This week, Israel is marking the 50th anniversary of its improbable victory over Arab assassins.
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser saw annihilation of the Jewish state as a uniting mission for his project of pan-Arab nationalism and had declared: ‘Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood.’ In June 1967, he enlisted Syria and Jordan in his plans for invasion and few thought Israel, then a meagre strip of land nine miles wide at its narrowest point, could withstand the onslaught. Herzl’s dream in the desert was about to be unwilled.
In a stroke of tactical cunning, though at the time it looked to be an act of suicide, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against its tormenters and in under a week, armed with Dassaults, Super Shermans and the covenant of Psalm 121, it had defeated the Arabs and conquered vast swathes of territory. Little Israel now controlled the land from the Suez to the Jordan and had liberated the old city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Fifty years on, the world has never forgiven Israel for surviving and Israelis, and the Diaspora, have struggled with their position as ‘history’s most improbable occupier’, as Yossi Klein Halevi put it. That ambivalence runs through commemorations being held this week, as Israel recalls how close it came to destruction, honours those who fought and fell, and even sneaks in some pride at its unlikely triumph. In Haaretz, Uzi Benziman laments reunited Jerusalem as ‘a banal city’ where the Haredim hold too much sway. Michael Koplow tries to convince readers of the Atlantic that success was actually defeat. The Six-Day War, he intones ominously, left Israel with ‘a far more expansive and ambitious’ Zionism. He considers that a bad thing.