I recently watched a short but very powerful video about Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. The film suggests the victory was literally miraculous. It may well have been, although such miracles only occur when divine intervention is combined with careful preparation, struggle and sacrifice.
The film made me enormously proud of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, state and army. And while I don’t believe in direct divine intervention in human affairs, this victory—along with the survival of the Jewish people since biblical times—makes me wonder if I could be wrong about that.
So what’s the problem?
It seems we have taken the gift given to us by God and the IDF and, little by little, through ignorance and weakness, squandered it.
The Sinai Peninsula, conquered in 1967, is back in Egyptian hands. Yes, I know we gained “peace” in return, but in actuality the United States bribed the Egyptians to leave us alone with billions in aid, including military aid that translated into weapons that can only be useful against us.
Today Egypt has a government that sees an advantage in maintaining the cold peace—but if the Muslim Brotherhood government that came to power for a short time (2012-13) with the help of former U.S. President Barack Obama had been more competent, we would be facing hostility today no less bitter than we faced in the days of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In exchange for this this peace, we gave up natural resources including oil, but more importantly the one thing that Israel lacks above all else, and the one lack that is most difficult to compensate for with high-tech cleverness: strategic depth.
The Gaza Strip, too, has reverted to Arab control. It is now for all intents and purposes a sovereign state under control of Hamas, which bitterly oppresses the Arab population and uses it as a human shield in a permanent war of attrition against Israel. This came about as a result of Israel’s voluntary, unilateral abandonment of its settlements and military installations there.
Gaza now serves as a base for Hamas military activities and an excuse for international condemnation of Israel, which from time to time must defend itself against rocket attacks, incendiary and explosive devices carried by kites and balloons, and attempted incursions by terrorists, either over the border fence or under it by way of tunnels.
And the holiest spot in the world for the Jewish people? The very day after the conquest of the Old City, Moshe Dayan ordered the Israeli flag removed from the Dome of the Rock and gave administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Arab Wakf. A “status quo” was created, in which Muslims and Jews would both be able to visit their sacred sites.
However, in practice, Jewish rights were eroded little by little. Today, Jews can visit only at restricted times, can enter through just one gate, are forbidden to pray, carry objects (even water bottles), or even use water faucets dedicated to Muslim hand-washing. They are often exposed to harassment from hostile Muslims.
There are few limitations on Muslims, and Arab children sometimes play football on the Mount, despite a court order forbidding it. The Wakf has built several mosques on and under the Mount, and in the process destroyed or lost irreplaceable, archaeologically valuable artifacts. Agreements call for archaeological supervision of construction work, but this requirement is ignored by the Wakf.
As far as the rest of Judea and Samaria is concerned, the “international community,” in mortal fear of PLO terrorism and the Arab oil weapon, has been pushing and shoving at Israel ever since the 1967 war to abandon the territories that it liberated from Jordanian occupation.
But it took Israel’s own Shimon Peres, in pursuit of a chimerical “New Middle East,” to stupidly bring our worst enemy, Yasser Arafat, back from exile where his organization was growing old and feeble, and allow him to establish his terrorist base in the biblical heartland of the Jewish state. We even gave him money and guns!
We paid a steep price for this mistake during the Second Intifada, and we continue to pay today when Jews are murdered at random by the generation of young people raised under the educational system of Arafat and his successor, the porcine Mahmoud Abbas.
Although we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the Oslo Accords—even U.S. President Clinton was taken by surprise—the hostile European Union has made use of Oslo to advance its objective of forcing Israel out of the territories. In the guise of “humanitarian” aid to the Palestinian Authority, the E.U. today ignores Israeli zoning and building regulations and constructs public buildings to create facts on the ground in areas that, according to Oslo, are under Israeli control.
Why did we allow all this to happen?
There are multiple reasons. One is that we don’t know how to negotiate. We like to think, “We are strong, we can afford to give up (whatever) in the interest of peace. The other side will appreciate our generosity.” Wrong. Whatever we give up, the Arabs take, and then ask for more. They don’t understand “generosity”—they see weakness. The negotiating process is like a ratchet: it can go in one direction—towards the Arabs—but not the other.
Another reason, often noted, is that we assume that everyone else is like us. We want peace, so Palestinian Arabs must want peace. We care about security, economic development, a good life for our children. So must Palestinian Arabs.
They, on the other hand, simply want to get rid of us; it doesn’t matter to them if they would have a better life if they cooperate with us.
We want an independent nation-state, but they are strongly loyal to their clans. We look for win-win solutions, but it is always more important to them to hurt Jews than to help Arabs.
Finally, the Arabs are always ready to use the “heckler’s veto,” or more correctly in this case, the “terrorist’s veto”: give us what we want or there will be no peace. What Israeli politician wants to be accused of being responsible for the unrest that follows standing up for ourselves?
What can we do differently? Unfortunately, we need to become less generous. We need to become tougher. We need to set limits and stick to them.
The E.U. is funding illegal construction in Judea and Samaria? Demolish it. Start with Khan al Ahmar, which even Israel’s left-leaning Supreme Court agrees must go, and which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to remove months ago.
We need to take back what we have given up, little by little, and strike hard against the “terrorist’s veto.” We are not going to get the Sinai back—and at this stage, I doubt that we want it. But the situation in and around Gaza can and must change radically. There must be a price paid for incendiary balloons, a price so high that they won’t want to pay it more than once.
The same goes for the Temple Mount. A bit at a time, the way we lost it, we must get it back. Of course there will be a reaction (i.e., riots). But the reactions happen because the Arabs know they can get away with them. They know we will always back down, as we did with the metal detectors at the gates. They know we are afraid of confrontation, so they just push harder.
It’s a long process, and it will be painful. The Arabs are in the habit of winning; it will be hard to get them used to losing. But there are no win-win solutions for the Middle East. In this neighborhood, all games are zero-sum.
Victor Rosenthal was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived on a kibbutz through the 1980s and returned home to Israel in 2014 after 26 years in California. He writes at the Abu Yehuda blog.