Léopold Lambert – Paris on June 8, 2017
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As, this week, we are commemorating the fifty years of the six-day-long war engaged by Israel in 1967, a certain amount of media (Jadaliyya, The Nation, The Intercept, The Electronic Intifada, and more) have published important articles to address the state of things in Palestine and Syria, in particular regarding the ongoing occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, as well as the continuous siege on the Gaza Strip. This article and its map intend mostly to be descriptive, aiming at a doomed-to-be-incomplete reconstitution of these six days; yet, it could not be written without insisting in its conclusion that considering 1967 as the key moment to which Palestine should be somehow “rebooted” constitutes a grave mistake. The following map and text therefore introduce eleven situated episodes of Israel’s Six Day War, as well as attempt to formulate part of the framework through which a decolonial vision of a future Palestine can be thought.
01. May 15, 1967: Gamal Abdel Nasser asks the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai
After the 1956 invasion of the Sinai by the Israeli, French, and British armies following the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the UN provided an “Emergency Force” (UNEF) to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Egyptian peninsula. The UNEF was composed of 6,000 soldiers coming from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Yugoslavia. On May 15, 1967, more than ten years after the deployment of this force, Nasser successfully asks its withdrawal from Egyptian soil, and redeploys part of the national army in the peninsula. This movement of Egyptian troops feeds the Israeli narrative of an imminent military aggression against Israel. Reports of communications with US intelligence that was not considering such a scenario as probable allows to think of the Israeli government’s fueling of this fear as demagogic and opportunist.
02. May 22, 1967: Egypt closes the Straits of Tiran
The Straits of Tiran are 6-km wide and situated between the Sinai and the small island of Tiran (also under Egyptian sovereignty). Because of the lack of depths in Saudi Arabian waters, it is a necessary passage for ships wanting to access the Gulf of Aqaba, at the ‘end’ of which the town of Eilat provides a small port to the State of Israel. On May 22, 1967, the Egyptian government orders the closing of the Straits of Tiran, thus shutting down one of Israel’s important supply channels for oil. Although Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had warned that such a blockade would constitute an act of war, Lindsay Johnson’s US administration warns the Israeli government that it would only get its support in case of an Egyptian military aggression. In 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (Picador 2007), Tom Segev describes conversations between Eshkol, Chief of the General Staff (i.e. commander of the Israeli army) Yitzhak Rabin, future Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan (he was officially name on the eve of the invasion), and Intelligence chief Meir Amit proposing to “send a ship to the Gulf of Aqaba, expecting — or hoping — that the Egyptians would fire on it and Israel could then act without having taken the first shot.” This scenario was finally not adopted, favoring a narrative of ‘preemptive legitimate defense’ that characterized most Israeli wars.
03. June 5, 1967: The Israeli army invades the Sinai Peninsula
On June 5, 1967, the Israeli government, under the pressure of its newly named Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and several generals including Ariel Sharon orders the invasion of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli aviation succeeds in destroying a couple of hundreds Egyptian military aircrafts and, in doing so, manages to significantly render the army’s job easier on the ground. The armored divisions of Generals Ariel Sharon, Israel Tal, and Avraham Yoffe quickly take over the entire peninsula. Thousands of Egyptian soldiers are made prisoners and are treated with various degrees of violence and are sometimes even summarily executed. The Israeli occupation of the Sinai will last until 1982 (at a moment when the Israeli front will focus on Lebanon), four years after the signature of the Camp David Accords. At that point, the border between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai will be fully militarized and sealed (see past article).
04. June 5, 1967: The Israeli army invades the Gaza Strip
Since 1948, the Gaza Strip and its 400,000 inhabitants — half of whom are Palestinian refugees who were forcefully evicted from their towns and villages in 1948 by the Zionist militias or, later, the Israeli army — were under Egyptian administration. The June 5, 1967 invasion of the Sinai is done in coordination with the invasion of the Gaza Strip. Facing a fierce resistance, the Israeli army requests a support from the aviation that bombs massively Gaza on June 6. According to Jean-Pierre Filiu in Gaza: A History (Oxford University Press, 2014), 90 of the 100 UNRWA schools operating in the refugee camps are either destroyed in the bombardment or looted by the Israeli soldiers. 40,000 civilians flee the Gaza Strip as a consequence, forming the first group of refugees of the Naksa. A few days after the invasion, on June 11, two Israeli terror attacks kill respectively 8 and 10 civilians in Rafah, increasing the flee of people from the city. In 1967, Tom Segev describes some post-war scenes (hard to imagine today) of Israeli civilians shopping in the streets of Gaza in a civil praxis of the newly occupied territory.
05. June 8, 1967: The Israeli aviation accidentally or deliberately attack the USS Liberty
On June 8, 1967, the Israeli aviation and navy attack a US spying boat, the USS Liberty, which was navigating offshore of Gaza. 34 members of the crew are killed and 171 injured. The Israeli government claimed that it was an accident and apologize but, up until today, the doubt remains that this attack might have been deliberate in order to hide information that the ship could have gathered. In an article published on Monday in The Intercept, Miriam Pensack addresses the silence that still surrounds this event, in particular from the side of US intelligence.
06. June 7, 1967: The Israeli army invades East Jerusalem
Since 1948, East Jerusalem, along with the rest of the West Bank was under Jordanian administration. On June 7, the Israeli army crosses the 1949 Green Line and invade the Old City. Israeli soldiers penetrate on the holy site of the Mosque Esplanade and proceed to set an Israeli flag on top of the Dome of the Rock — Moshe Dayan will order to take it out. One episode that I wish I integrated in my short book La politique du bulldozer (B2, 2016) is the violent destruction by bulldozers of 139 houses in the Moroccan Quarter undertaken the same day to create a square in front of the Western Wall. Their Palestinian inhabitants are authorized to only take a few personal items before being evicted by Israeli soldiers. The destruction continues at night and one woman is found agonizing in the debris of a building.
07. June 7, 1967: The Israeli army invades the West Bank: Qalqilya
In parallel of the invasion of East Jerusalem, the Israeli army also invades the West Bank. Both cities of Tulkarm and Qalqilya, the most western cities of the West Bank, are privileged targets. 7,000 out of the 25,000 inhabitants of Tulkarm flee and become refugees. The systematic evictions and home demolition that had characterized the 1948 Nakba are also perpetuated in Qalqilya that sees close to half of its 2,000 houses destroyed by the Israeli army in the following days of the invasion, creating 12,000 additional refugees. The city remains today one of where the occupation remains the most intense, the city being almost completely surrounded by the apartheid Wall.
08. June 7, 1967: The Israeli army invades the West Bank: Latrun & Hebron
Latrun is also a western locality in the West Bank (North-West of Jerusalem) and, as such, it is particularly vulnerable to the actions of the Israeli army. Following the invasion, three villages, Imwas, Yalou, and Beit Nuba (8,000 inhabitants in total) are fully evicted, and subsequently destroyed by soldiers with a method that certainly recalls those accomplished 19 years earlier during the Nakba. The photographs above by Pierre Medebielle shows that, in a similar fashion than for many Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, the Jewish National Fund was also prompt to seed forest on the location of the former villages in order to hide their past existence. See my article “‘Making the Desert Bloom’: Manufacturing the Israeli Narrative/Territory” for more on this. The same tactic was applied by the Israeli soldiers in the town of Beit Awwa (2,500 inhabitants) and the village Beit Mirsim (500 inhabitants) West of Hebron.
09. June 7, 1967: The Israeli army invades the West Bank: Jericho
Everywhere in the newly occupied West Bank, reports of looting by the Israeli soldiers and civilians emerge. Meanwhile, Palestinians are provided by leaflets informing them that they now live under military occupation — although the invasion of the West Bank may have not been planned for this exact moment, the fact that these leaflets were ready to be distributed long before 1967 shows well how this scenario had been foreseen by the Israeli high-command (see past article for more). The Allenby Bridge that links Palestine to Jordan becomes the passing point of the dozen of thousands of refugees of the Naksa. 90% of Jericho’s 1948 refugees (about 70,000) flee Palestine after this second violent episode of dispossession.
10. September 2, 1953: Construction of the Israel National Water Carrier
In order to understand the four invasions described above, one must certainly need to examine the two decades that preceded it. The historical context of the fifth invasion in the Golan Heights does not escape from this rule, far from it. In the late 1930s, long before the creation of the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Palestine had already commissioned studies of irrigation schemes in order to provide water in arid areas of Jewish settlements in Palestine. The 1949 Green Line is well known for its separation of Palestine between Israel on the one hand, and the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip on the other. However, it is perhaps less studied for the demilitarized zones that it created at the border of Palestine between Syria and Israel, in particular a few kilometers north of Lake Tiberias, as well as on its eastern shore. On September 2, 1953, the Israeli government orders the construction of a diversion canal upstream of the Jordan River within one of the demilitarized zone in order to feed the National Water Carrier that will ultimately distribute water in Israel, all the way to the Negev-Naqab desert. The millions of cubic water that such a diversion creates have drastic consequences on Syria and Jordan that respectively have access to 10% and 56% of the Jordan River water. In 1964, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan undertake to build their own diversion canal upstream of the Israeli one, and in July 1966, the Israeli aviation bombs the canal twelve kilometers inside Syria and destroy the engineering equipment used to construct it.
11. June 9, 1967: The Israeli army invades the Golan Heights
The invasion of the Golan Heights came after the Israeli resounding success against the Egyptian and Jordanian armies. On the dawn of June 9, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan takes the unilateral decision to invade, surprising even the rest of the government and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. On June 10, a ceasefire is declared but this does not prevent the Israeli army to capture the highest point of Syria, Mount Hermon (2,814m) in the very North-East of the Golan Heights. Before 1967, the plateau counted 140,000 inhabitants (including 17,000 Palestinian refugees), while in 1999, it only had 16,000 Syrians left, while Israeli settlers account for 15,000 (source: Muhammad Muslih, The Golan: The Road to Occupation, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1999).
12. Conclusion: Towards a post-apartheid condition
The 1967 Naksa constitutes a second trauma in the history of Palestinian people after the 1948 Nakba. It marks the beginning of a 50 year dreadful occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the occupation that turned into a continuous siege on the Gaza Strip. As such, it is tempting to follow what could almost be called a consensus with various degrees of explicitness (by the United Nations, the Fatah, the Israeli government, and even recently the Hamas) by aiming at the end of this occupation and the subsequent formation of a Palestinian State “within the borders of 1967.” The legal, administrative, and territorial complexity that the successive Israeli administrations have deliberately undertaken in these last fifty years to neither annex Palestinian territories to its civil realm, nor fully assume the role of a military occupier per the Geneva Convention, has allowed the durability of the occupation, but also made the scenario of two distinct ethnically-differentiated states extremely difficult, but more importantly, unwishable. 1,7 millions of Palestinians are part of the Israeli citizenry, while 600,000 Israelis live in what would constitute the territory of this potential Palestinian State — of course, they live there in violation of the international legislation (cf. article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention), but it ought to be stated that many have never lived anywhere else. Meanwhile, 5 millions Palestinian refugees have spent their entire life waiting for the right to return on the land from where they, or their family, were evicted in 1948 or in 1967. Furthermore, the idea of two uniformed nations to which should be attributed two states as the promise of a better future constitutes a grave simplification of the situation in Palestine. First of all, it denies the fundamental difference of statuses, experience, and privileges among Palestinians (Israeli passport-holders, East Jerusalem inhabitants, West Bank permit holders, West Bank inhabitants, Gaza inhabitants, refugees in Palestinian territories, refugees abroad, Bedouins, members of the diaspora, etc.) one of coloniality’s principle consisting in the establishment of a hierarchy of administrative statuses among the colonized people. But, importantly, it also denies the structural racism inherent to the Israeli society itself that also creates a tacit hierarchy between white people (mostly Ashkenazim Jews), North-Africans (mostly Sephardi Jews), Middle-Easterns (mostly Mizrahi Jews), East Africans (some of them being Ethiopian Jews), but also South-Americans, Armenians, East Asians, etc. I join friend Sophia Azeb in her doubts that there can be something called “a solution” in the idea of a state formation whether we are talking about two of them, or only one (listen to our podcast conversation “The No-State Solution,” or read her interview for The Funambulist 10 Architecture and Colonialism). What is for certain is that the axiom on which any future should be built is the strict equality of rights for all in Palestine, including the right to live and practice its entire territory.
Sources for this article:
- Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, Picador 2007.
- Muhammad Muslih, The Golan: The Road to Occupation, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1999
- Zena Tahhan, “1967 War: How Israel Occupied the Whole of Palestine,” in Al Jazeera 06/07/2017.
- Jean-Pierre Filiu, Gaza: A History, Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Ariel Sharon & David Chanoff, Warrior: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
- Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, The Law in These Parts (film, 2011).
- Miriam Pensack, “Fifty Years Later, NSA Keeps Details of Israel’s USS Liberty Attack Secret,” in The Intercept 06/06/2017.
- Jaddaliya editors, “The 1967 Defeat and the Conditions of the Now: A Roundtable,” in Jadaliyya 06/05/2017
- Neve Gordon, “How Israel’s Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life to a Politics of Death,” in The Nation 06/05/2017
- Mehdi Hasan, “A 50-Year Occupation: Israel’s Six-Day War Started with a Lie,” in The Intercept 06/05/2017
- Illan Pappe, “Israel’s Occupation Was a Plan Fulfilled,” in The Electronic Intifada 06/06/2017.