Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The 6 Day War - 40 years on...

Last week, I was asked by a journalist from Al Jazeera to write some thoughts on the 6 Day War and the future from an Israeli perspective....

For those who view Israel as a regional military superpower with a healthy economy, it's difficult to imagine a time in June 1967 in which the citizens of a country 9 miles wide heard the threats of destruction from their neighbours, the deafening silence from the international community, and dug mass graves in local parks in preparation for a second Holocaust.

The 6 day war is in many ways the catalyst for this remarkable change of Israel's image, yet it raises dialectical feelings. On the one hand, it commemorates a great military victory, the fulfilment of our 2000 year old dream to pray at the Western wall and access the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Yet at the same it also marks our control over a large Palestinian population, an issue that has slowly undermined our moral and international legitimacy.

The war marked a new stage in Israel’s short history – making us more confident of our future in this region yet also forcing us to recognize the legitimacy of another people’s rights to this land, forcing us to compromise on our dreams. It liberated us from annihilation yet simultaneously left us as occupiers of another people. It saved us from existential danger yet now threatens the future of a Jewish democratic state.

Israel may have won the war in 6 days but we have waited for 40 years to win the peace.

Most Israelis understand and accept the need for a negotiated two state solution (including East Jerusalem). But they have fears – that territory we withdraw from will not form the base of a peaceful Palestinian state but of rocket attacks against our civilian population. We hear statements from our neighbours and fear that deep down, they still haven’t come to terms with the legitimacy of Jewish sovereign presence.

On one level, peace to me simply means the absence of personal fear – that my bus won't blow up, that my child's school won't be hit by a rocket or that one day a mushroom cloud won't appear above Tel Aviv (it may seem counterintuitive, but Israelis do have a deep seated fear of being annihilated). It means Palestinians being able to travel freely and not being obstructed by checkpoints or Israeli soldiers –in short, a 'negative' type of peace (to paraphrase Isaiah Berlin).

There was a time when I had hoped for much more - Israelis visiting Damascus for the weekend to shop or Saudis thronging to Tel Aviv to party. Yet 40 years on from those historic days in June, from the war that in many ways still hasn’t ended, Israelis and Palestinians may not only have to accept something less than we all wanted, but even something less than we thought we could live with.