A FEW YEARS AGO I was riding in a car with an Israeli friend on Highway Six in Israel, a fairly new road that runs north-south through the middle of the country. Somewhere along the way I saw a section of the Security Wall just off in the distance. I asked him why they built the wall there. He responded, “Simple. To prevent them from throwing stones at us—and to prevent us from seeing what we are doing to them.” It was an honest response, perhaps too honest, of what it is like to live in today’s divided Israel, in a situation that each side justifies in a manner that only increases its corrosive nature.
It is common to describe this situation as foisted on Israel through the events of the Six Day War in 1967, and in one sense this is correct. The war was not initiated by Israel. And the Occupation was a consequence of that war. Yet this common narrative is only one part of the story. In an arresting moment in the recent film Censored Voices (2015) directed by Mor Loushy, a solider interviewed a week after the war in 1967 stated that he went to war to defend his country and came back a week later to a different country. The current situation is a result of the unfolding story of that different country. Accordingly, what follows is an assessment of the claims that emerged—sometimes overt, sometimes covert—after 1967 and morphed into what is now known as the “peace process.”
While the Occupation as we know it in 2017 may have been ultimately initiated by Israel’s victory in the Six Day war, the Occupation was not made in 1967. Rather, it emerged through Israel’s response to the new reality brought about by that war. As Gershon Goremberg shows in great detail in his Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967–1977 (2006), the Six Day War created a practical and ideological vacuum in those early days that was accompanied by a combination of skepticism, unpreparedness, and disbelief on the part of Israel’s leaders. Hidden away in the mix was an ideology that had its roots in the territorial maximalism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism (discredited by David Ben Gurion) that had remained largely dormant for years under the weight of consecutive Labor governments. In another corner was a group of young disaffected religious Jews, many from Kibbutz Ha-Dati (the religious Kibbutz Movement) yeshivot who had recently discovered the son of R. Abraham Kook, R. Zvi Yehuda, and founded a movement called Gahelet that began to develop a messianic religious ideology. In a now famous sermon delivered on Israel Independence Day, May 1967, Gahelet’s ideological leader R. Zvi Yehuda Kook lamented that he could not in good conscience celebrate Israel’s independence while Hebron, Shechem (Nablus), Rachel’s Tomb, etc. were not under Jewish sovereignty. Less than two months later, in what was understandably understood by many as miraculous, all of the sites R. Zvi Yehuda mentioned in his Israel Independence Day sermon were in Israel’s hands. The sermon was viewed as an instance of clear prophecy and the movement, later to be known as Gush Emunim, became the force driving the ideology of Greater Israel that has generated and perpetuated the legitimacy of the Occupation.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 2:23-28