The Seventh Day: The Fighting Continues
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, I’ve been dismayed, though not surprised, by the divisiveness of the dialogue. I was only two when the Six Day War broke out, but I was raised with feeling tremendous pride over the breathtaking victory. I was not from a religious family and we were only reluctantly Jewish identified. Support of Israel was the thin reed on which our Jewish identity hung. That tiny, beleaguered Israel was able to nearly quadruple its size, regain access to its holy sites and do it all in six days against staggering odds was miraculous. Not only that, but a loss would have been unthinkable, undoubtedly bringing another Holocaust — the stated intent of Israel’s Arab neighbors. I firmly believe that in the narrative arc of Jewish history the Six Day War merits pride and jubilation. It was a turning point in the battle for Jewish safety and self-determination in a world that seemed to care not a whit about either.
Many of us can agree on that much. But the week marking the war’s anniversary proved that we can agree on little else. Indeed, what may otherwise have been a communal celebration of victory became, as all things Israel often do, a source of deep division.
It’s not hard to understand why.
As early as the day after the war ended, the fate of the over 650,000 Palestinians already living in the West Bank was unclear. In the fevered glory over the success of the military campaign, not many people were discussing that. Now the number has grown to over 2.5 million Palestinians, and the military occupation continues with no apparent end in sight. To the contrary, the current Israeli government, with the support of the United States, seems to be operating under this vain hope that the issue will simply go away—that the status quo is somehow perpetually sustainable.
There are those on the far right, who are actually seeking to annex significant portions of the West Bank, sounding the death knell for the two-state solution. And even many of those who recognize the untenability of a permanent military occupation, blame the problem solely or primarily on Palestinian intransigence and the historic Palestinian proclivity towards terrorism.
At the same time, no one can dispute that living in a state of apparent perpetual occupation with limited self-determination and limited guarantees of the basic civil liberties that we take for granted is simply not right. It’s not Jewish. It’s not moral. And it is most certainly, not conducive to peace. Therefore, for those of us who want Israel to remain Jewish and democratic and secure, it’s impossible to disregard the challenges that came with the historic victory.
At the same time, for me, the troubling aspect is not that I may disagree with others about what direction Israel should go—that’s healthy. What disturbs me is that the discussion is often binary. Even among liberal American Jews it seems that either you blindly celebrate the success of the Six Day War or you view it solely through the prism of the occupation. And these extreme positions inevitably devolve into name calling. If you point out the human rights disaster that is the occupation, you are anti-Zionist and probably anti-Semitic. If you celebrate the Six Day War, you are anti-Palestinian and a willing conspirator to a human rights disaster. Both positions are incomplete. However, and more to the point, neither position serves the interest of either side.
Jews have always had the ability to hold, in harmony, two conflicting ideas. We see the good and the bad in things. We debate. We yell. We hate. We love. Yet, when it comes to Israel, a nuanced understanding seems to be more of the exception than the rule.
Mostly for serendipitous reasons, rather than Zionistic reasons, my first time in Israel was during my junior year of college over 30 years ago. I then became a proud Zionist and started to learn what it means to be a Jew. Since that time, I have loved that nation, have taken pride in its ability to take in Jewish refugees from around the world, have marveled at its technological, medical and agricultural innovation, and, yes, have been grateful for the strength of its military. At the same time, as a Jew, I can also see, indeed I must see, the tremendously adverse consequences that the 50-year occupation is having on both the occupied and the occupier. So while we can and should celebrate the miracle that was the Six Day War, it is incumbent upon us to also see the tragedy that unfolded as a result and how that jeopardizes the Israel that we so deeply love. Indeed, having those honest, nuanced conversations and searching for solutions is precisely the best way to manifest one’s love and concern for Israel.
Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.