Yesterday was the 38th anniversary of the outbreak of Six Day War (June 6, 1967). In yesterday’s Haaretz, Yossi Beilin speaks for a generation of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who lived through the apprehension and jubilation of those mesmerizing six days that made history (for better or for worse). Beilin notes that the War perfectly mirrored his own life and that of the State of Israel:
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…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.
Like him, we Diaspora Jews shared the panicky fear of what an Arab victory might mean for Israel’s existence. Like him, Israel’s lightning tank victories in the Sinai and eventual conquest of Jerusalem were cause for celebration (at first). It seemed with Israel’s victory a great load had been lifted from the backs of Jews the world over.
But then some of us began asking: “where does Israel go next?” What was the point of the victory if Israel did nothing with it? Why weren’t approaches made to the vanquished Arab nations? After the War ended, we read with excitement, Siach Lohamim (“Conversation with Soldiers”), which bespoke the hopes, dreams and fears of the kibbutznik soldiers who fought a great battle and returned home with the gnawing sensation that it might all be for naught. Here is how Beilin describes his own transformation from celebrant to naysayer:
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.
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…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…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.
While I admire Beilin and the words he expresses here, I am filled with ambivalence about his closing sentence. How does he propose leading Labor to an electoral victory? Is knowing you are clear-sighted and your political opponent is blind enough to guarantee the victory to you? No, of course not. Is knowing your opponent is blind enough especially when he does know that he is and in fact believes he believes his vision is better than yours? It’s all well and good to speak in poetic terms about letting “those whose eyes are open navigate” the ship of state. But how do you get there?