On the eve of the Six-Day War, Israel formed a national unity government (a broad coalition of all major parties) for the first time in its history. Faced with an acute military threat from the United Arab Republic (a union of Egypt and Syria), not only was Israel’s government united: the whole of Israeli society united as well, and a sense of solidarity spread among Jews across the country and throughout the world. This unity formed the backdrop for the greatest victory in Israel’s history. In only six days of war, 5–10 June 1967, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) defeated a coalition of Arab armies (after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser persuaded Jordan, Iraq, and Syria to ally with him) and tripled the size of the country, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.
Yet the conquest of these territories ignited a painful debate within Israel itself: Should these new territories be settled by Jews, or should they rather be relinquished to the Arabs in exchange for peace? Those who dreamt of keeping the Land of Israel united clashed with those who dreamt of keeping it at peace, and the opponents tore Israeli society into two competing camps. The powerful sense of unity that had dominated on the eve of the war collapsed, ultimately, because of the results of that same war.
Much has changed since then in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs who live in the territories conquered in 1967. Israel has suffered the outbreak of two intifadas, among other crises, as well as three major rounds of violence in the Gaza Strip. It has endured the fateful years that followed the Oslo Accords: the years of disengagement from Gaza and of repeated attempts to broker a permanent peace between the two sides. Not a single round of war secured victory, and not a single round of talks secured peace. But while these fruitless efforts to win victory or peace continued, an equally endless argument raged within Israel itself over where to draw the country’s borders.
The territories conquered in just six days of conflict sparked a debate that has endured for fifty years.
Jewish tradition treats the fiftieth year as a jubilee: every fifty years, slaves are liberated from their masters, all debts forgiven, and all lands returned to their former owners. The jubilee is the moment when the clocks are reset. Socioeconomic inequalities created over the preceding fifty years are eliminated, and all distinctions of status between master and slave are wiped away. After fifty years, it is as if the world is created anew.
The jubilee year of the Six-Day War is an opportunity for Israelis to reset their internal argument and create their discourse anew. The opinions expressed and the arguments aired over the past fifty years have led both Israeli and Palestinian societies to a dead end. In biblical times, the fiftieth year was an opportunity for Jewish renewal, a chance for Jews to reexamine the basic assumptions of their political thought. But as a psychological precondition for reconfiguring their ways of thinking, Israelis must first adopt a radical change in the way they relate emotionally to those ways of thinking.
From Catch-67 by Micah Goodman. Translated by Eylon Levy. Published by Yale University Press in 2019. Reproduced with permission.
Micah Goodman is the author of four best-selling books in Israel including Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism. He is president of Beit Midrash Yisraeli–Ein Prat, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.