The war that Israel initiated in June of 1967 became the stuff of myths and legends on many levels. Now, after fifty one years it may be time to unravel and demystify what took place during those fateful six days in June. There is the myth of the existential threat which called for Israel to engage in a preemptive strike which started the war, then there is the myth of the greatness of the Israeli army and its remarkable abilities, and there is a claim which one can argue is also a myth, that it was this war that changed the face of the Middle East forever. Then, there is an even greater myth and that is that Palestine was occupied as a result of the 1967 war. That the West Bank and The Gaza Strip, which are no more than two small parts of Palestine artificially created when Israel was established, are The Occupied Palestinian territories, as opposed to two areas within occupied Palestine. It can be no coincidence that most immediately after the war of 1967 these areas were named “The Occupied Territories” and the fact that the greater part of Palestine had been occupied for almost twenty years at point had somehow slipped the collective memories of all but the Palestinians themselves.
It was almost immediately after the war that liberal minded Zionist figures like Uri Avneri, Meir Pa’il and my own father, Matti Peled – who was a general and a member of the Israeli army high command in 1967 – began talking about the Two State Solution as solution to the question of Palestine. However, they did not mean the partition of Palestine into two states as was mandated by the November 1947 United Nations resolution, resolution 181. They had something very different in mind. They and others like them saw an opportunity to solve the Palestinian question by dividing the country on terms that were far more favorable to Israel. The Two State Solution they envisioned meant a small, weak and demilitarized Palestinian state on 22% of Palestine that would be totally dependent on Israel.
The rationale behind their thinking could not have been clearer. Keeping territories with such a large Arab population would upset the Jewish majority and was detrimental to the Jewish state. In the aftermath of the war the Arab regimes surrounding Israel were weaker and more demoralized than ever before, the Palestinians had no allies on which to rely and so, what choice did they have? For Israel this meant solidifying the conquest of 1948 and securing the borders it established in 1949 which were in violation of UN resolutions and international law. It also allowed Israel to keep the western part of Jerusalem, which also was taken in 1948 even though the city was not to be under the sovereignty of any state. These liberal Zionists, even with their impeccable Zionist credentials were pushed aside and ridiculed to the point that they were considered radicals and even traitors for suggesting that Israel should allow the creation of a Palestinian state anywhere in mandatory Palestine, or the Land of Israel.
From that moment on however, the conversation on Palestine had shifted to those two small pieces of Palestine and whether or not Israel should agree as part of a future peace agreement to “give” them to the Palestinians. As this question was being debated, both in Israel and on the international arena, Israel embarked on a dedicated campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and destruction of Palestinian towns and communities all over East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and at the same time invested heavily in building for Jews only. The new conquests within Palestine were tossed in with the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights which Israel also occupied in 1967 and even though the circumstances of each of these territories were different, all three fell under the general title of “The Occupied Territories.”
In 1979 Israel eventually returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt as part of a peace agreement and a commitment from the UN for $3 billion in foreign aid. However, even though Israel made a few gestures pretending that it might be willing to negotiate other “land for peace” deals, the Golan Heights and the West Bank and Gaza were never negotiable and remain firmly in the grip of the State of Israel which continues to develop and settle them like any other region in Israel. Today it is clear that neither war torn Syria nor the Palestinians are able to make any demands of Israel at this point.
Fifty one years after the 1967 war the time has come to dismantle the myths and undo the legends that were created in its aftermath. Israel was not under and existential threat, this was made clear by the generals who headed the IDF, as is chronicled in my book, The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The Israeli army was able to defeat the Arab armies not because of some extraordinary powers but because the Arab armies were in disarray and the Israeli generals knew it. It was not the 1967 war that changed the Middle East but rather the war on 1948, which is more accurately defined as the ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestine. The West Bank, has all but become Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip is an enclosure with two million people cooped up in what can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe and the two combined only make up 22% of Palestine. Palestinians in other parts of Palestine, what has become known as pre 1967 Israel, live below the poverty line with little access to resources and under laws that discriminate against them specifically. There can be little doubt that all of Israel is occupied Palestine and that there are no Palestinian territories which are not occupied. A just solution must realize the right of all Palestinians to a life of freedom and dignity without discrimination in their own country and must include the right of all Palestinians to return to their homes and their lands.
By Miko Peled
Source: American Herald Tribune