should realize that there is no need for another war, and that they truly do have a say in determining their future. If they make the right choices and restore their people’s (and Israel’s) trust, they might even offer a beacon of hope in a region that so desperately needs it.
The author is director of Israel education at Jerusalem U. He grew up in Israel and South Africa, served as a combat soldier in the Sayeret Givati infantry unit, and received his BA from Harvard and his MA from Tel Aviv University.