1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East

reviewed by Yitzhak Laor, London Review of Books,  under the title “Orchestrated Panic”, November 1 2007 (Little, Brown, 673 pps.)

“The 1967 war changed the lives of Israelis and made Palestinian lives hell. Shortly after it, Israel’s Labour prime minister, Levi Eshkol, a relative moderate, approved the colonisation of the West Bank. The Labour Party never really opposed the process, though for years it seemed to have its doubts. That way of carrying on – appearing indecisive, sounding hesitant, while acting decisively, even aggressively – is a key component of Israeli politics. Eshkol tended to be scornful about the process he’d set in motion. In his favourite language, Yiddish, he said that Israel was thought of as a ‘nebichdike Shimsen’ (‘pitiful Samson’). For years the Israeli soldier has been depicted this way, as a conscience-stricken man who doesn’t really want to become a hero but has no choice.”

“Since 1967 Labour men and women in various parts of the state apparatus, from the military to the Jewish Agency, have done everything in their power to tighten Israel’s hold over the Occupied Territories, even when it meant creating a golem in the new guise of the settler. The ‘project’ was a success and lies today like a knife at the throat of all Israelis. It would be easy to characterise the behaviour of Israeli politicians and generals as uniquely foolish, fuelled by a lust for land that was always greater than the country’s ability to swallow the chunks they grabbed. Yet Israelis – from the generals and politicians of all parties down to the ‘man in the street’ – seem driven by the conviction that the more land we have the better off we are. Any ‘concession’ we make, even if it’s a few acres, seems to be an act of great magnanimity, as if the acres had belonged to us in the first place. Such is the settler morality.”

“In his excellent book, which reads like a Bildungsroman of a generation that lost its soul, Tom Segev accurately depicts Israel’s 1967 politicians and generals as irrational, aggressive and hungry for power. His research took in an immense quantity of minutes from contemporary meetings and even he seems disappointed at what he discovered. There are numerous examples of the generals’ push for land appropriation. Moshe Dayan, minister of defence during the war, ruled out ‘occupation of the Golan Heights, including the Banias, for fear of a Soviet response. Political considerations also motivated him not to approach the Suez Canal.’ But as everyone knows, the IDF did reach the Suez Canal and it occupied the Golan Heights. Was it the army’s innate inability to follow orders that drove the generals to take decisions and change their plans while running down the enemy? The fame of the IDF is based on precisely such a macho glorification of tactics at the expense of strategy. It’s known in the jargon as a ‘rolling operation’. To defend our country by preventing wars has been seen as inconceivable; there has only ever been the thought of rumbling across borders, as in the recent fiasco in Lebanon.” (read more)


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