1967: A Review

This is a review of 1967 by Tom Segev. Translation: Jessica Cohen. Little Brown Book Group. Paperback Edition: 2008.

Tom Segev is the columnist of Ha’aretz, a left-wing Israeli newspaper, and a historian who chronicles the lives of Israelis in 1967.

Many of books have analyzed the roots of the Six-Day War and its significance to the history of the Middle East. Segev illustrates how the fear of another Holocaust drove Israel to launch wars against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, grabbing land and starting a tradition of excess.

If you believe in the mainstream discourse regarding the Six-Day War and in the image of an infallible Israel, you may not like this book. It is a book full of controversial ideas, and it makes harsh statements about the Jewish state.

Taking references from thousands of interviews, official and unofficial materials, Segev’s book distinguishes itself because of its reliance on materials both from archives and diaries of regular people. For example, the third section of the book was fully based on the diary of Private Yehoshua Bar-Dayan, who leaves his wife and son to join the army to prepare for war. The diary challenges the myth of heroism of normal Israelis and Kibbutz members. Many pretended to be courageous in order to avoid losing face in front of relatives and friends.

Segev paints a detailed picture of the Israeli society before the war. It also illustrates Israeli social problems that still exist today. Discrimination against Mizrahim Jews and Arab Israelis, whom some Israeli politicians repeatedly called to expel, is one of the problems. The biggest issue, however, is the struggle between the religious and secular. It is harder to solve the Palestinian conflict when religious settlers and rabbis, who believe themselves to be more righteous, have wielded more influence in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).

This book will bring discomfort to those who do not wish to challenge established narratives. The popular argument supporting the Israeli decision to go to the war goes as follows: “ Nasser ordered Egyptian troops to be stationed in Sinai Desert and to launch blockades in Red Sea and Suez Canal. Syrian Troops also mobilized themselves in Golan Heights. So were Jordanian soldiers, who were deployed in West Bank… Israel was forced to attack and occupied Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem to protect itself from another war.”

This book challenges this argument by describing the political struggle between the “old” and “new” Israeli politicians. The strike against Egyptian troops was finalized when “Old” elites such as Levi Eshkol and Abba Eban gave in to the military generals such as Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin. Plus, criticism of the 1948 leaders for not taking all of the Biblical land added to the cultural and social turmoil which in turn resulted in the decision to enter the war.

The most shocking fact is the Israeli attempt to transfer 100,000 Palestinian refugees to Iraq. The cause behind the collapse of the plan is unknown. Neither was the number of refugees leaving their homes published by Israel. Though, the refusal to accept an offer from America, which, under the Senator Edward Kennedy, proposed a 200,000 quota for Palestinian refugees, forces people to question whether or not remaining behind was a bad idea as far as the Palestinians are concerned.

This is a wonderful book which documents the lives of both the Israeli people and the increasing influence of military in their politics. Its first-hand account vividly depicts how the ecstasy from victory has turned out to be the biggest curse for the Jewish state, Palestinians, and the possibility of peace in the Middle East. Its focus is narrow, but its lessons are immense.

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