War of Survival?

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

‘NYT’ perpetuates myth Israel was ‘fighting for its very survival’ during 1967 war

Israel/Palestine

on January 29, 2015

Based largely on interviews with Israeli soldiers—conducted in 1967, and heavily censored at the time—Censored Voices documents Israeli soldiers “summarily executing prisoners and evacuating Arab villages in a manner that one fighter likened to the Nazis’ treatment of European Jews.” Israeli atrocities in that war have been known for quite a while, but film is certainly a more powerful medium than newsprint.

The film (which I haven’t yet seen) seems important, and especially useful at a time when the Israeli military is under investigation for atrocities committed in its recent Gaza assaults. It is increasingly hard for anyone to believe that Israeli soldiers are “blessed with special moral values,” in the words of a 1995 statement from the office of then-Prime Minister (and 1967 Chief of Staff) Yitzhak Rabin. Rudoren’s article also provides the significant information that even Censored Voices was censored and hence doesn’t tell the full story of the war crimes that occurred: “Israel forbids the filmmakers to reveal how much they were forced to change, and the military censor’s office refused to discuss it.”

But Rudoren and apparently Loushy give an extremely inaccurate context for the atrocities committed in 1967. Rudoren describes that war as one in which Israel “started out fighting … for its very survival.” The film, says Rudoren, could lead to fodder for Israel’s critics if “viewed without consideration for the existential threat Israel faced at the time.” The movie, she writes, “does make clear the imminent threat to Israel —and then the stunning turnabout that military historians have long considered a marvel.” And Loushy is quoted as saying that “This is the story of men who went out to war feeling like they had to defend their life, and they were right, of course….”

But they were not right, and nor are Rudoren or Loushy.

Yes, Israeli soldiers, like much of the world, believed at the time that Israel faced an existential threat, as Arab armies poised on Israel’s borders while Radio Cairo broadcast bloodcurdling threats. But military and intelligence leaders in both Tel Aviv and Washington knew better.

Consider the testimony of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a member of the cabinet in June 1967:

“In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Or that of General Matti Peled, one of the twelve members of the Israeli Army’s general staff in 1967:

“I am convinced that our General Staff never told the government [of Levi Eshkol] that there was any substance to the Egyptian military threat to Israel, or that we were not capable of crushing Nasser’s army which had exposed itself, with unprecedented foolishness, to the devastating strikes of our forces…. While we proceeded towards the full mobilization of our forces, no person in his right mind could believe that all this force was necessary for our ‘defense’ against the Egyptian threat….To pretend that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel’s existence not only insults the intelligence of any person capable of analyzing this kind of situation, but is primarily an insult to Zahal [the Israeli Army].”

Or that of General Ezer Weizman, chief of operations in 1967 and later a prominent rightwing politician, who declared that “There never was a danger of extermination,” and that this hypothesis “had never been considered in any serious meeting.”

Or that of Haim Bar-Lev, Deputy Chief of Staff in 1967, and later a cabinet member: “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the Six-Day War and we had never thought of such a possibility.”

Or that of 1967 cabinet member Mordecai Bentov, a member of the leftist Mapam Party, who voted against launching the war in 1967 because he was convinced that political and diplomatic means of avoiding war had not been exhausted: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived, and then elaborated upon, a posteriori, to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”

The same view was held in Washington. On May 26, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara“said that the U.S. agreed with the Israeli view that Israel would prevail in a conflict, even if hostilities were initiated by Egypt.” The chair of the Joints Chiefs of Staff “General Wheelerrestated the American view of Israel’s military superiority and said that, although we recognize that casualties would be greater than in 1948 and 1956, Israel would prevail.” President Lyndon Johnson “said … if Israel is attacked, our judgment is that the Israelis would lick them,” and told the Israeli foreign minister “if the UAR attacks ‘you will whip hell out of them.’” The CIA predicted not only that Israel would win, but the day on which they would do so.

The evidence is thus overwhelming that Israeli policymakers did not go to war in response to an existential threat. Why does all this matter today? If Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as the Golan Heights) were all inadvertent consequences of a war against an existential threat, then Israeli responsibility for the occupation is somewhat mitigated.

Of course, even if Israel had been forced to go to war by an existential threat, it still would have had choices. It could have offered Palestinians the option of an independent state of their own or a binational state. Justice was always possible. Indeed, every year since 1967 Israel has had the choice of whether to seek to reverse the occupation and seek security through building ties to Palestinians rather than by extending their oppressive occupation, and it has consistently chosen the latter. In the same way, every year since 1947 Israel had a choice of whether to welcome back the refugees or to accelerate their dispossession. Again, Israel has consistently chosen the latter. Nevertheless, knowing what happened in 1967 is important because the absence of an existential threat undermines the chief Israeli talking point for its ongoing occupation.

On June 5, when Israel launched its offensive, Prime Minister Eshkol publicly declared that Israel had no territorial ambitions and Defense Minister Dayan told his troops, “Soldiers of the IDF, we have no objectives of conquest.” When later that summer U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk reminded Foreign Minister Abba Eban of Eshkol’s statement, Eban “simply shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘We’ve changed our minds.’” [1] But in fact, we know that several key Israeli policymakers wanted to acquire more land before the first shot was fired. The Minister of Labor, Yigal Allon, wrote an article before the outbreak of fighting in which he stated we “must not cease fighting until we achieve total victory, the territorial fulfillment of the Land of Israel.” [2] Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told his wife the evening before the war, “We have to take back Jerusalem.” [3] And more generally David Ben Gurion had been saying since 1949 that Israel’s failure to conquer East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the War of Independence was “a lamentation for generations,” a phrase used by many Israeli politicians over the subsequent 18 years. [4]

Did Israel occupy these lands simply as bargaining chips for peace? Hardly: almost immediately it annexed East Jerusalem; expelled several hundred thousand Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, and began moving settlers into the occupied territories [5]—a policy their legal advisor told them was in contravention of international law. This is what you do when you are interested in creating “facts on the ground” for permanent border changes, not bargaining chips for peace.

All this history is occluded by Rudoren’s gloss of the 1967 war as representing an existential threat to Israel. To be sure, Rudoren didn’t have to present in her news story a full historical analysis of the 1967 war, with a careful assessment of all the evidence. But to offer up the pro-Israel myth as if it were undisputed fact is simply propaganda.

Notes

1. Dean Rusk, As I Saw It (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), p. 388.

2. Michael Brecher with Benjamin Geist, Decisions in Crisis: Israel, 1967 and 1973 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p, p. 100. The article was published after the war but written before.

3. Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: the Six Days That Changed the Middle East (New York: Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, 1984), p, p. 195.

4. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: Vintage, 2001), p. 321.

5. Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 327-29. See also Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005, translated 2007), pp. 523-42.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/perpetuates-fighting-survival#sthash.BkAZicRs.dpuf

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Comments
  1. The more I read, watch, or learn about this conflict, the more disillusioned, the more jaded I become. This article, the documentary “Checkpoint” that we watched, and everything I hear about what is going on in just an hour drive from here makes me sadder and more frustrated. Sure, there is evidence of war crimes, violated human rights, oppressive occupation, and true intent behind the past wars, and people present these evidence in various forms of media such as in writing or in film, but what difference do they make? Everything continues, and nothing changes at the end of the day. I seriously wonder who many people read this article? How many people watched those documentaries about the conflict? This film that is mentioned in the article? No, no, never mind ‘how many’ watched/read them. Will anything change by ‘raising awareness’?

    • abbyhungate says:

      I agree with you. As important as the documentaries are, they are just raising awareness. The issue with many world problems is not that people don’t know they exist, but that people are too lazy or don’t know how to do anything about it. To be honest, where I am from, people feel separated from this conflict and don’t think it is their issue. A documentary needs to be made about how people can help this conflict and not just this specific conflict, but all issues of human rights around the world. Of course I can’t generalize everyone and there are people who when they watch documentaries, will feel the need to help and will take action, but a lot of people will feel horrified by what is being shown in the film, or what is in the article or the photo, but then they will forget about it in a few days because it won’t effect their daily lives. So I think that documentaries are important and news articles are important but something else needs to be happening if one wants to catch and keep the attention of people around the world.

      • Abby, I agree with what you have said one hundred percent but I would like to take it a step further. People do not, for the most part, connect or recognize that this is there issue in the west. As much as it saddens me to say that it is true. Along with that today’s media has driven us to continue looking for new stories and the latest thing while truly important things are left behind. Does anyone remember the death camps in North Korea? Russia is definitely using this international informational malfunction to advance further and further into Crimea. Israel uses it constantly. I think this could change though. We, the west, could become more sensitive to these issues and personalized. We can agree that the beheading of American citizens by ISIL made this personal for the US and that means the US and the coalition are fighting against them on every front possible. As King Abdullah put it ISIL uses Israel’s existence to recruit and therefore we need a two state solution, when the bombing in Gaza happened this last summer ISIL recruitment numbers spiked. If we are being honest the occupation of lands by Israel is helping to fuel a fire that is effecting almost every nation in the world, especially those in this region. If the world could stay focused then an issue could conceivably be resolved.

      • Daniel Leal says:

        I half agree with what Will is saying yet I feel it is nobody’s business apart from the Arabs and Israeli’s at the end of the day. Injustices have been and are being committed on both sides, yet it is the West’s intrusion, often in the side of Israel, which have kept the conflict on going.
        If all parties, except for the Arab nations involved, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon, and the Israelis, should leave the issue to resolve itself. Oppression does not last, violence and cooperation will eventually occur and balance according to the situation will eventually re-institute itself.
        I understand that the world and specially politics are a game of hegemony and it is for this reason that I propose that all directly uninvolved parties exit the conflict for their presence in the conflict is only to serve their own agenda and hence the problem worsens and more people suffer.

      • Daniel, again, I half agree with you. I believe that the ‘Western’ intrusion often does mess things up a bit, but that some types of intrusions could be helpful. Right now, the type of intrusion that US has in this conflict, from the Israeli side, is definitely worsening the situation. And like you said, this kind of intrusion should definitely stop. However, we do need another kind of meddling at this moment that will bring the truth to the world and somehow bring in peace. For instance, the apartheid in South Africa eventually came to an end after a wide condemnation from the rest of the world. In contrast, the Rwanda genocide went on uninterrupted and ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people. If everyone just draws out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right now, with Israel having the ascendancy over Palestine, who knows what will happen?

        I am not saying that I have the perfect solution as to how the world should meddle in this situation, but I just wanted to state my belief that not all intrusions are bad.

      • Aziz Sbeih says:

        I don’t agree with you Daniel, occupation will never end by itself. In the 13th century, Jerusalem was controlled by the Crusaders for 100 years before the Arabs rose up and reclaimed their rights. The Ottoman colonization began in the 16 century and lasted for 400 years until we rose up in the Great Arab Revolution and overthrew the Ottoman rule. Then, we were colonized again by the deceptive imperialist European nations in the aftermath of WWI, until we rose up yet again and fought them out of our lands. I’m not going to sit here and wait for another 300 years to pass before an economic or political crisis hits Israel and causes it to cease to exist. The only way we can end this occupation is if we rise up again to reclaim what is rightfully ours. I don’t mind Jews coexisting with Arabs in single nation, but what I do mind is the Israeli government abusing its power and controlling a native population that has inhabited this place for thousands of years, and was rightfully theirs in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence. The only way occupation can end is through violence, because no occupation will ever be politically naive to forgo its supremacy over the colonized.

      • Mallak Al Husban says:

        however, one question someone might ask; Can they be helped? or Are they willing to be helped? If we need to take a step further, we have to acknowledge the fact that this war has left “ruins of dreams” behind, and to recognize that not all people are willing to help or even be helped. Yes documentaries are essential;however, they are at risk of being censored one way or the other. They are at risk of being biased.

    • Aziz Sbeih says:

      Welcome to the real world, that’s why I believe that an organization like Seeds of Peace is never going to work, because we as the public have no power in our hands to make a change, and in an asymmetric conflict where Israel possesses all the power, we can’t help but watch the atrocities continue. The Israeli government will never be politically naive to give away what they presumed to be rightfully theirs, such as the 1967 borders called by some Palestinians or the 1948 borders, and the Palestinians will never stop calling for their demands. This is why, though I hate to say this, I believe that the only way to end the Israeli occupation is through violence, it can only be achieved through war, because I can guarantee you that they will never stop their settlement projects or overtaking Palestinian resources of water and fertile land if they have the power to do so. The only way we can counter them is through violence.

      • Nevean Dekaidek says:

        But don’t you think that organizations like Seeds of Peace are a good start in at the very least educating people?

      • Seeds of Peace isn’t naive to believe that it will solve any conflicts. I said this in the barazzas, and I’ll say it again, Seeds isn’t the solution, it’s a starting point. You can’t solve an issue if you are ignorant of the whole picture, both sides, both narratives, even if the other perspective is skewed. Sure, only 200 people come each summer, but it’s an initiative, not a revolution. These things start small and take time. Eventually these ‘Seeds’ grow in number, which by now have reached over 5,000 seeds and they start to affect their own respective communities. But like I said, it’s a long and difficult process. Plus, if the people – eventually – begin to contradict their own governments. A government without its people backing won’t last that long.

    • Aziz Sbeih says:

      I agree you with you Seungjung in your reply to Daniel, if anything, we need another intrusion to aid the Palestinian side to compensate for the intrusion of the American side to Israel, as America dedicates 3 billion or more to Israel annually, and fends off penalties on Israel by using its veto power, therefore helping Israel continue its means of occupation and aggression. This asymmetric conflict definitely needs another side, because the Palestinians are clearly the inferior side in this conflict, and they need a nation or a side that is influential and strong enough to fight for their rights.

    • Raising awareness will need more than just showing one piece of information, we need a proper campaign, like BDS, but maybe with other goals. From my own experience, one event can’t change much, my relatives and friends would hear it and translate it into their current view, where it is either justified- if its a mistake on our side- or condemned- if it was a GOOD OR BAD thing- by the Israelis- the good things they do are always part of a bigger ‘conspiracy,’ the whole world is controlled by America and Israel, and everything is in their hands. Basically, they refuse to believe that Israel DOES NOT have us by the balls! People around me have also shown me that any good-willed westerner has to be generalized, to have the exact same views as ours, because it is either they are brainwashed, or they realized that we are the on the right, that we are the ones with godly wisdom. They refuse to see things another way, and I was like that at one point as well. Here at King’s and in West Amman, you don’t see this as much, but go to pretty much any other place in Jordan, and you will see what I mean.

      Of course, the same thing happens on the other side, many Israelis sympathize with Arabs because they are ‘brainwashed’ by Hamas and the terrorists, and that the only reason we don’t have peace is because of our violence, with many Israelis showing complete disregard for their country’s actions, justifying them as necessary, just like we justify our mistakes with the story of some guy who suffered.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      I strongly agree with you. The movie ” checkpoint” only reveals one thing about the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. The more I watch, the more disgusted I am. Nothing can surprise me anymore; They kept men outside in the rain and didn’t let them pass. The let sick kids and women go back to their houses because of an “unknown” curfew. One of the soldiers in the movie said ” they’re animals, we’re humans” Their soldiers are sent to war with such sick mentalities of demeaning Palestinians and seeing them as animals rather than humans. I was deeply disturbed thinking that this article and many other works are censored because of their truthfulness. no change is made and nothing will change if media is censored and biased to one side of a conflict. This is by far the most sickening thing I’ve ever read/watched.

    • I agree with you in that ‘raising awareness’ won’t change much, but it is certainly necessary. Some of you have said that the problem is that the West don’t view is conflict as their own. This is very true, of course, but that’s not really the issue here. You cannot address a problem you know nothing. Mr. L and I talked about this when we were talking about one of the speakers at the RS conference. You’ll find that most have either a skewed view of the conflict or none at all. It is therefore crucial to not only to raise that awareness, but to raise it carefully, to keep in mind that people are hearing this for the first time. Throwing the Palestinian viewpoint at them all in one go can come as quite a shock, and if the wrong thing is said, they will tune out. What makes it worse is that they live in a country that very strongly supports one side of the conflict, so I don’t think they can easily back out of the issue saying “it’s not my problem.” Then again, it is mixed. Raising awareness certainly won’t fix anything, but you have to start somewhere.

    • In terms of intervention, it depends what kind of intervention we’re talking about. If we’re talking about the US giving aid to Israel and upgrading its military power, then I don’t think that’s really helping. That tends to be the problem with US foreign policy; it either intervenes in the wrong way or, regretting the last time it intervened, decides not to get involved. So I don’t think more intervention is really a solution either; so far it’s only made things worse.

      • Ahmed, it is not about whether US foreign policy being good or bad. It is about being always siding with Israel when it comes to war. That’s all,

      • That’s my point exactly. The US can’t expect to fix anything by picking sides. And considering the US’s reaction to Netanyahu’s surprise visit to congress, it seems that this bias is only getting stronger. I quite like the way Jon Stewart put it; it’s as if Netanyahu came to the US, b****slapped Obama, and Obama said “no it’s fine, we’re friends, I’ll even get him a glove so it doesn’t hurt his hand as much next time.”

      • Yup. I was endorsing you

  2. Of course, I will always side with people who rebel for freedom. Many Palestinians commit acts of violence because they want to break free, and that is why I only condemn attacks that target Israeli civilians, not ones targeting the Occupation machine. The problem here is that we are not distinguishing between them. We should fully support those who advocate for freedom in the right ways. That does not mean that I believe that they will be able to bring about a Palestinian state single-handedly, but bringing them to the world stage will give Palestinians another alternative to Hamas for them to support, to feel that someone is fighting their oppression, a group they could belong to and not feel that their moral compass is being altered. All it takes is having mainstream media cover those groups instead.
    We can celebrate those groups, and that will only weaken the occupation and the Israeli Apartheid machine. That will just be more pressure on Israel, which will in turn also weaken its position against creating a Palestinian state with Palestinian terms on the negotiating table.

  3. Zaid Khalaf says:

    The Ottoman colonization began in the 16 century and lasted for 400 years until we rose up in the Great Arab Revolution and overthrew the Ottoman rule.This asymmetric conflict definitely needs another side, because the Palestinians are clearly the inferior side in this conflict

  4. Yasmine Malas says:

    I just want to say to Daniel that I see where you’re coming from, but if the conflict is up to the Arab nations and Israel themselves then that can only be true once external nations (such as the US) backs out of the conflict completely (which is not the case at all). The US has the Israeli’s backs 110% in terms of weapon supply and finance. This therefore does become a problem for the West, referring to what Abby and Will are saying, in that they should recognize and consider it their problem too; not necessarily their problem to fix but their problem to become more well-aware. I must admit that before watching the “Checkpoint” documentary, I had never heard of it, and I live WITHIN the Arab region. Of course, I don’t expect anyone from the West to hear about it without searching for it themselves. That’s where the issue starts, for everybody. Without the drive and passion to understand a certain conflict, we will never be able to get to the root of it and solve it. We must first be curious, and second make sure we are well-informed. Education is power and if more than half of the US population was truly well-aware of the conflict in Palestine, things will change I’m pretty sure.

    We just have to make that statement sound less ideal, and it’s sad that it has to be an ideal claim to begin with…

  5. Zaid Khalaf says:

    If everyone just draws out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right now, with Israel having the power over Palestine, who knows what will happen? anything could happen in this case, i dont think anybody is safe with how everythings going now.

    • First of all, I don’t a conflict could begin at this point, given the media’s coverage of the area, and if a conflict were to erupt, I would guess it would follow a similar outcome as the six days war given that Israel’s army is more powerful than most Arab countries combined.

  6. Farah Sinokrot says:

    if the Israelis think that they are fighting for their survival and that justifies their actions then whatever the Palestinians do they are fighting for their survival and thus it justifies anything and everything they do. The Jews in world history have never had a place to stay and were always blamed for anything wrong that happens in society. However, the Jews were always welcome in Arab society especially in the Ottoman Empire they were welcomed. therefore, what i don’t understand is that the jews can live with the arabs in Palestine peacefully so they don’t need to have a war and live peacefully with the Palestinians.

  7. Arabs have always been united as one throughout history. Therefore i disagree with daniel. Arabs should stick together and should solve the issue somehow. When the arabs manage to unite from the chaos they are in and solve the issues between each other, that is when they can actually solve the issue on more equal terms.

  8. faisaldahabra16 says:

    Israels saw this war in two views one the where defending there country and showing other Arab nations what will happen if you mess with us and the second view is they saw it as a way to expand there country because in war you can get land and expand if your the winner so ya that’s what i personally think

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