I have tried to stay away from the endless events and articles commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War and the resulting occupation - to be frank, I find it all too depressing. But today is the day, and, in deference to all that has been written and said, I wanted to share with you the one article that I most identified with. Maybe it's because the author, Jonathan Freedland is a fellow British Jew. He also grew up in a progressive Zionist youth movement, and seems to find himself just as challenged, conflicted, and frustrated as I do, moving between establishment Jewish circles and progressive political ones.
I think Israel is a central magnet of identity in both our lives, irrespective of the fact that I went to live there and Freedland did not, and I think we are both often shocked at how far and often Israel has strayed from the value system that we associate with our Jewishness. Jonathan Freedland is a friend and he writes for the Guardian. Also, according to his article, he was born a year before me, in 1967. Freedland wrote this piece a few days ago, and he begins by noting that the war did not really last six days as it is still going on today. He describes the outcome of the Six-Day War as a mortal, political, and moral disaster for the state of Israel.
The mortal threat is clear to this very day. The victory of 1967 turned Israel into a military occupier, and occupied people will always fight back eventually, as the Palestinians did in earnest with the first intifada that erupted in 1987, through the suicide bombings of the 1990s and the second intifada that began in 2000. Of course, the 40 years since 1967 have been most painful for those who have lived under occupation, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. But the inevitable consequence of that pain has been danger and perpetual conflict for the people of Israel.
The political threat is less visible... If Israel is truly democratic, and grants all those people the vote, it will no longer have a Jewish majority. If it remains Jewish, by excluding those people, then it is no longer democratic. This is the so-called demographic argument, the unavoidable choice for Israelis left by 1967: either you hold on to the West Bank and Gaza or you remain a democratic state with a Jewish majority: you can't do both.
The moral threat was doubtless furthest from the minds of those celebrating... 40 years ago... Every time an 18-year-old Israeli conscript stops a man or woman at a checkpoint or presses the button for a "targeted assassination", the moral core of a country becomes a little bit smaller. Hard to believe that when Israel went to war in 1967, it enjoyed the sympathy of world opinion, who saw it as the plucky David against the Arab Goliath. In the 40 years that have passed, Israel's standing has plunged and the admiration of those days has turned into suspicion and worse.
Freedland goes on to discuss the situation today and the threat that Gaza could "fully transform into what it already resembles: a lawless, failed state, a Somalia on Israel's southern border." Al Qaeda may be just around the corner, and
This is a lesson Israel has failed to learn these last 40 years. If you refuse to deal with a group because it's too extreme, you don't get to deal with a more pliant, moderate alternative. On the contrary, you eventually confront a force that is even more extreme. It happened when Fatah was eclipsed by Hamas - and it could happen again.
And, finally, a word for Israel's friends:
Surely Israel's friends can begin to point in another direction: to seize on the hints from Hamas of possible compromise, to capitalise on the fact that Hamas too has an interest in defeating al-Qaida - and to begin a dialogue with the enemy. The aim would be to end the war that never ended - because the alternative is always so much worse.