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Back to the Future
Let us not forget 1967


By Victor Davis Hansen

National Review Contributor                                                                Printer Friendly Version


 
The proposed solution to the crisis in the Middle East is predicated on one notion: the return of the West Bank and all the other lands occupied by Israel after June 10, 1967. As the current conventional wisdom goes, our diplomatic efforts should be directed toward that single goal. Israel must give back conquered land. In return its Arab neighbors will promise to recognize its existence, make peace, and normalize relations.

One way of determining whether such an agreement would lead to peace would be to imagine what really might happen should Israel give up all of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Fortunately, we need not be utopian about the future, but rather simply revisit the past before June 5, 1967. Then Israel possessed none of those territories. Yet there was no peace but simply a series of pauses between wars not unlike the present predicament. A quick perusal of a number of general histories about the pre-1967 era especially Michael Oren's forthcoming magisterial work Six Days of War reveals a chilling similarity with the present calamity.

Did the Arab states accept Israel's right to exist between 1947 and 1967, when it remained within its U.N.-mandated (Resolution 181) borders? Hardly. Three wars were fought to destroy Israel itself, not to restore the West Bank for the Palestinians. We must remember that for all the talk of Palestinian grievances over the present occupation, Muslims are now allowed free access to their mosques in a manner Jews and Christians were not accorded for their own places of worship under Jordanian control. Desecration of religious shrines and cemeteries was a pre-1967, not a present, phenomenon.

Are suicide bombers and terrorism a new development, a desperate response to the brutal occupation of Palestinian land after 1967? Perhaps, perhaps not. But for Israel's first 20 years of existence terrorists of all sorts crossed over from the Arab West Bank, Syria, and Gaza to kill civilians in efforts to demolish the Jewish state. Instead of Hamas and Hezbollah, such killers used to be dubbed with similar grandiose, but empty, names like "Youths of Revenge" and "Heroes of the Return" the "return" meaning, of course, all of Israel, not the West Bank, which was in Arab hands.

In 1964 the Syrian chief of Staff Salah Jadid summed it up best, "Every soldier in our army feels that Israel must be wiped off of the map." The nascent al Fatah, along with Syria, bragged in 1967 that "We will carry on operations until Israel has been eliminated." Indeed, Radio Damascus was quite explicit about its intentions well before it lost the Golan Heights: "Our known objective is the freeing of Palestine and the liquidation of the Zionist existence there" again "Palestine" did not mean the West Bank. The PLO's Ahmad Shuqayri was clear about that "We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for survivors if there are any the boats are ready to deport them." Some will say, "that was then; this is now" but the rhetoric from Syria and the Palestinian militants is as disturbing today as it was then.

Does America's support for Israel contribute to the present unrest, and thus create a destabilizing preponderance of military strength for the Jewish state? Forget for the moment that our current aggregate aid to the Palestinians, Jordan, and Egypt is roughly the same amount as we give the Israelis, and instead think back to the first twenty years of Israel's existence. Then America gave almost no military hardware to Israel except for a few outdated tanks and some short-ranged missiles. Its Air Force consisted mostly of French Mirages and Ouragans largess that quickly ceased once the 1967 war broke out. Recently we read of a French diplomat's off-the-record remark that Israel is a "sh***y little country." But de Gaulle himself had said as much earlier to Israeli envoys that he was not about to endanger relations with the Arab world because of some "superficial sympathy for Israel as a small country with an unhappy history."

On the eve of the 1967 war the Arab world had spent $1 billion on defense more than double the Israeli investment. Indeed, Israel's armed forces were dwarfed by those of its neighbors, which had twice the number of tanks and three times as many jets. Before the Six Day War, the combined Arab armies fielded 900 combat aircraft, 5,000 tanks, and 500,000 soldiers the latter for the most part outfitted with the latest Soviet and American arms.

Of course, what the Russians and the Americans could not supply to the Arabs were modern maintenance regimes, literate soldiers, secularly educated officers, Western ideas of discipline, merit-system command structures, and rare leaders like Dayan, Rabin, Eshkol, Elazar, Ebban, Meir, and others who were the fruits of a secular, rational, free, and democratic state. The Palestinians now like to cite the unfairness of American-made "Apaches and F-16s" in Israel. Yet when their side had all the material advantages and a staggering edge in weaponry the Arabs still lost.

Has America shown a decided prejudice toward the Israeli side that explains the sudden Arab hostility toward the United States? Not really. An Israeli head of state had never officially been received at the White House until 1964 nearly 20 years after the foundation of the Jewish State! For most of its early years, Israel depended on support initially from the Soviet Union and later France. Indeed, during the first three Middle East wars the United States sold weapons to nearly every Arab regime and had a military base in Libya. During the 1967 war it essentially supplied no weapons to Israel during the fighting in dire worry over its military arrangements with many Arab countries and its access to Middle East oil. Nearly forty years ago, as today, Americans were giving Egypt free grain, shipping tanks to Jordan, cozying up to the Saudis, and lecturing Israel on restraint and the Arab world liked us no better then than it does now.

Are thugs and tyrants like Saddam Hussein a new phenomenon in the Middle East? Once again, almost every atrocity now associated with Iraq could be paralleled under Nasser's Egypt, from a massive secret police to a tribal military clique even the gassing of fellow Muslims and threats to use such poison against Israel. Well before the Kurdish massacre and the SCUD threat during the Gulf War, Nasser gassed Yemeni villages, and threatened the Israelis with the same prompting the West Germans (of all people!) to rush 20,000 gas masks to Tel Aviv. Nasser's agents, along with Palestinian terrorists, plotted several assassination attempts against King Hussein of Jordan and organized raids into neighboring countries. His "official" 99.9 plurality in "elections" was about the same margin as Yasser Arafat's and Saddam Hussein's. And any in Syria who thought about returning the Golan Heights in exchange for peace were tried and executed on trumped-up charges of sedition.

Nor is the current lunatic Anti-Americanism new. Syrian Radio blared before the 1967 war, "The Arab seas and the fish in them will feed on the Americans' rotting imperialist bodies." Thirty-five years before Mr. Atta's work on 9/11, Radio Cairo trumped Syrian calumny with the macabre but now prescient warning, "Millions of Arabs are preparing to blow up all of America's interests, all of America's installations, and your entire existence, America." The same big lies that we see today on al Jazeera were the everyday stuff of the latter 1960s when official government radio stations blared out daily untruths that Americans had bombed Arab countries during the Six Day War and so prevented a "sure" Muslim victory.

What are we to make of all this monotonous Middle Eastern cycle of envy, bluster, defeat, shame, terror / envy, bluster, defeat, shame, terror? Some tough admissions are in order. A great many Arabs not all, but too many to be controlled by the impotent mechanisms of duplicitous, ineffective, and autocratic governments will always wish to kill the Jews and destroy Israel, for a variety of complex reasons that transcend the occupation of territory. A schizophrenic hatred of and desire for the West is perhaps at the heart of the antipathy. After all, a man who chants and spews hatred in the street against Israel and the West on Sunday, and then on the next morning begs to work there to earn cash to buy Western material goods is a pretty-mixed up and angry fellow.

There is no evidence of democracy anywhere in the Middle East except in Israel then, now, or in the near future. But without free societies and education systems that are also open and subject to secular critique in the Middle East, we should get used to a continual Arab effort every few years 1946, 1956, 1967, 1973, 2001 to destroy Israel. Whether we ignore Israel (1946, 1956, 1967), actively back it (1973), or seek to be an honest broker (1982, 2001) means little in an undemocratic Arab world, which will hate us regardless. They see any Israeli concessions whether the withdrawal from Lebanon or the proposed return of all the West Bank as a requisite step forward in the eventual absorption of Israel, rather than cause for reciprocal magnanimity and eventual peace.

If the Arab League really wishes a settlement, they should invite Mr. Sharon to their future conferences. If Mr. Arafat really wishes to create a democratic state in Palestine, he should hold real elections (under U.N. supervision) immediately and lift all censorship of the media. Americans should insist on elections in the region especially in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. As Israel pulls out of the West Bank, Syria must leave Lebanon. And if Palestinians wish a return of prosperity and the eventual autonomy of the West Bank then they should condemn the suicide bombers as murderers, not praise them as martyrs. Only that way can the world be sure that thinking in the Middle East has evolved beyond the barbarism of 1967.

During this entire crisis Americans have hoped for the enlightenment, favored restraint, and been sorely disappointed whether the Clinton efforts at brokering a Middle East settlement, past administrations' lack of real responses to overt terrorist attacks, the recent lull between September 11 and October 7 in hopes of talking sense to the Taliban, or the present efforts to force U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq. In contrast, every time that we have shown independence, principle and force freeing the unfree in Afghanistan, sending home Mr. Zinni, warning Arafat that the wages of his suicide bombers naturally bring Israeli retaliation against his police-state infrastructure, and letting the Pakistanis and Saudis know of our growing anger, we have done far better and fewer have died.

What a strange world we live in: What our academics, intellectuals, and self-professed ethicists call morality so often turns out to be so abjectly amoral and downright deadly as well.

 

Victor Davis Hanson, author most recently of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.