I remember well the anxiety I felt as a high school senior during those six days in June 1967 when the entire Arab world mobilized to destroy the State of Israel and push the Jews into the sea.
Knowing that Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and other Arab nations were preparing a coordinated attack against Israel, Israeli leaders took the tough decision to strike pre-emptively. Yet, no one was certain that Israel would or could survive. When the fighting ended, however, Israel had with lightning speed in only six days conquered the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem and its Jewish Quarter, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Jewish holy sites that had been inaccessible to Jews during the prior nineteen years were restored to Israel, and the relief and euphoria felt in Israel and throughout the Jewish world were powerful and palpable.
The fiftieth anniversary of the war this week shines a light on the great diversity of views about the meaning of the Israeli victory that the war provoked in the Jewish world. Much has been written about the war, its origins and implications for Israel, the Palestinians, world Jewry, the Middle East, and the international community.
For the Jewish people, there were many undeniable positives – the victory of the few over the many, the reunification of Jewish holy sites to the Jewish people, the conviction that Israel was a fact of history and there to stay and that it would defend itself mightily against any foe, and never again would there be another Holocaust.
There is no question that the war was justified and that the pre-emptive strike was a necessity for Israel’s survival. Many believe that had Israel not struck first the Jewish state could well have been overrun and destroyed. And so, on this significant jubilee anniversary, we Jews are entitled to celebrate unabashedly that remarkable victory by the Israeli Defense Forces.
However, there are significant moral, political and historical consequences associated with Israel’s victory in that war. The wisdom of holding territory and ruling indefinitely over a hostile Palestinian population has been debated since the end of the fighting in 1967.
David Ben-Gurion urged the government at that time to give back the conquered territory or risk corrupting the moral character and integrity of the State of Israel. No one listened nor heeded his words. Instead, successive Israeli governments followed a disastrous policy of settlement building even though it attempted on several occasions to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The failure of those bonafide efforts has condemned Israel to perpetual conflict and endangers Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.
We in the Reform Zionist movement are not alone in opposing the occupation and supporting two states for two peoples resolution of the conflict because we believe that Zionism must be far more than justifying our physical presence on every dunam of what was once Biblical Israel.
Zionism is about reconstituting the Jewish people in our homeland, promoting the growth of Jewish and Hebrew culture, concretizing the great ethical principles articulated by the Biblical prophets, and promoting democratic principles as written in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Zionism is also about caring for our people in Israel and around the world and reaching out to other nations in times of crisis and need. Zionism seeks to fulfill the prophetic call to be an or lagoyim, a light to the nations of the world.
Though Israel lives in the real world of competing political interests and in a violent and dangerous region of the world necessitating it to attend constantly to its security needs and the safety of its citizens, security cannot become an excuse for the oppression of another people and the denial of their national rights.
This fiftieth anniversary is an occasion for the Jewish people to celebrate Israel’s victory in the 1967 war and an occasion to continue to advocate on behalf of the best interests of the Jewish state by striving to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regardless of the obstacles that are so obviously in the way.