News & Views » Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

What is the legacy of the Six-Day War? Part 2

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered



Last week, I described the events of the 1967 war between Israel and several Arab states, primarily Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Israelis call it the Six-Day War. Since the Israelis won, they speak English well and we like them, we call it the Six-Day War, too.

For the evildoers among you who had the temerity to skip it (the column, not the war), I described how, in just six days, the Israeli military crushed several Arab militaries and captured the Sinai peninsula, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

In less than a week, Israel tripled in size, kind of like I did in the summer of 2004 when I went to Chicago for two days and ate five large deep-dish pizzas by myself. What can I say? I have poor impulse control.

This week I'm focusing on the war's enduring legacy: two major effects with which we're still dealing today.

1) The land captured by Israel has bought it some peace and can still buy it more.

The war made Israel the dominant regional power, with enough land and leverage to negotiate peace agreements with its neighbors.

After many more skirmishes and another all-out war (in 1973), Israel traded Sinai back to Egypt for peace at Camp David in 1978. Peace with Jordan came in the 1990s. And one of these days, Israel and Syria will make peace in exchange for some or all of the Golan Heights.

But the war didn't just triple Israel's geographic size. It also tripled the number of Palestinians under Israel's control. Today, 3.8 million Palestinians live under Israeli military control in the West Bank and Gaza (before you write me a letter saying Israel pulled out of Gaza, remember that Israel controls the traffic in and out).

If Israel and Palestine will ever live together in relative peace (the so-called two-state solution), Israel will have to stop its settler movement so Palestinians have a place to live. Land for peace.

Israelis started settling the occupied territories within days of the cease-fire. Leaders of the settler movement believe(d) the captured land was a divine gift.

Spurred by money and military backing, more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, in defiance of international law. If Israel wants peace with Palestinians, it will have to give up almost all of the West Bank, as well as part of East Jerusalem. It cannot give up that land without uprooting thousands of settlers.

Only two Israeli leaders have made serious attempts to curb the settler movement. One, Yitzhak Rabin, was thanked with a fatal bullet from the gun of an angry Jewish extremist. The other, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma. Incidentally, both are heroes of the Six-Day War.

2) The war's widest global effect was that it killed off pan-Arabism.

Pan-Arabism was a secular, socialist, nationalist movement popular in Arabic-speaking nations. Pan-Arabism espoused the notion that all Arabic-speaking peoples (from Morocco in the west to the Arabian peninsula in the east) constitute a single nation divided and weakened by artificial borders; borders drawn by colonial powers (first the Turkish Ottoman Empire, then the Brits and French).

The movement's de facto leader was Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Though pan-Arabism as a political program never really had a chance (imagine leaders of dozens of countries voluntarily surrendering authority because someone told them it's a good idea) what little chance it did have died in the wake of Nasser's colossally inept leadership in 1967.

From pan-Arabism's ashes arose Islamism. To pan-Arabists, the way forward was socialistic Arab nationalism. To Islamists, the way forward was, well, backward; to the Prophet Muhammad's time.

Islamists think the cure to all their societal ills is to unite the Muslim world around a reactionary vision of Islamic law. They wanna party like it's 999.

The current wave of popular Islamism, from the garden-variety fundamentalist reactionaries to flat-out terrorists, emerged from the dust heap created by the Six-Day War.

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