By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
One of the many things Israelis are being made aware of, if they honestly reflect on the effect of the Six Day War fifty years after the event, is the distinction between military and political victory. That it was a military victory is obvious. I still recall the euphoria of the days following the tense weeks that preceded the war, when the future of the very existence of Israel seemed to be in the balance.
Half-a-century later experts are telling us about what they’ve gleaned from the now published documents about the deliberations in Israel and abroad that preceded the military victor. They also raise questions whether the triumph was good for the Jewish state or not.
In retrospect it’s not even clear whether Nasser, the dictator of Egypt at the time, wanted to attack Israel, or if he engaged in relatively small hostile actions and made threatening speeches to please his Soviet taskmasters. On the other hand, having got the support of Syria and even Jordan, if he attacked, would it have been the end of Israel? And even if Israelis knew that the attack wasn’t necessarily going to take place, could they afford not to take preventative action in the way they did?
Apparently, in the weeks preceding the war some Israeli leaders only hoped for minor border adjustments that seemed necessary for Israel’s security. They were opposed by those who wanted to take not only the Golan Heights but also restore the lost West Bank to Israel. People in both camps tended to agree not to touch the Old City and East Jerusalem. But once there war started, there was no way to stop Israel. You may remember the excitement of first seeing Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall.
Though that phase of the war only lasted six days, it’s not clear that the war as such has ever ended. The Yom Kippur War some six years later is seen by many as a continuation, as were the Lebanon Wars, the Gaza incursions and the ceaseless terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Would it had been different without the massive conquest of 1967? The answer is likely to depend on your politics. It’s obvious that many Israelis have been radicalized in the last half-century. For example, the once moderate modern Orthodox political party we knew as Mizrachi led by the urbane Dr. Yosef Burg has become the belligerent Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett. Similarly, the liberal roots of the party now led by Prime Minister Netanyahu has in its leadership women and men who seem to be no less extreme than Bennett.
Much of it may be due to the re-emergence of political Messianism in the last half-century. For example: Now if the Temple Mount is “ours,” isn’t it time to prepare for the rebuilding of the Temple which, according to tradition, has been linked to the arrival of Israel’s ultimate redeemer? And in anticipation, wouldn’t it be sacrilege to retreat from the territories and from East Jerusalem where now more than half-a-million Jews have made their home?
Of course, there’re Israelis who’d like at least to limit Israeli settlements in the West Bank for the sake of peace and real security. However, they’re in the minority because the electorate is said to prefer those on the right and because there isn’t enough evidence that the Palestinians are willing to make compromises for the sake of peace.
That’s why these reflections end without a conclusion. All I can do is to share my own confusion.