The Six-Day War was a miraculous victory that completely transformed Israel and the Middle East, but it has a mixed legacy, one in which we are still coping with today.
Imagine the thoughts going through the minds of your average Israeli 50 years ago: Arab leaders were calling for your extermination, just 22 years after the Holocaust, and 19 years after the War of Independence. All the countries around you were hostile to you, and their armies were significantly larger.
You understood that these same Arab armies would not hesitate to wage war against civilians as their intention was made very clear. Those armies were well equipped and backed by the Soviet Union. Your country, at its narrowest point, was nine miles wide and the thought of your country being easily split was very real. Israel, meanwhile, was preparing for mass casualties.
However, through determination, skill and faith, Israel scored a resounding military victory. The armies of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan were on their heels and licking their wounds, while Israel managed to capture land equivalent to three times its size. Jews were once again in charge of their holy sites in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated under 19 years of Jordanian rule. Israel controlled what they thought was a strategic buffer of land in the Sinai and Golan Heights. Jews the world over were filled with pride because of Israel’s great military victory.
In addition to Sinai and the Golan Heights, Israel also took control of Gaza and the West Bank, and that legacy is much more complicated. These areas had a large and generally hostile population of Arabs that Israel was now in control of.
Israel has made many efforts at ending this occupation and granting the Palestinians self-determination, but the occupation continues.
As Zionists, we are confident in Israel’s righteousness and best intentions regarding this occupation, yet we also know that it is unsustainable and a peaceful two-state solution is in the best interests of all parties involved.
So many unresolved issues that occupy the minds of so many in the world today, started in those first few days of June 1967.
Please join us on June 6 at 7 p.m. at the JCC, as we welcome Martin Raffel, former vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and an expert on the Six-Day War. He will talk about the miracle of the victory, and the complicated legacy with which Israel must still deal. This will be a very special evening.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)