Remembering the 1967 War

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Forty-one years ago this week, Israel launched the 1967 war that lasted only six days but it has changed the politics and geography of the region for ever. It left Israel in control of all historical Palestine, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Syria’s Golan Heights, Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms and small areas to the East of the Jordan River. Thousands of Arab soldiers lost their lives and some prisoners of war were massacred by the Israeli army in cold blood. More important, the war put an end to the pan-Arab dream of President Jamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt and Arab nationalists; and local patriotism has replaced Arab nationalism. The war set the stage for President Anwar Sadat peace initiative with Israel and King Hussein disclaim his sovereignty over the West Bank. The Arabs defeat in the 1967 war was a cause for casting doubts on the legitimacy of the Arab governments.

On May 18, 1967, Nasser ordered the withdrawal of the United Nations observers from the demilitarized buffer zone and moved his troops near the borders with Israel for the first time since 1957. And four days later, he made another decision. His navy decided to blockade the Straits of Tiran denying Israel the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba through the Red Sea. Nasser decisions played well into the hands of the Israelis. Israel, eager not to miss the unique opportunity, considered his actions a declaration of war and responded with a surprise attack on June 5, destroying most of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces.

Israeli leaders started redrawing new boundaries for their state and debating how to manage more than two and half million Palestinians residing in the newly occupied lands without disturbing Israel’s Jewish character. Immediately after the war, Israel started drawing plans to settle Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and three weeks after declaring victory, the Israeli Capital was expanded beyond its original borders by incorporating East Jerusalem in its municipality.

In his autobiography, Ariel Sharon referred to the capture of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967 as the liberation of Samaria and Judea, an area he claims belongs to Israel but had been captured by the Arab armies in 1948. In his view, Israel was restoring Jewish lands that the Arabs had wrongfully taken from the Jews. And he added that he “had no interest in ruling the Arabs of Samaria, Judia, and Gaza. I [Sharon] believed they needed to run their lives with as little Israeli interference as possible”.

In the middle of the Israelis’ euphoria and their celebrations for winning the 1967 war, the commander of the armored division in the war and the future prime minister, Ariel Sharon, suggested that their victory was not complete because there was much more to do. Even when he was still with his army units in Sinai in the final days of the war, Sharon cabled instructions to move the infantry school to an already assigned location near Nablus and he suggested that Israel’s immediate action should be to “establish Jewish footholds [in the West Bank and Jerusalem] as fast as possible” in order to secure the area. On his return from Sinai, he “spent a great deal of time” in the West Bank and Jerusalem neighborhoods searching for strategic locations and high controlling terrains with access to road junctions to be colonized and retained.

Sharon believed that Israel must create facts on the ground because in his words “survival depended not on faith in someone [the Arabs] goodwill, but on facts, actually building on the land and actually defending it”. He cited his mother warning him in another occasion while he was negotiating with the Egyptians, “Do not trust them [the Arabs]! Do not trust them!”. Sharon insisted that certain areas of the occupied lands would never be relinquished because of their strategic or historical and cultural significance to Israel and the Jewish people. These include Jerusalem, the high grounds that are “essential for defending Israel’s industrial centers” and the Jordan River valley. For securing certain areas permanently in Israeli hands, Sharon suggests that Jews must establish large settlements there. 

Ties to the occupied land had to be forged. The Israelis called the conquered lands by their Biblical names and drew new maps with view to settle Jews and provide their colonies with the necessary infrastructure. Sharon was only one of many Zionist individuals and organizations who were surveying the newly occupied land with one purpose, to colonize it. Israel had many plans proposed by military men, government committees and the World Zionist Organization. They all want to annex the land and its resources without giving Israeli citizenship to its Arab population. The most comprehensive plan was provided by Yigal Allon, a commander of Palmach military unit in the War of Independence and the minister of Labor during the 1967 war and deputy Prime Minister after the war. Other plans were presented by then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem, the Ministerial Committee on Settlements, the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division and Gush Emunim movement. Moshe Dayan was speaking for a majority of the Israeli leadership when he called for building large-scale Jewish settlements and drawing a new map for Israel “from Jordan to the Suez Canal” rather than exploring the possibility of peace with the Arabs.

Allon plan called for dividing the West Bank into two sectors, one to be annexed to Israel and the other to be home for Palestinians under partial autonomy. The plan required the creation of two sets of borders for Israel, one for security and the other for political ends. The security borders were extended to encompass all historical Palestine. The political borders would include Israel proper and whatever settlements that can be built and as much land as possible in the West Bank and Jerusalem areas. It proposed annexing Jerusalem and forty percent of the West Bank including the Jordan Valley from Beesan (Beit Shean) in the North to Hebron in the south. In his book “The Absence of Peace”, Nicholas Guyatt states that Allon’s plan would allow the Palestinians to have their autonomy over the northern sector of the West Bank with the exception of a ten mile strip to be annexed to Israel and the rest of the West Bank to be settled by Israelis. Allon’s plan was criticized by many Israeli defense strategists, including Ariel Sharon, because it limited the areas where Jews can establish settlements.

Twenty-six years after the 1967 war, the so called “Oslo peace process” that was concluded by the Israelis and the leadership of the PLO allowed Israel to implement an expanded Allon Plan that included many of the other plans recommendations. The late Edward Said found striking similarities between the Arab false propaganda praising the performance of Arab armies in the 1967 war which Israel was winning and the Arab propaganda praising the signing of Oslo that was a big victory for Israel.

He wrote “ [Arab] airwaves in late May 1967 were filled with the propaganda of Arab victory in war…[and today] there is chorus of praise for the ‘peace process’ which has yet to receive any advantages except for Israel”. The PLO gave Israel what it has been eager to have, a recognition and legitimacy in the Arab World and more. 

The great irony is that the same PLO elites who signed the Oslo agreements are engaged today in negotiations with the Israelis on the final status of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. They and their cronies have adopted the Israeli and the US line of blaming the Palestinian resistance for the stumbling of what is called the “peace process”. They insist that if their political opposition would only stop their resistance [terrorism] against the occupation and support the status quo, there would be peace and Israel would give back the lands occupied in 1967. But Israel did not need an excuse to annex East Jerusalem and colonize the West Bank. Israel had more than doubled the number of settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem after the signing of the Oslo agreements and before the second intifada. Israel is systematically implementing a form of Greater Israel project which ultimately involves the absorption of most of the occupied lands into a Jewish state living side by side with autonomous Palestinian enclaves that will have no power or control over anything except their people. Israel expects the Palestinian security forces to help in protecting the Israelis from the growing anger of the Palestinian people.

According to the UN, there are 149 Jewish only settlements, 96 outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent people and products from reaching the main cities. There are repeated military invasions, closures, homes demolition, and extrajudicial assassinations of activists and kidnapping of political leaders. Israel established many settler-only highways and other facilities, twenty-seven military bases, the separation wall and several exclusion zones. Arab states abandoned their responsibility of defending their most vulnerable people, the peace negotiations are getting no where and the Palestinians are left to fend for themselves. After all the human suffering inflicted upon them through the colonization of their homeland and starvation and subjugation, Palestinian people have the right to rebel and resist colonial occupation.

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph. D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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