June 5th is the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. Following Egypt’s military closure of the Straits of Tiran, the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon were defeated by Israel, pretty comprehensively.
Israel then occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. Israel withdrew from the Sinai through the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
A broad peace was formed in 1993 through the Oslo Accords.
And it could have continued pretty positively there.
Where I struggle with next is where many struggle. In the years after its independence, Israel became a rare success story in the postcolonial world. Israel managed to absorb hundreds of thousands of immigrants from around the world, foster economic growth, and build a powerful military. It was a flawed democracy but it was real.
These achievements were made possible in part because until 1967, Israel’s borders appeared to be settled. The 1949 armistice lines were confirmed within a series of bilateral agreements with its Arab enemies. But those 18 years of progress were undone in six days through a war that Egypt instigated and then accelerated with all the states surrounding Israel.
Since then, the question of what to do with Israel’s hard-won occupied territories has turned Israel’s previously idealistic and progressive politics into a dark, sect-riven code that looks harder and harder to unwind.
As a result of Israel’s response to the 1967’s Six Day War we now have a wall.
Actually there are really three. One major barrier, hardly noticed by the international community, secures Israel’s border from the spread of Syria’s chaos as the latter descended into a devastating civil war. Another, a ‘border fence’ with Egypt completed in 2013, had the effect of completely stopping unwanted African immigration.
But it’s the West Bank Separation Wall that has the highest profile. Israel began considering building a fence along the Green Line of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. At the time, the Oslo Accords promised a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad had begun to send suicide bombers into Israeli cities. The walls, from the point of view of greatly lowering terrorist attacks on Israeli towns and stopping illegal immigration, have been successful. Here’s a list of pro’s and cons.
But these walls are also a moral scar on all who live there. While Israel won the 1967 war, its military and democratic responses since the 1990s to the territories that it occupied have damaged it. Its party politics and its leadership have become more divided, more ethnic and sect based, more prone to very difficult deals, just sicker. A long, long way from the idealistic state borne of such hard-won struggle.
Of course, Israel cannot end the occupation alone. A stable peace requires Palestinian partners who will persuade their people to accept negotiated borders as final, relinquish the dream of a return to their ancestral homes, and acknowledge that Israel is not a temporary interloper but a permanent presence. Such Palestinian leadership has too often failed to materialize.
But the result of the Six Day War, from 1967 to now, is very safe for Israel, but very dark for everyone including Israel.